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Pearls -- of Architecture -- Among Swine

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The Indiana State Fair is in full swing, you're just in time for your deep-fried cookie-dough fix and roasted corn on the cob.

Or maybe you go every year for an annual Tilt-a-Whirl ride. You can see vintage tractors and watch trees being milled into lumber in Pioneer Village. Or visit the fancy-feathered chickens, Chinchilla bunnies and big-eyed llamas, along with plenty of cows, pigs and lambs. You might hear a free concert, watch fast-footed cloggers or ogle prehistoric-looking fish (or even catch one yourself). Good golly the people-watching alone is worth the $10 price of admission.

But one of my favorite things to do at the fair is check out the architecture. There is fine architectural design here, even though chances are good that you haven't noticed it tucked behind the temporary Lemon Shake-Up shacks and midway game tents or the looming Ferris wheel.

The glass barn, designed by Jonathan Hess, is on the north side of the Indiana State Fairgrounds.  - CONNIE ZEIGLER
  • Connie Zeigler
  • The glass barn, designed by Jonathan Hess, is on the north side of the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

So I'll let you in on my architectural tour I like to take. I'll start with the new stuff. Indianapolis architect Jonathan Hess of Browning, Day, Mullins and Dierdorf - he designed the Eiteljorg and the new Indianapolis Museum of Art - crafted the Glass Barn for the Indiana Soybean Alliance in 2013. It's both stylish and smart. The modern structure looks kind of like a glass box with seven small flat-roofed houses stacked at an angle on top. Interesting. Even more interesting upon a closer look, which reveals that those odd angled roof sections are directing rainwater into downspouts and then out into rain gardens surrounding the building.

There's another new building this year, the modern Youth Arena added to the rear of the Coliseum. This building, and the renovation of the Coliseum, was done by Bill Bourne of the Kansas City firm, Populous. Light and airy, it has limestone, stainless steel and glass walls rising to a flat roof and a stepped-back third-story with clerestory windows. It's a nice addition and visible only from the rear of the Coliseum.

Several buildings at the fairgrounds reflect Art Deco style, including the entrance to the Boys Dormitory. - CONNIE ZEIGLER
  • Connie Zeigler
  • Several buildings at the fairgrounds reflect Art Deco style, including the entrance to the Boys Dormitory.

Speaking of which, this incredible Art Deco Masterpiece just underwent an interior renovation by Populous that is bright and open and respectful of its initial 1939 design by Indianapolis's Merritt Harrison. The Coliseum's construction was funded by the Public Works Administration during the Franklin Roosevelt presidency. The new design retains the stunning exterior and important interior elements of the original, like the incredible Art Deco bronze ticket windows, while adding modern lighting, newfangled seating and other contemporary touches. One big improvement, the huge, authentic glass-block windows are restored and once again shed light into this shining example of good design, both old and new.

Like the Coliseum, the other significant older buildings on the site were finely designed by a Who's Who of Indianapolis architecture firms from the first half of the 20th century.

Rubush and Hunter, whose downtown Indianapolis buildings include the Art Deco wonder, Circle Tower, went with a Mediterranean theme in the Administration Building they designed for the Fairgrounds in 1921. J. Edwin Kopf had a hand in many of the fair's supporting buildings. The fine terra cotta chickens on the Poultry Building, sheep head medallions on the Sheep Barn and hog's head sculpture on the Swine Barn are part of his design work.

J. Edwin Kopf's terra cotta chickens of the Poultry Building and the Old Monon Depot exemplify the historic side of Indiana State Fairground architecture. - CONNIE ZEIGLER
  • Connie Zeigler
  • J. Edwin Kopf's terra cotta chickens of the Poultry Building and the Old Monon Depot exemplify the historic side of Indiana State Fairground architecture.

The Farm Bureau Building stands as one of the few mid-20th-century buildings on the grounds. Its Mid-Century Modern low-slung design isn't as eye-catching as some of the older buildings, especially with its clerestory windows inexplicably painted over, but it's a timepiece of post-war America.

And if you happen to ride your bike to the fair and park at the Old Monon Railroad Depot, you'll see an example of architecture built just after the turn of the 20th Century.

There are architectural pearls -- among swine -- here. A representative from the Department of Natural Resources will take you on an architectural tour of the Fairgrounds, if you request one. Or you can enjoy your own self-guided tour. All you have to do is look up while you're walking around and chowing down.

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