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Saturday, November 8th, 2008

Review: New Indianapolis Airport Terminal Part 5 – Artwork

This is the fifth in a series of providing a comprehensive overview of the new Indianapolis airport terminal. You can also read part one (exterior), part two (interior), part three (finishes and furnishings), and part four (signage), part six (miscellaneous, or rethinking the airport as public space), and part seven (conclusion). This installment covers the airport’s artwork.

The airport authority spent about $3.9 million on art for the new terminal. Using a benchmark of 1% of the budget for public art, this would have equated to an $11 million art budget on the $1.1 billion cost of the complex. However, the terminal building itself was only a portion of that, and frankly, it looks to me like there was no skimping on art. The airport authority was able to do a lot with a comparative little.

With limited exceptions, I’m not going to attempt to judge the quality of the art itself. I will note that I think it is a mixed bag, with some pieces I like, and others that fall into the category of “airport art”. But let’s face it, the goal of an airport art program is not to create a world class museum. The artwork in this airport serves two critical functions:

  1. It is a design element. That is, the art is used as part of the interior design of the space. While it is useful as decoration and functions well as that, it is also very integrated into the overall design of the facility. It is clear that there was a significant amount of interaction and collaboration between the artists and the architects on this.
  2. It serves a signaling function. Let’s face it, part of the function of this art is to send a message to locals and visitors alike that this is a city that gets it and this is a city that cares. It says, “We are willing to spend money on art. We understand the world we are in and aspire to compete with other cities at the highest levels. We care.”

The art was selected via an open competition, with the winners a mixture of locals and out of towners. The first piece you see is from one of the locals. This is piece entitled “Breath” by Greg Hull.

These red objects dynamically expand and contract, hence the name. Here you see the very strong integration between the architecture and the art. First, we are in an atrium area of the parking garage. The atrium itself is noteworthy for providing a sense of openness to what is normally a claustrophobic space. The skylight only adds to the effect. But if it were just empty air, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective. Rather, it would just a be a sterile, empty box. This fills the space while still leaving it open, and, more importantly, filling the space with color. Without the dramatic red, we’d have a very drab and unappealing space. It also adds motion which is nice. This technique is used repeatedly throughout the terminal. The design is all white steel and glass. This could have left it cold and antiseptic. But with the artwork the space is enlivened with color and dramatically warmed up. The art allowed the architect to use a clean, modern look without the downsides of sterility. Very nice.

This piece is doubly functional, since the expanding and contracting red balls attract the eye when you park your car and literally draw you to this atrium, which is the way into the terminal.

You can read more about this piece and the artist here.

As we cross into the terminal, we’re treated to this piece, called, unimaginatively, “Interactive Passage”.

The lights blink on and off in various patterns, accompanied by sound effects and electronic music. I hate it. I don’t hate it because it is bad; I hate it because it is so derivative. A commenter elsewhere said there is something similar in Detroit, but what immediately came to my mind was the “The Sky is the Limit” at O’Hare, which is the light sculpture in the underground passageway between Concourse B and C in Terminal 1. If part of the function of artwork is sending messages, then the one this one sends is, “We’re a bunch of bush-league copy-cats”. I think this piece should be ripped out and replaced with something original. Even nothing at all would be better.

Here we see “Jet Stream” by Rob Fisher from Pennsylvania, which are the pastel metal bird/clouds suspended from the ceiling of the civic plaza.

You see from a distance that this serves a similar design function to Breathe. You’ve got this huge, open, skylight Civic Plaza space. That vastness is key to its effect, but it also can dwarf the human scale. This art work lowers the high ceiling of the space while preserving its openness. Very effective.

There is also art to look at while waiting to clear security. Where people are likely to spend some time waiting – security, check-in, baggage claim, the gates – are the most key areas to get right, and I’m very glad to see art work instead of the typical advertisements. We’ll see how long we survive without the latter, however.

In several spots we see art work integrated into or literally used as finishes. For example, this glass mosaic tile is actually a piece of art I believe, but it is used as a wall covering for drinking fountains the concourse, very similar to how regular mosaic tile was used in the departures area (see part three).

I also noted before that there was artwork in the terrazzo floor.

