Deborah Berke Partners’ first new construction office project, located in downtown Indianapolis, opened earlier this year. Designed for Cummins Inc., the nine-story building includes flexible office space, retail, and a new urban park, all of which support the engine company’s business goals and the revitalization of downtown Indianapolis. The building sits on the site of a former arena that the architects say produced an anti-urban “gaping hole in the city.” The transformation of this site was driven by urbanistic motives designed to correct these failures, producing a carefully scaled mid-rise tower that is informed by contextual and environmental criteria.
Examples of this design approach can be seen on the prominent south facade where its patterning undulates along the length of the building as opportunities for views outward into the city appear. A gradient pattern of frit glazing gives way to full view glass at the middle of the building facade to demarcate a series of double height “social hubs” centrally located in the building to foster a collaborative work environment. Elsewhere, on the west facade, afternoon shadows cast by a neighboring building allowed large projecting fins on the curtain wall to taper in depth as they track down the facade.
Noah Biklen, principal at Deborah Berke Partners, said that having a client who is a technology leader like Cummins inspired a careful “tuning” process in the design of the facade system, involving life-cycle analysis and a global look at project’s design approach. “We wanted everything to have quality and precision, and [we] spent a lot of time thinking about the shaping of vertical fins, horizontal shades, and the detailing of connections. We introduced curvature to provide a very machined and engineered presence. Particularly at the corners, where we wanted to evoke a certain fluidity—a line that could be tracked around the building as the massing shifts.” Biklen added, “This feels like a Cummins engine to us.”
One of the biggest challenges to the project was the schedule, which was fast-tracked at 28 months from the initial site visit to construction completion. The critical challenge of this schedule was ordering the glass, due to coordination and shipping times. To manage this challenge, a design assist process was introduced to help establish a collaborative project team early. Starting around the middle of the design development phase, a “basis of design” document that combined outline specs with some basic design drawings were used to bid out the project to facade contractors and fabricators. Biklen said, “you can immediately start talking about ordering the glass, tricky details, the corners of the building, and more. We were able to have these conversations four or five months into the design process, and we had a design partner who was ultimately going to be the one fabricating these details.”
The unitized curtain wall facade features three modular widths and a subgrid of two-panel widths. This allows for some controlled variation to the compositional grid of the facade. The New-York–based architects said having a large site area to work with allowed plenty of room for various sizes of unitized panels to be delivered and stocked on site, which helped to ease the complexity of construction sequencing.
Another goal was to limit the amount of tempered glass in the project, which the architects said was not desirable due to known issues with spontaneous breakage, and visual “roller wave rippling” distortion from the manufacturing process. The alternative was to use heat-strengthened glass, which undergoes a manufacturing process that minimizes imperfections in the glass. The end result was a product that maximized visual clarity and reflectivity of the building envelope, which Biklen said supported the urbanistic goals of the project. “You have a sense of the internal workings of the building from the city. The more you can be transparent at what’s going on helps to make a strong connection to the city,” Biklen said. “Having the building be a little didactic makes it a good urban neighbor.”