Downtown Indy’s built environment changes hourly, it seems. Each new development expresses and reflects our desire for a hipper, and, well, more citified self-image. Our cityscape is always subject to history’s iterations. What moods and alchemies are created when newer buildings rise into conversation with older buildings? Can we predict the personalities and popularity of these new buildings 50 years from now?
The newest Indianapolis architectural gesture is the $27 million Julia M. Carson Transit Center on Washington Street between Alabama and Delaware. In contrast to the swank residential towers ascending each day, the Transit Center seems like the first new building in a long time meant for truly public use.
With the goal of “adding dignity to the public transit experience” (as described by IndyGo spokesperson Lauren Day), the building, designed by local firm Axis, is flooded with healthy light. Its hue—the springy, saucy shade of KLM Royal Dutch airline flight attendant uniforms—competes with the sky for blueness. High ceilings draw the spirit upward, and the building’s swooping lid evokes a vaulting.
Michael Bricker of People for Urban Progress observed that the Transit Center is “nonchalant without being indifferent.” He noted how it has a freshening effect on the City-County building. We both noticed the Marion County Jail, the Transit Center’s southern neighbor. (Cell blocks 2-2-N and 3-3-N are visible from the bus bay area. (I wonder if some of those incarcerated there can see the bays, and what they might think).
The revelation here is that the 30,000 riders likely to pass through the Center each day will now have a designed experience of going. Previously invisible people hanging out on street corners are now placed. The nearly transparent Transit Center will add transparency to what it means to ride: to surrender control of a car (or to accept having no choice but the bus); to learn how to wait well; to participate fully in the commons. What was once a slovenly experience—as a bus rider, I can testify—just got a lot prettier. Can a well-designed building alter individual and civic self-images?
Yes, but the results are often unpredictable. The Transit Center building is small in relation to the two-acre site. How much humanity will huddle there in winter? Will the free wifi and public restrooms be able to accommodate the crush of bus riders who will bring their energies, needs and anxieties to the space? Will the touch-screen info boards and water bottle filler (drinking fountains are apparently passé) mean something to the riders? Once upon a time, the now graceless and angry Greyhound Bus/Amtrak terminal might have been exciting.
Stewart Brand wrote in his 1995 book, How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built, that “trust, intimacy, intense use, and time are what made [beloved, long-lived buildings] work so well.”
The Transit Center’s noble function is to shelter Indy’s nomads for short bursts of time. Will its style—mod, crisp, perky, a bit dainty—struggle to keep pace with that big responsibility? Is it a lovable building? Seems so. Can it be trusted? Let’s find out.
Axis Architecture + Interiors, "Julia M. Carson Transit Center,” Washington & Delaware Streets, opened June 26, 2016.