Humana Building of Louisville – One of the 10 Best Buildings of the 1980’s

Humana Building of Louisville – One of the 10 Best Buildings of  the 1980’s

One of the memorable visits we made when in the US in 2006 was to an important landmark in the face of downtown Louisville, the Humana Building, a skyscraper located at 500 West Main Street. This towering 27-story structure is headquarters of the Humana Corporation now one of the leading companies in the US offering affordable and flexible health-care plans to millions.

This large, prosperous corporation in seeking to build a headquarter structure that would stand as an eloquent statement against the prevailing conventional, modernist corporate architecture, sponsored an architectural competition from which to determine the best design. Michael Graves the famous New Jersey architect, emerged as the selected architect from a competitive pool of some of the most famous architects.. Scale models of those designs are shown on display in a vestibule located directly above the Main Street entrance of the building

The Humana Building is the largest and most ambitious work so far of an architect whose career has taken off with astonishing speed. Amongst his works are: the Portland Building in Portland, Oregon., the San Juan Capistrano Library in southern California, the new museum for Emory University in Atlanta and the expansion for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

The construction of the Humana Building which began in October 1982 was completed in May 1985. Occupying an area of 588,400 square feet it has been built to accommodate 1,650 persons at an approximate cost of 60 Million dollars. It is one of Graves’ best known projects. For, in addition to receiving The American Institute of Architects National Honor Award in 1987 TIME Magazine listed it as one of the 10 best buildings of the 1980’s. It is also widely recognized as one of the most distinctive skyscrapers in America, as well as a textbook example of Post-modernism. It is a richly colored composition made up of abstract, highly personal variations on classical forms, a kind of collage of modernist and classical elements, put together in a way that is like none of its influences but establishing its unique post-modernist identity.

Graves in designing the building wanted it to fit within the context of downtown Louisville, taking cues from the Ohio River, its bridges, and the 19th-century streetscape and skyline of Main Street. It is pleasantly amazing how neatly this building harmonizes with the streetscape and skyline of Louisville. ” This is a tower built to sit on a city street, not behind an empty plaza, and it relates easily to its neighbors.”.It is indeed a great accomplishment fitting it so well to the other structures which are mostly three- and four-story 19th-century commercial structures, many of cast iron, Louisville’s real architectural treasure. “A full block of these old buildings sits along Main Street just west of Humana, and the base of the new tower joins them as neatly and gracefully as any tall building has ever met a group of smaller ones.The small old buildings and the large new one meet comfortably, the new one never in direct imitation of the old, but its shapes, colors and details set in careful accommodation. The mutually supportive relationship these buildings have stands in stunning contrast to the way in which the immense, mute tower of black glass that sits on Main Street on the other side of Humana relates to its neighbors. That cold box, utterly aloof from all that is around it, is an anti-urban legacy of Louisville’s last architectural generation. Humana is a response to all that that building stands for, and it cannot but be a civilizing presence in Louisville.” Materials used on it are expensive–pink granite for most of the surface, with several other polished granites. .

Each side of the building is designed slightly differently, up to a sloping pyramid style for the upper few floors. Like many post modern skyscrapers, it uses the classically-based tripartite division with a strong sense of a base.–the 8 story loggia extending in front of the office structure, a shaft, and a the same level as the height of the nearby structures. This eight-story base of flat pink granite has an open arcade, of square, deep red granite columns occupying the first several floors. Above the base, but set back considerably from it, rises the main slab of the tower, sheathed in pink granite and punctuated by relatively small, square windows, with a shaft of solid glass running up the center. Rising further up, the square windows give way to a large expanse of glass for several floors. A huge metal truss, projecting out of the building supports a huge, curving loggia, a kind of flying balcony at the top of the building. This large, curved portion towards the top of the building is an open-air observation deck with. the outermost point of the circle providing space for a few people at a time surrounded by glass, to have a spectacular view of the Ohio River and down Main Street. Grave’s inspiration for this curved balcony came from a Victorian engraving of a family admiring the Ohio River from an old water tower. Above the loggia, the top of the building slants inward as a kind of gabled crown.This ziggurat–or notched gable-is -topped by a curved roof. The main points of interest in the building include this loggia, the waterfall, the lobby, the Rotunda, the Mezzanine and the 25th floor.

The Loggia has a 50-foot waterfall as an architectural gesture to the Ohio River a reminder of the city of Louisville’s origins at the fall of the Ohio more than 200 years ago. The open-air front portion of the loggia contains a large fountain. The loggia’s columns are clad in pink and green granite and are decorated with gold-leaf colour.

