Indianapolis, Indiana

As commissions go, only the folly offers an architect more liberty than the pavilion. Consider a Modern jewel, Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, built to represent Germany at the 1929 World Exposition and to formally receive the king and queen of Spain — once — at its opening in May of that year. Having served its purpose, it was demolished in January 1930. (It was rebuilt in 1986.)



In strictly functional terms, the Ruth Lilly Visitors Pavilion at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) required nothing more than a couple of Porta-Potties and a bench. The coarseness of that notion contrasts with the refined building designed by Marlon Blackwell, pointing up the real function of the pavilion as an expression of identity. “I look at it as a glorious place of respite,” says IMA director and CEO Maxwell Anderson.

The 100 Acres Art & Nature Park, where the pavilion is located, lies in the floodplain of the White River. Abandoned by its previous owners, the land fell under the control of the state of Indiana, which donated it to the IMA in 1972. The property had been farmland and, later, a portion of it became a quarry — now a 35-acre lake. Just behind the museum, a canal runs north-south and, to this day, supplies drinking water to Indianapolis. The White River enfolds the two remaining sides of the triangular park, curving from the west to the north. Hardly pristine, the land restored itself over the years. It encompasses a protected wetland and has become lightly and prettily wooded — perfect for a sculpture park coexisting with nature.

In its search for an architect, an IMA selection committee met Blackwell at Pinecote Pavilion in Picayune, Mississippi. There its members picnicked on pulled pork at Fay Jones’s open-air building with Blackwell and Ed Blake, the landscape designer who teamed with Blackwell for the IMA project and had landscaped Pinecote for Jones.


For the Indianapolis project, Blake proposed clearing nonnative species from the park and carving out pathways in the woods. When he showed a scheme with a series of low berms radiating out from the pavilion like points of a star, Blackwell was aghast. But ultimately the ingenuity of that move impressed itself on the architect, since the berms mask the fact that the building must be raised 30 inches above the ground to accommodate flooding. The berms marry the pavilion to the earth and eliminate the need for a railing. The pavilion sits on the highest point and only buildable site within the floodplain. Sadly, Blake died suddenly at age 63 in August 2010 just months after the park and pavilion opened. 

The relationship between structure and nature drove Blackwell’s design. His pavilion sifts sunlight through wooden slats that form its ceiling and 17-foot-long cantilevered canopy in the same way, he suggests, that a tree canopy does. “[The pavilion] pulses with the rhythm of the day. A cloud passes and it goes quiet,” he says. “It’s as though it inhales and exhales.”

Partly because the building is not orthogonal, it can seem animated, almost alive. As visitors walk around it, different features present themselves. The triangular tip of the cantilever tilts upward but isn’t visible from the principal approach. Similarly, the wooden ceiling slats veer off from straight parallel runs in some places to form elongated peepholes, creating an optical illusion that sometimes makes them appear inverted like a pleat and sometimes flat with the roof plane. The pavilion’s slightly canted north wall — composed of precisely spaced wood slats cut lengthwise as parallelograms — can appear, like old-fashioned Venetian blinds, solid from some angles and open at others.

Although just 1,300 square feet, the pavilion is structurally complex. It has two layers of steel in its roof — one structural, the second a lighter-gauge steel T to which heavy and dense ipé wood is attached and tied back to the primary steel frame. A layer of glass above the wood forms the actual ceiling for the interior, extending the transparent, open-air quality of the deck into the interior.


Where the Barcelona Pavilion is an exquisite expression of formality and chilly beauty fit for royals, the Lilly Pavilion is a quiet creature revealing itself slowly and rewarding contemplation. That is as it should be for a pavilion in the woods.

Cheryl Kent is the author, most recently, of Millennium Park Chicago (Northwestern University Press).

Marlon Blackwell Architect
217 E. Dickson St., Suite 104
Fayetteville, AR  72701
P. 479.973.9121
F.  479.251.8281

100 Acres Art & Nature Park
The Indianapolis Museum of Art
Indianapolis, IN

Completion Date: June, 2010

Gross square footage: 1,290 sq.ft.

Total construction cost: $2,293,575


The Indianapolis Museum of Art
4000 North Michigan Road
Indianapolis, IN 46208
p. 317.923.1331

Marlon Blackwell Architect
217 E. Dickson St., Suite 104
Fayetteville, AR  72701
p. 479.973.9121
f.  479.251.8281

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Marlon Blackwell, FAIA [principal in charge]
Jonathan Boelkins, Assoc. AIA [project manager]
Chris M. Baribeau, AIA
Meryati Johari Blackwell, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP
Angela Carpenter

Matt Griffith, AIA

Ignacio Gonzalez

Bradford Payne

Michael Pope

Stephen Reyenga

Mark Rukamathu

Gail Shepherd, AIA
David Tanner
Mark Wise

Guy Nordenson & Associates
Structural Engineers, LLP
225 Varick St, 6th Floor
New York, NY  10014
p. 212.766.9119
f.  212.766.9016

L'Acquis Consulting Engineers
9229 Delegates Row, Suite 550
Indianapolis, IN   46240
p. 317.706.2075
f.  317.706.2076

Cripe Architects & Engineers
3939 Priority Way South Drive, Suite 400
Indianapolis, IN  46240
p.  317.844.6777

Curtain Wall: Kate Kulpa, AIA

Ed Blake
The Landscape Studio
P.O. Box 1748
Hattiesburg, MS 39403
p. 501.544.1935

Eric Fulford & Ann Reed
685 Middle Drive
Woodruff Place
Indianapolis, IN

Dr. Tahar Messadi
WALK 106
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701
p. 479.575.7102

Special Contributor: Mary Miss

Ralph Gerdes Consultants [building codes & fire safety]
5510 S East St Ste E 
Indianapolis, IN 46227
p. 317.787.3750

