They’re an improbable sight as you drive the Michigan Road in northwest Indianapolis, these three towers of concrete and glass reflecting the sun. Impossible to miss as you drive by, The Pyramids are a true Indianapolis landmark.
In the mid 1960s, Indianapolis-based College Life Insurance Company of America had grown so much it needed a new headquarters. Anticipating strong ongoing growth, they wanted to be able to build onto their headquarters as needed.
They gave these requirements to well-known architects Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo, who responded with this innovative semi-pyramidal design.
Each pyramid rises eleven stories, with an L-shaped concrete core facing the north and west, supporting each floor. The south and east faces are covered in reflective glass. The concrete sections contain elevators, restrooms, and limited office space. The floors themselves are open and airy, well lit through two wide walls of windows. To maintain the open feeling, low, open workstations were installed rather than subdividing the space into offices. It was open plan before open plan was cool.
The buildings are interconnected, with walkways at the second floor and underground.
These first three pyramids were completed in 1972. Plans called for six more, to create a three-by-three array. But plans changed. I hear that the coming of computerization played a role: as College Life increasingly stored records on computer, the company needed less space to store documents, and therefore didn’t need more pyramids as soon as expected. But what probably played the largest role in only three being built was that College Life merged with another insurance company and moved its headquarters out of state. The merged company is known by another name today.
Since then, The Pyramids have been leased to other corporate tenants. For a year or so in about 2000, I worked in Pyramid 2 (the middle one) on the second floor. I was excited by the prospect of working in these landmark buildings and was initially thrilled that the team that I led would get what I thought were prized workstations in the corner created by the two glass walls. We all thought it would be fabulous to directly enjoy all that light. But thanks to all that glass, those workstations were freezing cold all winter and boiling hot all summer. The climate-control system along the outer wall roared in futility most of the year trying to keep up, and we couldn’t concentrate for all the noise. Shortly we abandoned those workstations and moved inward. And none of us enjoyed the humidity and dank odor inside the concrete core. Here’s hoping the building’s owner has solved these quality-of-life problems since then.
Yet The Pyramids remain an arresting sight from the Michigan Road, an architectural marvel you need to see when you visit the city.