With all of the eye-catching buildings in Columbus, Ind., the addition to the Indiana Bell (now AT&T) Switching Center, designed by Paul Kennon of Houston’s Caudill Rowlett Scott (which was acquired by HOK in 1994), has received less attention than it deserves. Kennon wanted to hide this one-story addition to a three-story telephone equipment facility within its residential context by wrapping both structures in reflective glass. He disguised the nearly windowless facility with a vertical space-frame trellis that supports climbing vegetation. The trellis, together with pear trees along the corner lot, shaded narrow brick plazas as well as the building’s south and east façades. Kennon placed nine brightly colored mechanical ducts by a rear alley, standing sentinel-like as if guarding the all-glass building.
As Kennon’s vision became a reality, wisteria covered the trellis and the pear trees grew to the point where the building visually disappeared behind a green wall (above). But the lush vegetation became a haven for birds, whose droppings proved a nuisance and maintenance expense. This led AT&T to cut down the trees and—over the objections of local preservationists and Kennon’s son Kevin Kennon, AIA—remove the vines and all but the top of the trellis.
While the reflective glass has been cleaned, the mechanical ducts repainted, and the brick plazas repaired, the building now looks sadly naked, standing as a caution to all who understandably want to plant the walls of buildings. This makes perfect sense environmentally, but it reminds us that nurturing a building doesn’t always work with nature.
1976 P/A Awards Jury
Arthur Cotton Moore, FAIA
W. Russell Ellis
Cesar Pelli, FAIA
Stanley Tigerman, FAIA