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LAST month, teams of students gathered at the Indiana University Center for Art and Design on Jackson Street to present their visions of how a 19th century building several blocks away could be utilized in the 21st century.
They were confronted with a real-world situation because the building in question — the old St. Bartholomew Catholic Church on Eighth and Sycamore streets — is an important part of Columbus history. It has been vacant and unused in recent years, but its current owners — developers Jeff Bush and Rick Sprague — are exploring potential uses for the brick structure, which dates to 1891.
The college students were divided into teams and asked to present conceptual designs based upon two potential uses for the structure — as an artist colony or as a facility to be used by the Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization.
The concepts represented traditional as well as outside-the-box thinking.
One intended use for CAMEO envisioned a multi-purpose utilization, combining an international market and cafe to generate revenues for the organization with living spaces that could be occupied by Cummins Inc. interns.
Another, envisioning usage by artists, involved glass paneling that 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.
This is not the first time St. Bartholomew has served as a living lab for students of architecture.
In 2010, a group of students from Ball State University prepared conceptual ideas for the church based on its potential as an art center. The building at the time was owned by Casa Verde developers, but it was sold a year later to Bush and Sprague.
There is always the possibility that some of the designs and/or building uses envisioned by the students will serve as real business models. In that respect, the undertakings have a much greater potential.
It must be stressed that these exercises are learning tools for the benefit of the students. In that context, however, Columbus has evolved into an ideal living laboratory.
Exercises such as these have become a Columbus tradition.
Earlier this year, students from the architectural program at Southern Illinois University were assigned a project to design uses for an empty lot fronting Washington Street and abutting the Cummins Inc. parking garage between Sixth and Seventh streets.
The students were given the general concept of a mixed-use artist housing complex that would encourage young people to relocate to Columbus.
About the same time, another group of architecture students — this one from Iowa State University — was working with the Bartholomew County Historical Society to create designs for a museum based on the area’s industrial history.
An earlier group of Ball State students presented a variety of plans in 1998 on how the riverfront area in Columbus could be developed.
To date, none of these exercises have spawned community developments. But they have served to establish in the minds of the architects of tomorrow that this is a community which provides an ideal setting for creative design and a living model for how it can be done.
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