I believe this one is called “The Glory of Sports in Indianapolis” by Tom Torluemke of Hammond, Indiana. I think it is an excellent choice to highlight the city’s ongoing commitment to be a sporting capital here. What’s more, the use of an artist from Northwest Indiana is great. Remember how I said Indianapolis needed to deepen its linkages with the rest of the state by seeking to become the entire state’s shared cultural ground? This is one way you do it. While we should never lose sight of this being the Indianapolis International Airport, showing that it is also Indiana’s airport is key as well. When visitors drive in from Terre Haute to fly to visit family in Boston, do you want them to think they are arriving in a foreign city when they pull into the parking lot at IND, or that they are coming home? I think including artists from not just Indianapolis, but elsewhere in Indiana, was a very intelligent decision. As was the decision to avoid the “no out of towners need apply” approach that has crippled the city’s design for so many projects.

I showed this one before, but it’s worth showing again. The compass directions in the Civic Plaza flooring are actually a piece of art, “Great Circle Route” by Chicago’s Lynn Basa. I think this is delightful. It adds a note of playfulness and fun without being cheesy and even manages to serve a vaguely utilitarian purpose.

The baggage claim area is flanked by two outdoor sculptures. I mentioned before that the baggage claim areas are dull and need to be improved. I still think that. However, the glass walls of the side allow your eyes to be drawn to these sculptures.

The above shot shows the context of the art in an outdoor plaza. This one is a lawn chair with balloons that you’ll probably have to enlarge the picture to see properly. As you can tell from the people out there, these sculptures are publicly accessible. I think these protected outdoor areas (call it a plaza? a garden?) are nice spaces in themselves and again show the quality of the design. How many airports have something like this? Here is the one on the other side of the terminal.

Moving back inside, here’s a colorful piece above an escalator. Sorry for the blurry pic.

I’ll finish this up with what might be the strongest integration of art into the design. I noted before that I thought the concourses were fairly standard and uninspiring. Well there is one big exception to that, and that’s the use of large stained glass panels in the windows at several locations. There are 14 of these by British artist Martin Donlin. These are in bold colors and make an extremely dramatic impact on what would otherwise be (and, disappointingly, otherwise is) a totally institutional space.

See what I mean? Several of these have poems and such inscribed. Here are a few more examples.

Again, with the artwork we see that the designers of the airport showed a great deal of thought and care in their work. They didn’t have to include art at all. Most other major local civic structures of recent vintage didn’t include any. They could have treated art as a checklist item or said no out of towners allowed. But they didn’t. Rather, they held an open call for submissions, selecting a mixture of local, state, national, and international talent. And they integrated the art very carefully into the overall design of the airport. They didn’t just plop it down or use the art as a prop. It’s just not pure decoration. It’s a true design element. You can read more about the process they went through in this article.

I wasn’t able to include photos of every art work here. There are over 30 pieces by 16 different artists. Be on the lookout for them if you fly from this facility. And there is apparently more to come. The airport has a design in the works for an “IND” entrance gateway piece. There is no funding for it yet, but the airport authority has created a foundation to raise funds to complete it. I’ve got other ideas for what this foundation could do as well, which I’ll cover in the next installment. A complete list of the artists and their works is available here.

5 Comments
Topics: Architecture and Design, Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

5 Responses to “Review: New Indianapolis Airport Terminal Part 5 – Artwork”

  1. Lynn Basa says:

    I spotted your blog because it mentioned the artwork I did for the Indy airport. Thank you for that. But then I read the whole thing and thought it gave it the more detailed analysis the airport artwork needs and deserves, IMHO, that it hasn’t gotten elsewhere (yet?).
    Lynn Basa

  2. Anonymous says:

    OKC has very nice exterior sculpture gardens between the bag-claim exit and the parking garage.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Jet Stream is not clouds or birds. It is portuguese man ‘o war jellyfish.

  4. Anonymous says:

    How do you know the pieces in Jet Stream are supposed to represent Jelly Fish?

    I can’t find an artist statement about for this piece anywhere…

  5. VisuaLingual says:

    I recently travelled out of and into the new Indy airport, and wow! I had seen your images before, but checking out the public art in person was [mostly] amazing. That botanical mosaic in the security area is incredible [unfortunately, that's not a place to dawdle and take a close look at it]. The mosaics above the water fountains are stunning. The one pieces I didn’t like were the window panels you showed last — they seemed like naive Graphic Design 101 exercises. Otherwise, the airport art is visually rewarding.

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