Architect, Design Team Go Back to the Future with New Pagoda, USGP Track

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, March 28, 2000 -- Jonathan R. Hess is a minister's son. As a teen-ager, he was his father Wayne's audio-visual man as the elder Hess spoke in big and small churches around the Midwest. Later they visited the ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, March 28, 2000 -- Jonathan R. Hess is a minister's son. As a teen-ager, he was his father Wayne's audio-visual man as the elder Hess spoke in big and small churches around the Midwest. Later they visited the magnificent Sistine Chapel in Rome, the ancient Acropolis in Athens and the sacred buildings of the Holy Land. Young Jonathan was awed by the architecture of these glorious structures. Now it is 30 years later. He is an architect and actually has designed the sanctuary of an Indianapolis church. Yet, his greatest project is not something ordered by the Pope and painted by Michelangelo - "I would have been his hod carrier," he said of the master artist. Instead, his most impressive project - actually, it's a steel, concrete and glass Pagoda - rises along the main straightaway of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hess heads up the design team of the Indianapolis architectural firm of Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf Inc. that was selected by Speedway president Anton Hulman "Tony" George to restructure the working facilities at the track for the arrival of the Formula One United States Grand Prix on Sept. 24. This included a string of garages topped by hospitality suites inside pit row, a new media center, a number of other structures and the 153-foot-high Pagoda control tower centered directly on the start-finish line. When the track was barely 4 years old in 1913, a wooden Japanese-type Pagoda was built to house the working officials for the then very young Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. Painted green and white, it lasted until 1925. A fire the day after the race that year burned it to the ground, but the Pagoda had become such a landmark connected to the Speedway that another was built in its place. Tony Hulman, Tony George's grandfather, purchased the Speedway in 1945. By the mid-1950s, the Speedway began to take on a new look as aluminum and steel replaced aging wooden stands. The decision was made to supplant the second Pagoda with a modernistic control tower and inside grandstands along the main straightaway. Then in the mid-1990s, with George now in charge, a NASCAR race was added as a second competition venue to end the 80-year tradition of one race a year. An International Race of Champions event became the third race in 1998, and in late 1998 George jointly announced with Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone that the world championship United States Grand Prix was coming to Indy in 2000, the first Grand Prix in America since 1991. But tremendous changes needed to be made to the Speedway to accommodate F1. The Speedway already was working with the local architectural firm, and Hess had sketched a proposed glass-enclosed control and media center along the main straightaway. A color print of the sketch hangs in the firm's boardroom. "But I think there was a desire on Tony's part to lean more toward the history and the legacy that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," Hess said. "So he wanted to go back to some of the original ideas that were there certainly around 1911. And that was, of course, the old Pagoda." The Pagoda became the focal point of the team's studies. The presentation changed dramatically when the reality of a Formula One race and its needs became apparent. All the requirements were altered to fit everything into a package that stretches nearly a half-mile down the main straightaway. So the team went to work. Hess, who is a firm vice president and partner, emphasizes that this has not been a one-man project. Working with him in the architectural design and documentation have been associate David Long, intern architect Matthew Woodruff and project manager Steve Hoersten. Other design and engineering was provided by: Fink Roberts Petrie, structural engineers; Circle Design Group, mechanical, electrical and plumbing; Axis Interiors, tower interiors; Rowland Associates, F1 garage suites, legends row, media building and tower extension interiors, and FMS, architectural lighting design. "It's a collaborative," Hess said. "It's humbling, because you have all of these people you are working with. It is really a team. I depend on input and response from all of the people in the project to sort of help it be the best project. My name gets associated with the project, but believe me, there is a huge list of individuals who really make it all happen." One of those is Kevin Forbes, director of engineering and construction at the Speedway. He laid out the 2.606-mile, 13-turn road course the F1 cars will race on in September. Forbes came to admire Hess when they first met and discussed plans for a new control center. Since, they have become close friends. Hess traveled with Forbes to the Australian Grand Prix last March, and they visited other F1 sites such as Nurburgring in Germany and Catalunya in Spain to get a feel for the construction needs for such a race. "At the time (of their initial meetings) it was apparent that he was a real visionary in that the uniqueness in his personality provided him the creativity that we were really looking for with some of the projects we were doing out here," Forbes said. "Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf has many talented architects and designers who provide Jonathan the tools by which he can create but also turn out the pragmatic documents on time. So I think if you look at the whole organization, they've been able to keep up and maintain the schedule." Designing a nine-story Pagoda that allowed viewing from every direction was the initial problem. Incorporating all of the needs of a modern racing facility was another. Seamlessly fitting it into rest of the construction and architecture at the Speedway was a third, and yet another was doing the work around the racing events that are scheduled and cannot be changed. Hess' analogy compared the Pagoda to a gentleman in a gray suit standing quietly who, when called upon, becomes the backdrop and supportive piece for all of the events conducted at the Speedway. "It shouldn't shout as a building," he said. Of course, Pagodas aren't structures built everyday in the United States, and certainly none of this one's dimensions. Hess noted that the image of the building is long and horizontal, but the Pagoda image evolves from blending the outdoor spaces with the smaller portion of the tower. Each level has Pagoda-like slanting canopies extending from four sides, a modern interpretation inspired by the original Pagoda at the Speedway and other similar structures that the entire design team studied. "You do your homework," Hess said. "How do you write a story? You look for a tagline. Tony gave us the tagline, really. He wanted a Pagoda." But there was a lot of head-scratching. There was the need, as Hess termed it, to put the noses against the glass, meet all of the building codes and stay under the 200-foot ceiling height since the Speedway is in the approach pattern to Indianapolis International Airport. "It really does take a huge