Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Art Matters to Architecture

On the Art21 blog, Richard McCoy has written a detailed post on the restoration of Milton Glaser’s “Color Fuses” mural, a site-specific work that wraps the first floor on the 1975 Minton-Capehart Federal Building in Indianapolis. Glaser worked with the building’s architect Evans Woollen, who McCoy quotes as saying he hoped the mural would make the structure “cheerful, disarming, fresh, welcoming, and inviting.”

The restoration, paid for with funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, looks gorgeous, and has the added benefit of a new lighting system for nighttime illumination that works the way Glaser always intended.

In the evening, the building’s entire loggia is encircled in light coming from the LED lamps. The building vibrates with color. If you watch closely, you see a wave of bright light slowly moving around the building, illuminating the bands of colors and then going dark. As the light washes over each color, they seem to come a little bit more alive. It all moves at about the pace of someone walking slowly past the building. The effect is impossible to fully capture in still photos, but can be understood better through video. The GSA has a page dedicated to the project, complete with a very good video.

As followers of my Twitter account know, I will retweet anything Glaser. But what struck me most about this story was the collaboration of designer and architect, and the integration of the art with the Brutalist architecture. Without this mural, and even with the mural faded and indifferently illuminated, this was a different building. It was a dark house without a welcome mat. A mass without a marked door. Another concrete building in a plaza. And it was never intended to be that way.