A New Kind of Downtown: Mixed-Use Projects & Multi-Family Housing

Axis Architecture Blog Post

“Live-work-play” developments and multi-family housing have become popular in the last few years, due in part to high-profile projects like Honolulu’s ‘Aiea and Alpharetta’s Avalon. These projects blend housing, retail, and offices to create “downtown” environments. They make efficient use of limited space, are pedestrian-friendly, and create a sense of community.

Which is what we’re doing with One North, 918 Fort Wayne Ave., and Morton School Senior Apartments.

1 North | Axis Architecture

One North—in downtown Fishers, Ind.—includes a three-story, 30,000-square-foot office building; a 500-space parking garage; and a four-story, mixed-use building with more than 200 units and 5,000 square feet of commercial space.

“It’s a new concept for Fishers,” said Drew White, one of Axis’s co-founders. “There will be some live-work spaces, and each of them will have working storefront exhibits.”

“This redevelopment project really raises the bar for our entrepreneurial city,” said Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness in an Indianapolis Business Journal article. “A creative development like this one … brings significant value to our downtown and furthers the ecosystem in which entrepreneurs can thrive.”

Susan Troski, a graduate architect at Axis, agreed that mixed-use buildings contribute to a neighborhood’s character. She cited CityWay, the Hinge, and the Artistry as examples of mixed-use projects in downtown Indy.

“Retail always helps with the vibrancy of a neighborhood,” said Susan. “People like to see activity.”

1 North | Axis Architecture

But sometimes it can be tricky to win the favor of residents in historic neighborhoods. They may think a mixed-use or multi-family development is unnecessary, not complementary to the area’s existing architecture. And residents may be anxious about the growth in traffic (both vehicular and pedestrian).

For 918 Fort Wayne Ave.—a five-story, multi-family residential project in historic St. Joseph—both the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission and the neighborhood had to approve the plans. And throughout the entire process, we listened to what residents had to say.

“That project was in a sensitive area where people have been neighbors for a long time,” said Susan. “But Drew is very good at … hearing everyone’s voices. He addresses their concerns … and once [residents] see the stimulus retail components and offices can bring to a neighborhood, they end up liking it.”

Another one of our multi-family projects, Morton School Senior Apartments, is located at 22nd Street and College Avenue. The project includes the adaptive reuse of a historic school building, as well as a four-story addition on the east side of the site. The addition will match the style and aesthetics of the school (originally constructed in the late 1800s), and provide housing for low-income seniors.

1 North | Axis Architecture

But it doesn’t provide only housing. The Morton project includes efficient fixtures and more than 250 solar panels. We’re aiming for a Gold National Green Building Standard, as well as a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index score of less than 50.

As for the architecture of mixed-use and multi-family buildings? We like to play around with proportions. If we know there is going to be a retail aspect, we think of how we can emphasize the corners of the building. But to keep things from looking “blocky,” we make sure our designs have a sense of movement. We want people’s eyes to follow the length of the façade, to spot the details and different materials.

So, for One North, we went for whimsy. Something that would catch the eye, make people say, “Wow.”

“We wanted the design to be clever,” said Drew. “To hide the [parking garage] so it’s not prominent. To have a lot of natural light and outdoor amenities.”

1 North | Axis Architecture

We included a courtyard, a space that encourages collaboration and connectivity. And like the public spaces at the High Line in New York City, the community spaces at One North help make the project self-dependent. Residents and entrepreneurs can explore the area, meet each other, greet each other, and react to the context.

And, really, that’s what we do: We give folks a place to live, work, and play. And in turn, they create a sense of community, a “downtown” based on our architecture.