General contractor:
Geupel DeMars Hagerman
10315 Allisonville Road
Fishers, Indiana 46038
p. (317) 577-6836
f. (317) 577-6841

Timothy Hursley
1911 West Markham
Little Rock, Arkansas 72205
p. 501.372.0640

CAD system, project management, or other software used:
AutoCAD, 3ds MAX, Revit Architecture



Structural system
Steel Frame:
Sanjo Steel, Inc. [fabricator & erector]
610 W. Main St.
Greenwood, IN  46142
p. 317.888.6227
f. 317.882.1760

Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project:
Thermal Breaks:
Schöck Ltd
The Clock Tower
2 - 4 High Street
Oxford OX5 2DH
p. 0845 241 3390
f. 0845 241 3391

Exterior cladding:
Metal Panels: Skylight Curb

Metal/glass curtain wall:
Metal Art [architectural steel]
Kawneer, Inc. [custom aluminum extrusions]

Ipe [deck, rear wall, canopy]

Clear Western Red Cedar [core exterior] finished with Japanese Shoji-bu charring technique

Moisture barrier:
Curtain wall:
Hoosier Glass Co., Inc.  [curtain wall glazier & coordinator]
562 S. Post Rd.
Indianapolis, In  46239

Other cladding unique to this project:
Acrylic [deck]

Firestone UltraPly TPO
Firestone Building Products Company
310 East 96th St
Indianapolis, IN  46240
p. 800.428.4442

Metal frame:
Hope's Windows, Inc.
84 Hopkins Ave, P.O. Box 580
Jamestown, NY 14702-0580
p. 716.665.5124
f. 716.665.3365

800 Park Drive
PO Box 990
Owatonia, MN  55060
p. 507.451.9555

LinEl Signature
101 LINEL Drive
Mooresville, IN 46158
p. 317.831.5314

Ellison Model 139C
Ellison Bronze, Inc.
125 W. Main St.
Falconer, NY

Mulhaupt's, Inc. [hardware distributor]
8227 Northwest Blvd, Suite 270
Indianapolis, IN  46278
p. 317.228.9470

Adams Rite [hookbolt, strike]
Accurate Lock [mortise deadbolt]
Locknetics [shear locks]

Rixson Firemark [interior door floor closers]
1902 Airport Road
Monroe, NC  28210
p. 704.283.2101

LCN 9540 [exterior restroom access door]
LCN Closers
121 Railroad Ave.
PO Box 100
Princeton, IL 61356

Exit devices:  Von Duprin 55 Rim Device [on Ellison pivot doors]

Security devices:
Folger Adam Electric Strike 310-4
HES, Inc. 
22630 N. 17th Avenue 
Phoenix, Arizona, USA  85027
p. 623-582-4626
f.  623-582-4641

Other special hardware:
Hager [pocket door set, silencer]

Interior finishes
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: 
Interior Woodworking Corp or IWC as we call them. 
Dave Reidhead
330 Industrial Drive
Anderson, IN 46017
p. 765.378.0995

Paints and stains:
Endura Shield II [structural steel]
Tnemec, Inc.
6800 Corporate Drive
Kansas City, MO 64120
p. 800.863.6321

Solid surfacing:
Trespa [millwork]
Trespa North America, Ltd.
12267 Crosthwaite Circle 
Poway, CA 92064 

Special surfacing:
Firestone Una-Clad flush Panel System [soffit panels]

Echo Elminator
Acoustical Surfaces, Inc.
123 Columbia Court North, Suite 201
Chaska, MN  55318

Floor and wall tile:
Crossville Color Blox porcelain tile [bathrooms]

Daltile S762 Brazilian Black Slate [vestibule & bathrooms, custom cut to size]

Raised flooring:
Versaroc [subfloor]
US Architectural Products, Inc.
1117 Douglas Ave, Unit 1
North Providence, RI 02904
MegaJoist [floor plenum structure]
1393 Grahams Lane
Burlington, Ontario
Canada L7S 1W4
p. 905.631.0035 

Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Wood floor and wall in multi-purpose space was finished by water-popping rift-cut white oak, then applying two coats of Duraseal Quick Coat Ebony stain, and sealed with two coats of clear Bonaseal Waterborne Wood Floor Sealer and one coat of Bona Traffic Waterborne Wood Floor Finish. 

Other furniture (use additional sheet if necessary):
Evans Limestone Company [exterior limestone benches]
1201 Limestone Drive
PO Box 714
Bedford, IN 47421
p. 812.279.9744
f. 812.275.2408

Interior ambient lighting:
Juno Trac12 Low Voltage Trac System

Accessibility provision:
Entire deck and building is accessible.  Deck has edge protection for wheelchairs.  Automated door opener is provided to access restrooms from exterior.

Madera Floise 15" Height 1.28 GPF Flushometer Toilet
Murro Universal Design Wall Hung Lavatory
American Standard

Delta DEMD-311 Electronic Faucet
Delta Faucet Company
55 East 111th Street
Indianapolis, IN  46280
p. 317.848.1812

Surface Mounted Jumbo Roll Toilet Tissue Dispenser
Recessed Paper Towel Dispenser & Waste Receptacle
Profile collection Recessed horizontal Liquid Soap Dispenser
Grab Bars & Mirrors
Xlerator Surface Mounted Hand Dryers
Recessed Stainless STeel Baby Changing Station
American Specialties, Inc.
441 Saw Mill road
Yonkers, NY  10701
p. 914.476.9000

Toto Ecopower Flush Valves

Halsey Taylor Barrier Free Drinking Fountain Model HRFE FR
Hansgrohe Single Lever Kitchen Mixer DN15