Indiana University design students envision a rebirth of the old St. Bartholomew Catholic Church as an artist colony or multicultural center.
They have presented design concepts ranging from loft apartments and an international market to floating boxes that serve as artist studios.
The project served primarily as an exercise, and owners and the community can — but are not obligated to — accept any of the proposals.
For more than 10 years, the old church has languished unused, and it has fallen into disrepair. Some of the structure’s red bricks are crumbling. Weeds have fought their way through cracks in the asphalt in front of the building. Vegetation is sprouting at the top of the steeple.
The property’s owners and members of the local business, government and nonprofit sectors are trying to figure out what to do with the building and how to pay for needed repairs. Proposals have included a community center, an international center and an arts center.
Developers Jeff Bush and Rick Sprague bought the building in 2011, primarily to make sure the sanctuary is not torn down, they have said. The building, at Eighth and Sycamore streets, was dedicated in 1891.
Students recently presented their proposals at the Indiana University Center for Art and Design while lecturers Marleen Newman and Jiangmei Wu and IUCA+D Director Kelly Wilson listened and critiqued their presentations.
Newman, an architect and senior lecturer at IUCA+D, said students working in two-person teams had to redesign the building’s interior so that it could be used either by the Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization or an artist colony.
They had to visit and analyze the site and neighborhood, generate a design concept and accommodate requests from the clients, such as figuring out a revenue stream to support the nonprofit CAMEO.
Erin Brown and Jorey Greenland, both 20-year-old interior design students, presented a concept for CAMEO that included an international market and a café to generate revenues for CAMEO and loft apartments for Cummins interns.
Brown said the team had to figure out how to incorporate CAMEO’s identity while making sure to separate the public and private spaces. She said the team did a lot of field work and research on the church’s neighborhood.
“This project felt a little more real,” she said.
Greenland said the project required students to learn how to use a new computer program and get familiar with previously nebulous building aspects, including safety codes and fire exits.
Another team proposed “Creation Cube,” a design in which square spaces on the second floor would, when viewed from below, look like floating boxes, meaning the artist colony building’s interior itself could work as a piece of art.
The second-floor artist studios had skylights but no windows, the students said. But Wilson told the team that rather than focus on the negative (having no windows), the students in their presentation should focus on the positive, by suggesting, for example, that they had maximized the artists’ display space by eliminating windows.
Wilson had praise for a design that involved glass paneling, which allowed views of the entire space from anywhere, and used a second-floor bridge to connect artist studios in the church building with apartments in the old school building.
Newman said the project challenged the students to generate good designs but also required interaction with an actual site and taught them how to deal with clients and government interest.
To that end, the Columbus community functioned as a wonderful learning lab, she said, because of the support of the property’s owners; Mayor Kristen Brown, who briefly attended the student presentations; and officials from CAMEO.
“It’s been a really great experience,” Newman said.
Since students normally work on 1,000-square-foot buildings, the 6,108-square-foot church project really “pushed them beyond their limits,” she said.
And while community members can take advantage of some of the students’ ideas, Newman said the project served primarily as a real-world exercise.
Wilson also told the students that sometimes they might start with the meaning of a project and create a design from there, but they also should be open to the possibility that they might generate a design first while having only a vague idea about the meaning.
Meaning and form are elusive, Wilson said.
CAMEO President Rocio Rodriguez said that while the challenge will remain to turn one of the concepts into a workable solution that can be financially self-sustaining, she welcomed the designs and appreciated the students’ ideas.