The entrance is set in a curved wall with waterfall fountains on both sides. This curved six-section water dam or water fall is an architectural gesture to the nearby Ohio River .Giant columns surround the entry area.50 feet down the granite pilasters on opposite sides of the main entrance. Eight vertical fountains in front of the pillars complement the waterfall. The front of the building features an outdoor atrium with a skylight high above the main entrance

The lobby, built of granite of different colors from different parts of the world is like the loggia a public space designed to welcome visitors. First there are white and grey granite from Italy and black marble from France. These are beautifully detailed, richly colored and combined deftly enough to provide visual variety at no cost to overall coherence with a calm, and self-assured hand. The lobby is reached from Main Street through a 450 pound weight bronze entrance door which is itself another valued feature.

The Rotunda, a classical architectural structure, is another point of interest in the building. Also on the first floor, access to it is gained through the lobby or through the Fifth street entrance. The rotunda features the building’s directory, an information desk and two striking and original Roman marble statues sculpted approximately 1,970 years ago. The one nearest to the information desk is titled “Roman Statue of the Goddess Fortuna.” The second is called “Roman Statue of a Goddess” Marbles flank the vestibule at the Main Street entrance leading to the other point of interest in the building, the Mezzanine to the south of which you will discover a seated statue which is claimed to be an 1,800 year old marble from the Roman Empire.

The 25th floor features the sun room in the façade of the building. Each floor has its own glass-enclosed, curved-fronted sun-room facing south serving as an employees’ lounge. The large pyramid-like shaped ending of the terrace represent the dam at the Fall of the Ohio. This could be easily accessed from the reception hall. The terrace on the façade is supported by a steel gridwork truss as an architectural symbol of the many metal truss bridges spanning the Ohio.just beside the building’s site. The bruised steel sculpture in the reception hall is entitled “Constructed Head 2” and is said to have been done by a Russian-born artist Naum Gabo in 1918

The building also has much deft use of space. The superb public space at the base and the great, columned arcade are most exciting. Its square columns are articulated in gold-leaf fluting, and the space has a gentle curve to it to accommodate a waterfall and fountain on either side of the main entrance There are well measured sequences between all the spaces. The front door leads to a small vestibule, which in turn opens to a large, roughly square lobby; that leads on to a rotunda, and only after the rotunda come the elevator lobbies. But the sequence is clear, and the movement direct and simple. And the large, three-story-tall lobby, surrounded by a second-floor arcade of its own, provides welcome breathing space and freedom.

On the whole as Paul Goldberger appreciates it in The New York Times:

It is a compelling form – exerting a powerful visual attraction. Humana is a warm and inviting building. It is both serious and visually alive. It is neither a deadly bore nor frivolous. It is neither boring nor silly -it is at once a building of great dignity and a building of great energy and passion.

Not far from this building are other structures owned and occupied by Humana: the Waterside Building at 1st and Main, and the Riverview Square at 2nd and Main Streets. Humana which leases space in three downtown buildings-National City in the 400 block of Main Street, the 515 Building on Market Street, and the ISB Building on Magazine Street has plans to lease more space in the Waterfront Plaza East Tower in the 300 block of Main Street.

Humana recently undertook the historic preservation of a city block of several 19th Century buildings located besides this headquarter building. It is working with preservation experts to ensure that the historic integrity of the block is maintained. With more than 8,500 employees in downtown Louisville Humana justifiably so aggressively pursues its dream of not only altering the face of downtown Louisville but also to reattract habitation and provide accommodation for its growing staff nearby. It has remained committed to and involved in improving the quality of life in various cities, just as they’re committed to improving the health of their plan members. Excited about bringing all of their Jacksonville employees together in a premier downtown location, giving them great potential for continued growth,Humana purchased the largely vacant Jacksonville Center in April 1998 for $32 million with plans to renovate and relocate its then-1,200 employees scattered throughout the city in seven buildings. The employees comprise one of Humana’s four major regional service centers, handling claims processing and customer service functions for the company’s southeastern-U.S. members, as well as the company’s Jacksonville health plan administrative and sales staffs.So in effect the Humana building is just the hurb around which spins the multifarous interests and involvements of Humana in health care, insurance, art collection, performing arts, charity, the creation of a vast expanse of parks and the endowment of sterling efforts amongst Americans especially.


A guided tour of the Humana building in June 2006