I’ve featured far too many articles with the Indianapolis International Airport (IND), outstripping all other airport-related blog posts by a country mile. Or eight runway lengths. But why shouldn’t I cover it? It’s the primary airport of my hometown, so I’ve been there a lot. And it remains one of the newest international airport facilities in the country, having opened to the public as the Weir Cook Terminal in 2008, replacing a 50-year-old terminal that sat less than a mile away, using much of the same property and even a few reconfigured runways. And it was among the first airports to emphasize not just its architecture (the internationally known HOK was the master designer) but to place special consideration on civic art installations and interior design. I’ve covered the former of these two subjects, including how, over time, revenue-generating advertisements overwhelmed the local art. But I haven’t focused as much on the latter—the interior design. Now’s the chance. (And I just might be capturing both.)
Much like airports, I’ve devoted a disproportionate amount of blog space on public restrooms, whether noting the unusual absence of mirrors, the presence of ashtrays next to urinals, or even an ATM directly above the toilet. I’ve also noted multiple places with particularly interesting male/female restroom logos, either because they’re funny or merely effective in their simplicity. Now, at long last, I achieve an article that focuses on the intersection of airports and restrooms. And I’m not even the first one to do so; the whole basis of this article owes its inspiration to someone who spotted it before me.
Many moons ago, the prolific and venerated urban affairs writer/blogger Aaron Renn (the Urbanophile and Heartland Intelligence) offered an extensive review of the Weir Cook Terminal at IND when it first opened, and before I had visited. For whatever reason, I was particularly taken by his favorable attention to something as mundane as the women’s/men’s restroom icons, visible at various points along both concourses:
Renn mentioned the curve in the woman’s dress on the restroom logos. I can’t recall if he used the word “jaunty”. (If he didn’t, I am now.) Regardless, he noted that it had a certain flair and distinction that revealed the airport’s attention to small aesthetic details that often come across as too utilitarian. Though produced in enough quantity to call out all toilet facilities in the fairly large facility, these blue restroom logos are otherwise unique to IND.
The airport authority didn’t buy them from a template. Even the metal sconce holding and projecting the logos has a certain playfulness that wasn’t necessary but again hints at recherché industrial design sensibilities.
At a more recent visit to the airport, I learned that they’ve taken those smart details and projected them even further. Literally.
Perhaps the original sconces were just not bold enough. So instead we get a giant backlit woman logo leaning out the restroom’s opening. With flair.
She’s essentially trying to peel herself from the wall: 2-D aspiring to 3-D. And the backlight changes colors. These two photos feature the same entrance taken within fifteen seconds of one another, from orange to green. And don’t think they leave out the men:
It turns out the initiative is called Peek-a-Boo, courtesy of a local design firm called Synthesis Incorporated. It’s the latest effort revealing the Indianapolis Airport Authority’s continued commitment to introduce art installations in large patches of vertical space, or suspended from ceilings, or even protruding from walls, like these restroom logos. In an ongoing battle between civic art and revenue-generating advertisements (billboards)…
…the recent economic conditions have allowed art to prevail, at least for the time being. After COVID froze the majority of air travel, a huge number of restaurant/retail tenants at IND decided not to renew their leases, leaving huge amounts of vacant space.
It’s hardly an optimal situation; with over 50% retail vacancy along the concourses, the airport almost has the character and feel of a dead mall. But unlike most dead malls, I have high hopes that IND (and other airports crushed by the COVID lockdowns) will recover. In the meantime, the shuttered gates of vacant restaurants offer abundant opportunity for art installations, or even to fill with studios.
As air travel normalizes, the airport’s leadership and property management teams are negotiating leases with a whole new array of tenants, suggesting that most of these murals will surrender their domain when a new sandwich shop moves in. But the restroom logos of Peek-a-Boo should linger for many years to come, improving both the visibility of critical signage and elevating the Weir Cook Terminal’s already high standard for cleverly cultivated local artistry. Jaunty.