Saturday, November 8th, 2008

Review: New Indianapolis Airport Terminal Part 6 – Miscellaneous, or Rethinking the Airport as Public Space

This is the sixth in a series providing a comprehensive overview of the new H. Weir Cook Terminal at the Indianapolis International Airport. You can also read part one (the exterior), part two (the interior), part three (finishes and furnishings), part four (signage), part five (the artwork), and part seven (the conclusion).

We’re just about finished with our tour. There’s just a few other things. During the Community Days open house that I attended to take these pictures, they had a band performing in the Civic Plaza. Here’s a picture.

This prompts me to think about the Civic Plaza space. It would be a terrible shame if this ended up as nothing more than a shopping mall and food court. It’s a fantastic gathering area outside of the security perimeter. In fact, airport officials are hoping to draw shoppers and diners who aren’t even flying. While that might make great financial sense, taken by itself it’s a spiritually impoverished vision. I’m fully supportive of commerce in an airport setting and hope the airport makes tons of money from it. But I think there’s a big opportunity here, an opportunity to get creative and turn this into a Civic Plaza properly so-called. To make of it a real gathering place. Consider the possibilities that immediately come to mind:

Imagine people being entertained with bands every day, not just on special open houses.

Imagine that the IMA, Eiteljorg and company didn’t just have a gift shop there, but used the Civic Plaza and/or one of the retail spaces there as an actual exhibit space. What an opportunity to not just bring people into contact with fine art, but also to build patronage for those institutions.

Imagine being challenged as IndyFringe or others sponsored performance art productions regularly.

Imagine being educated on the environment and environmentally friendly building techniques? With an entire (hopefully) to be LEED certified complex covering all major airport buildings, the new IND terminal is possibly the most environmentally friendly airport in the world. I said before there should be a permanent marker for this in the Civic Plaza, but why not go further and create an entire educational exhibit around it? Showcase everything that went into this building.

Imagine the various immigrant groups of Indianapolis mounting cultural exhibitions here to showcase the diversity of the community?

Imaging rotating traveling art exhibits such as something similar to what is being done with the public sculpture program downtown. In fact, why not have the public sculpture from downtown do a turn at the airport before moving on? I can easily picture the Booker pieces installed throughout the airport. Or include the airport in a joint downtown-airport program from now on. Think about what this might do draw linkages, even if subtle and subliminal, between the airport and downtown. Perhaps it might even prompt at downtown visit. (“If you want to see more cool stuff like this, head downtown to the following locations…”)

I see no reason that this Civic Plaza can’t be a venue similar to the Indianapolis Artsgarden, only bigger and better. Like the Artsgarden, it might have less than ideal conditions for art and performance. But people are going to be there whether there is anything inspiring for them to see and do or not. Why not make the airport the official West Side Cultural Center?

This is an opportunity for Indianapolis to get out on the leading edge and really redefine what an airport is and can be. I’m not saying every idea is right or that this is an exhaustive list. But again, there’s a huge opportunity here to go beyond the ordinary and create a true Civic Plaza.

I don’t know what the airport’s plans are here, so something like this might already be in the works. Stay tuned. I mentioned that the airport is starting an art foundation. This is something that can be used to fund the items above, though I believe the airport should pay for some of it out of its operating funds. As with the public art, this is an item of relative modest cost that can have a very big impact.

Speaking of international cultural exhibits, the city already put up a display honoring its Sister Cities.

This is commonly done at airports and I’m glad to see it here. It also dovetails with the mayor’s reinvigoration of that program.

Lastly, one nice thing the airport did during the open house was to allow people to walk out on the tarmac. As part of this, they pulled up all the shiny new equipment they had bought to let people check it out.

This is like the world’s awesomest Tonka truck. I felt like a kid again.

It’s really the details that matter, that separate the good from the great. These two photos are a great example. Look at how the airport authority took something utterly mundane like its plows and such and did something nice with them. Note the green gas tank on the top photo. That’s a very nice touch that adds both interest and whimsy to this object. It also softens the aggressiveness of the machinery without neutering it.

The bottom one is even more interesting. A little piece of art work was painted on the blade of the plow. It probably won’t last long, but that’s not the point. I think it’s a quirky distillation of a lot of what the airport did right with this project.

Topics: Architecture and Design, Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

7 Responses to “Review: New Indianapolis Airport Terminal Part 6 – Miscellaneous, or Rethinking the Airport as Public Space”

  1. Michael Heneghan says:

    I’ve been a teacher in Indy for quite a while, and I know one of the things our school has done over the last 3-4 years is participate in a “Shovel Art Project” or something to that effect. Every year all the kids would help design and paint one of those big shovels for the snow plows. I’m sure that’s where this shovel gets its artwork. They are presumably in use all over the city. I agree, it’s cool, and our kids have always loved doing it.

  2. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks – that’s probably it. I wasn’t aware of the program but it sounds great.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great post, I couldn’t agree more with the idea of rotating art exhibitions and routine performances. I’ve seen examples of that in various airports and always feel that it reflects well on the city.

    My local airport in Philadelphia (not on the top of many peoples’ lists of the best airports) does a commendable job of having rotating exhibitions of art from local artists (

  4. thundermutt says:

    Don’t be too hard on PHL. It was designed and built in a different era, one where people expected to arrive in the vicinity of the airport and jump on a plane in less than an hour of check-in and gate-waiting time. So it was built in decentralized fashion without a “great hall”. Other than the excruciatingly long waits for baggage, it used to be relatively user-friendly.

  5. Julia says:

    Urbanophile, all of your comments about performances and exhibits you would like to see in Civic Plaza have been under discussion by the Airport Art Steering Committee for the past four years and will be implemented and managed by the IND Foundation just as soon as they can get funded. We got a great preview of how it could work during Community Days and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  6. The Urbanophile says:

    Julia, thank you for your contribution and I am happy to hear that you already have some of this in the works.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The Civic Plaza is really a commendable effort on the part of the designers to re-excite the concept of air travel. Flying for business and working at airports, including IND, it is great that they allow the public to experience part of flight via the plaza. There are way too many airports that one arrives at, trudges through ticketing and security and never sees the sky or even airplane, until they are practically at the gate.

    The Civic Plaza is really a great space and as Urbanophile writes, should celebrate the public’s access by engaging them as often as possible.

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