Cummins connects in more ways than one with building

When the new Cummins distribution headquarters is completed in downtown Indianapolis in 2016, it will change the skyline. But this building is going to — and should — do a lot more for the city’s downtown, including bringing increased connectivity to east-side neighborhoods and setting new standards for how we approach design and development of our urban core.

The design of the glass, 10-story office building on the site of the former Market Square Arena received a lot of positive attention when it was announced last month. As an architect, I was most impressed with how the building will sit on the site. Even though Cummins’ architect had an entire city block to work with, the building concentrates density at the north and hugs Market Street. This helps create a link to the near-east-side neighborhoods, something that’s been missing within our urban core.

You have to give credit to Cummins, which is known for the innovative design of its corporate campuses and manufacturing plants. This is a company that understands the pivotal role design plays in shaping communities and attracting and retaining key employees. The design of the Indy headquarters is no exception.

What’s even more impressive is that Cummins, which has built dozens of offices around the globe, cared enough to get to know our neighborhood and understand how the site affects the urban core. Soon after Cummins decided to invest $30 million for this headquarters, its leaders invited the Indianapolis chapter of the American Institute of Architects to a meeting to get our opinions about what we’d like to see in the design and to discuss broader issues for developing within the inner core.

The meeting was a rare opportunity from a private corporation to seek advice from the local design community. Even more impressive, Cummins listened.

While the building will sit closest to Market Street, Washington Street will become mostly green space. Open park area is fine for now, but our hope would be that Cummins is “land banking” this green space for future development. Perhaps one day, the urban edge will be restored along Washington Street as well through additional development with storefront retail.

The planned renovation of the plaza in front of the City-County Building just across the street will offer ample public space. To encourage further urban investment, the key is using development to bring neighborhoods closer. This can be achieved through enhancing urban edges and incorporating pedestrian-friendly storefronts, which promotes walkability and community identity. The Cummins block is clearly well on its way in developing a strong urban identity.

As architects, community leaders and business owners, we can take cues from Cummins. They undertook an open process that invited a shared vision. They challenged their architect to make bold statements through sweeping forms.

Finally, the development encourages neighborhood connections and walkability, and perhaps even fosters future expansion opportunities.

Mark Beebe is president of the American Institute of Architects Indianapolis and owner of the architecture firm Lancer + Beebe in downtown Indianapolis. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.