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The Minton-Capehart Federal Building in Indianapolis
The Minton-Capehart Federal Building in Indianapolis.
July 09, 2021

Color Fuses

In 1974, Milton Glaser was commissioned by the General Services Administration (GSA) to design a mural for a new federal building in Indianapolis, designed by architect Evan Woollen. Woolen’s Brutalist inverted ziggurat (coincidentally a form beloved by Glaser) was adorned by a series of thirty-five colorful blended panels all along its base, 672 contiguous feet long and 27 feet high - the most super of supergraphics. Entitled “Color Fuses,” it was intended to change color in both the natural daylight and specially designed nighttime lighting.
Minton Capehart Federal Building
Minton Capehart Federal Building
Minton Capehart Federal Building

The colors faded over the decades and the lighting system, which never worked properly, was shut off to conserve energy. Finally in 2012, the GSA embarked on a restoration; Glaser collaborated on what amounted to a re-do of the project. The restoration is documented in this great video from the GSA.

A little further digging reveals that Glaser’s mural was the subject of some debate in 1970s Indianapolis. As the project was being completed in 1974, the Indianapolis Star kicked off an article quoting the painting contractor Al Kite, “It’s going to be controversial all right.” Kite’s opinion may have been influenced by challenging the nature of the paint job. The article continues, “Ask how the painters are getting along with what may be one of the world’s longest continuous murals and a secretary at the paint contracting firm of Kite Inc. answers, “with very much difficulty.”(Indianapolis Star, December 3, 1974)

Another article in the Indianapolis Star in 1985, eleven years after the mural’s installation, gives the impression that Indianapolis residents still had mixed feelings about Glaser’s project. Journalist Fred Cavinder wrote that many locals didn’t like the colorful mural and offered this nutty quote from architect Woollen: “I never could view it with too much detachment but I suspect there are people in many walks of life who are disturbed by bright colors. They feel there’s something obscene about certain color combinations. They may equate the color purple with a sort of emotional abandon. They want their public places to be very somber.” (Indianapolis Star, June 23, 1985)

Huh. Looking at it now, it’s hard to understand what people were so worked up about. No matter, the controversy seems to have fallen by the wayside, and Glaser got the mural he’d originally imagined almost forty years later. In 1974, Glaser said his intention with Color Fuses was to “express a spirit of openness and thus a new sense of government.” Glaser was looking forward, as always.

This post also appears in PRINT.