amount of very good minds," Hess said. And lots of tracing paper. Hess estimates the design team used thousands of pounds of it as they sketched ideas, some good, many more discarded. Once the design began to take shape, then blueprints were turned over to contractors who commenced construction. Communication between the designers and the on-site work force was critical, especially when changes in design constantly were cropping up. For instance, the telephone system for the entire Speedway was housed just north of the start-finish line in the center of construction activity. It could not be moved so innovative means had to be found to cover it and make it appear as part of the overall new design. "It's not just a building," Hess said about the Pagoda. "It's a building and how it works in the context of all the things that have to happen out there." Hess said that because of the number of structures involved, including the Pagoda, this is the largest project he has worked on. His firm previously was involved with the Circle City Mall, the RCA Dome, the Indiana University Natatorium and track and field facilities, all in Indianapolis. The firm also worked on the Indiana High School Basketball of Fame in New Castle and is working on expansion of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and Eiteljorg Museum. "We have a strong sport architecture portion of the firm," he said. "To me, personally, this has been one of the most challenging projects to date." Hess feels everything will be workable when the track opens for Indianapolis 500 practice on May 13. The 84th annual race is scheduled for May 28. "Like most of the projects out here, it's close knowing that we have to make everything go away in this case for four events," Forbes said. Forbes calls the new Pagoda an atypical structure that, because of building codes, cannot deliver a complete emulation of a true Oriental temple. "The difficulties that we have had in trying to maintain building code requirements but deliver a project that really embodies the architectural style of the Japanese Pagoda have been challenging," he said. It's a challenge that Hess has enjoyed. It's a dream come true for him since he grew up in central Illinois listening to the Indianapolis 500 as a youth. He has attended the race regularly since moving to Indianapolis in 1982. Today, he also is a staunch Formula One fan who arises early on Sunday mornings to watch the races on television. Hess was born Jan. 3, 1956, in Highland Park, Ill. When he was 6, father Wayne, a United Methodist minister, moved downstate to Bloomington. He followed his father around, setting up film projectors and other audio-visual equipment for his father's orations in the various chapels where they were conducted. That's when he began to get the feel of the enormity of sanctuaries of many churches. He began to understand that each was designed to provide an emotional impact on the congregation. His late grandfather Rob Mittlestadt, an emigrant from German, also provided inspiration. Mittlestadt was 80 when Hess was born, but he remembers as a young boy watching his grandfather build things around the farm. This, combined with his love for art and design, led him to the University of Illinois and eventually a master's degree in architecture. Hess earned his way through grad school working for a small architectural firm in Champaign, Ill. Because there were only six members, he got tossed right into the mix. He would do the drawings, work with the contractor and then quite quickly see the completed structure. "I learned a lot about the craft and the profession there," he said. Degree in hand, Hess came to Indianapolis in 1982 to work for James & Associations, which no longer exists. He did some of the early preparation work on the Indianapolis zoo during his 14 months' employment. "I came over to Browning Day Mullins Deirdorf one day, and they just happened to be looking for someone, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time," he said. He immediately was assigned to the original Eiteljorg (Indian) Museum project and spent four years with it, traveling often to the southwest with its namesake benefactor who preferred that type architecture. During that period he was named a partner in the firm. He and wife Jody have three children - Catherine, 6; Claudia, 4, and Christian, 18 months. The two girls often climb onto his lap on Sunday mornings and watch a few laps of the F1 races. "It's a busy time at the house," he said. "But a wonderful time." Now it is a warm late winter day. Taking advantage of the weather, construction workers are busy in all of the new buildings at the Speedway doing such diverse tasks as elevating lengths of steel to painting handrails. Hess, hard hat proudly perched on his head, escorted a visitor up through the various floors of the Pagoda. The elevator wasn't operating so it was chug, chug, chug up the stairs. There was a stop at each level and an explanation about what and who would be there when the Indy 500 rolled around. At each level the view became more spectacular. There was a tier for Mari Hulman George, Speedway chairman, and her guests, another above that for Tony George and his visitors, followed by a broadcast level on tier eight and a level for security at the very top. Spectators can gaze down onto the mainstretch and pits or out the side windows to Turns 1 or 4 through special glass provided by Pilkington Ltd. of England. At the higher levels, viewers can see far over the cross-track grandstands or over the trees to the backstretch through the rear windows. Much of the F1 course is visible. The skyscrapers of downtown Indianapolis can be seen in the distance. Hess proudly points out the sight lines looking over the most famous racetrack in the world. "I think we recognized in a way it is very hallowed ground to racing," he said. "When we traveled to Europe and met with facilities people there (at other F1 tracks), there was almost a sense of - it's almost awe - the history of this place. And you'd have to be pretty thick to come away from those meetings and not feel the weight and the responsibility of continuing that. So I think we took our job real seriously." Hess admitted that his design team did occasionally refer to the Speedway as the cathedral of speed. And, he adds, if you squint, one might start to see all the spaces found in a Gothic cathedral. The important thing Hess believes, however, is that the Speedway maintains a comfortable feeling for the fans who have attended races there for 40, 50 or 60 years. That was another challenge, because the design team had to create something new and modern yet not disquieting to people whose families have been sitting in the stands through several generations. Hess took some friends on the bus ride around the track. The bus stopped at the start-finish line. He gazed up at his masterpiece and said he had to pinch himself to believe he was privileged to be part of designing a building of such magnitude at the Speedway. "Yeah, it's kind of nice," he said. "I'm very proud of the effort, proud to be associated with it. "I really want to see it on race day. I want to see the color of the fans reflected in the windows, just how this thing will come alive. That's what it's all about."

-IMS/IRL-

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Series Formula 1
Drivers Tony George , Bernie Ecclestone , Matthew Wood