While walking down a street in Prague recently, I made some observations. There were no potholes and no parking lots; just rows of buildings. Each building was five stories high, except one. That one had a much different façade and an angular design. It also was the building where people congregated. It was the building that captured the most attention and prompted the most discussion.

That, in a nut shell, is an example of good design. It creates a focal point along the background of the street. It is engaging, attracts interest and creates energy.

As architects, we have a responsibility to design structures that meet an intended purpose, of course, but also structures that energize and help move neighborhoods and cities forward.

That was the intent of the Mass Ave development design team at Schmidt Associates, who worked in partnership with J.C. Hart Co. and Strongbox Commercial in designing a multi-use structure that will replace the existing Indianapolis Fire Department. As we studied the context of the avenue, we were cognizant of two primary characteristics. First, with the Egyptian design of the Murat Theatre on one corner and the Athenæum’s Germanic architectural style on the other—both housing theaters—it is perhaps the only intersection in the city to beg for a media wall. Second, the building’s strong street edge repairs the gap in the Mass Ave streetscape and activates the corridor with commercial space.

The new structure’s design includes swatches of brick, giving a nod to its historic neighbors. Yet the vibrant façade of strong colors—seemingly suspended—disperses the historic brick and gives the façade a 2012 vocabulary.

The design was created to enhance the kind of energy Mass Ave reflects and will be the bridge needed to continue to grow and continue to attract people to the urban core.

Sure, some love the proposed new Mass Ave design; others not so much. But that’s OK. Architecture is art. When it’s successful, it evokes emotion.

Successful design is about allowing communities to reflect their past, embrace their present and more importantly to push them forward. Safe, cookie-cutter designs won’t help us advance. Advancing means taking chances, stepping outside our comfort zones and thinking differently and creatively about how design can take Indianapolis communities to the next level.







NOTE: Please see the published article on page 11 in this week’s IBJ.