Deborah Berke’s tower for Indianapolis has shifted flooring panels

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The architecture firm Deborah Berke Partners has completed a glass office tower with “diffraction and projection” for a centuries-old automotive company in the American Midwest, known for its patronage of modern architecture.

The Cummins Indy Distribution Headquarters is located on a 1.6-acre block in downtown Indianapolis – the state capital of Indiana. The building is concentrated along Market Street, a major thoroughfare, and helps define a “street wall” in the Market East cultural district.

Cummins engine room by Deborah Berke Partners

The building was built on the site of a sports arena that was destroyed in 2001 and serves as the global sales office for Cummins, a Columbus, Indiana-based engine and power generation company that has long been a promoter of advanced architecture.

The company is credited with bringing top architects like Kevin Roche, Eero Saarinen and IM Pei to Columbus and turning the small town into an architectural mecca.

Cummins engine room by Deborah Berke Partners

The aim of the Indianapolis project was to provide the company’s employees with a quality work environment while at the same time helping to revitalize the inner city. Deborah Berke Partners, based in New York in 1982, was selected for the project through an invited competition.

“Over the decades, Cummins has shown a commitment to great design that benefits its employees, customers and the community,” said Deborah Berke, who runs her eponymous company and is the dean of the Yale School of Architecture. “This building carries that legacy on with an environmentally responsible design that honors the work done inside while enhancing the urban area.”

Cummins engine room by Deborah Berke Partners

The tower contains offices, social areas, conference facilities and retail space. Instead of creating a standard box tower, the team designed a narrow, nine-story building with sliding floor panels, some of which protrude slightly outward. The variations give the building a sculptural appearance.

“A carved tower with its bends and projections gives the city a distinctive landmark,” said the company.

The building is encased in glass, which lets in plenty of daylight and offers workers a wide view. Metal fins help reduce solar heat gain.

Cummins engine room by Deborah Berke Partners

“The articulated facades and distinctive shape of the building serve one purpose – to create a comfortable, light-flooded work environment for employees that increases the vitality of Market Street,” said Berke.

Inside the tower there are open, flexible areas for working and socializing. The reception area, the bicycle cellar and the sales area are on the ground floor. On the second floor there are meeting and training rooms, a large kitchen and a terrace. Open-plan offices and “social hubs” are located on the upper floors.

Cummins engine room by Deborah Berke Partners

The tower is connected to a multi-level parking garage and overlooks a green park with a small amphitheater and quiet meditation rooms.

“The park is a public facility that does a double job as a robust piece of green infrastructure,” said Berke.

Cummins engine room by Deborah Berke Partners

The office tower is the newest from Cummins and shows its continued commitment to contemporary architecture. Founded in 1919, the company not only hired leading architects to design its own furnishings, but also subsidized the design of public buildings across Columbus.

In the 1950s, the company’s late CEO, J Irwin Miller, established the Cummins Foundation, which aimed to enhance the city’s architectural landscape by paying design fees for new public buildings. Roche, Harry Weese and Gunnar Birkerts were among the architects commissioned to design buildings as part of the program.

Cummins engine room by Deborah Berke Partners

The initiative prompted other companies and institutions in the city to hire leading architects. Today Columbus – which was recently shown in a movie – is considered one of America’s finest architectural meccas. In 2006, Berke designed a small drive-through bench for the city.

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Recent projects by Deborah Berke Partners include transforming a historic Buffalo madhouse into a boutique hotel and converting a former New York prison into a women’s rights headquarters.

The photography is by Chris Cooper.

Project Loans:

Design architect, interior designer: Deborah Berke Partners
Project team: Deborah Berke; Marc Leff, project manager; Arthi Krishnamoorthy, project manager; Ameet Hiremath, project designer (interior design); Noah Biklen, project designer (facade and exterior view);
Stephen Brockman, Project Designer (Interior Design)
Architect of the record: Ratio Architects
Landscape architect: David Rubin Land Collective