Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Modernism and self-reflection.

My latest post--a long one--is up at Urban Indy.  Over the past few weeks, a winning proposal for a development to replace an Indianapolis Fire Department station on prime real estate has generated quite a bit of controversy, no doubt in part because Tax Increment Financing will help to subsidize the result.  Here's what it will look like:

By most measurements, the urban design for this proposal is good—flush with the parcel’s edge, reasonably high density, significant space devoted to street-level retail, smartly concealed parking underground.  But opinions on the appearance—“Mickey Mouse”, “screams 1990s”, “trendy blah”—not so flattering.  However, the project's defenders take umbrage at such name-calling, so the debate continues on various blogs ad nauseam.
It amuses me to no end how people try to couch their personal opinions in referential context in order to endow them with the weight of objectivity.  A recent Pop-Up Mod Tour sponsored by Indiana Landmarks, provided an interesting contrast to the online friction generated by the above proposal.  In this tour, architectural experts provide historical background and context that defend the design and aesthetics for buildings such as the one below:

It's the Barton Tower, an Indianapolis Housing Authority development from the late 1960s, which, incidentally, sits directly across the street from the fire station redevelopment posted above.  Whatever architectural interest the Barton Tower might offer, it interrupts the continuity of the otherwise thriving Mass Avenue commercial corridor (which undoubtedly hosted handsome Italianate commercial buildings at this very site) through an unengaging, tower-in-the-park typology that characterized some of Chicago's most notorious public housing.  While Barton Tower isn't going anywhere soon, the unused, neglected green space that surrounds it will soon host a development of its own:

Yes, a five-story apartment building will soon completely surround the Barton Tower, raising the ire of its most ardent supporters but getting little more than a shoulder shrug from everyone else.

The divergent responses to these various projects (both existing and proposed) highlights some of the most interesting dichotomies in taste culture when applied to architectural aesthetics.  This is the focus of my blog post, and while it makes most sense to people familiar with downtown Indianapolis, the arguments about hierarchies of taste and aspirations for objectivity could easily apply anywhere.  I welcome your opinions, as always.

Two other quick points I'd like to raise:

- Now and then I still get comments on significantly older blog posts.  Keep them coming!  I welcome them, and every response gets sent right to my e-mail Inbox, so that I can easily provide comments for a post, no matter how old it may be.

- I deliberately do not screen my posts, and if someone wants to criticize me anonymously, go right ahead.  I try to keep as much of an open door as possible.  The only comments I erase are those that are clearly just trying to embed a link to another commercial website where goods or services are sold.  These are not legitimate contributions so I treat them as spam.  But heated disagreements or corrections to my mistakes will remain online.


Jon White said...

Thanks for the longer form essay on the other website. I grew up in Indianapolis and my family still live there but I left nearly 30 years ago. I've been enjoying your blog since I cam across it recently. I was familiar with all of the buildings except the Barton bldg. Perhaps that's some sort of testament to it's unremarkableness? Anyway, keep up the good work.
Jon White

AmericanDirt said...

Thanks for your comments, Jon. I tend to lean toward your opinion that Barton Tower is unremarkable, but its defenders have devised some compelling arguments in its defense. Those arguments are not enough, in my opinion, to leave the virtually unused lawn undeveloped, but it could certainly justify a more thoughtful dialogue between old and new construction than we can expect to see. Stay tuned, because Urban Indy will undoubtedly feature more articles on this stretch of Mass Ave as these important developments advance.