When I joined the project team for the Art & Nature Park nearly five years ago, the IMA’s journey of park development was well underway. The process would eventually span a decade or more, culminating in the grand opening of 100 Acres in June 2010. Now, the recent announcement of the Ruth Lilly Visitors Pavilion as a 2012 National AIA honor award winner has provided the final underscore for the initial launch of 100 Acres, as well as a new standard for the park as it moves into the future as a space in constant evolution.
Although the park as a whole was a wide ranging, multi-faceted project, the Ruth Lilly Visitors Pavilion always served as the nucleus for the entire endeavor, and in my mind the benchmark of success or failure for the park overall. The constant challenge throughout the development of the park was to implement eight unique, autonomous commissioned artwork installations and a network of landscape and infrastructure improvements, yet weave them together into a coherent, holistic visitor experience. It became apparent early in the process that the Visitors Pavilion was to be the center point, around which the rest of the park would live in context. It was important that the park be a place for multi-faceted experiences, a place which celebrates the gray areas between man and nature, between art and architecture, between carefully programmed experiences and organic, meditative spaces. The role of the Visitors Pavilion was at the same time clear and elusive: to serve as the flagship space where these gray areas could be called out.
The first set of development drawings I saw in 2007 showed the essence of the final product, but in a much different incarnation. Marlon Blackwell Architects had been working hand-in-hand for years with landscape architect Ed Blake, artist Mary Miss, and the IMA project team to develop the comprehensive architectural plan for the park, and a structure known as the Interpretive Pavilion was the architectural workhorse of that plan. It was to serve practical needs such as shelter, restrooms, and a hub for communications. It was also to serve as the programming hub for the park, providing a home for educational initiatives, events, and temporary exhibitions.