Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Holy Adaptive Reuse

For a while now, former architect David Andrichik, who is perhaps better known as current Chatterbox Jazz Club owner, has spoken glowingly of changes to a building I had been feeling sad about. David has turned me on to a lot of good design in the past (as well as several good beers) so I made a point of taking a long look at the Meridian Arch condo project at 802 N. Meridian St. I encourage you to do the same.

A few years ago I was the historian who evaluated all the properties along what will eventually become the Northwest section of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. One of the properties that was so disappointing to me at that time was the former Methodist Church building that is now the front section of the Meridian Arch project. Once a Gothic Beauty all done up in limestone, the church had been gutted, the back end removed, interior stripped, windows gone. It was a shell scheduled for rehabbing into condos. Strike, strike, strike. I was dismayed that the beautiful building would never be listed on the National Register due to all these changes and losses of fabric.

But...two years later I have to admit that I now think it's a better building. Clever adaptive reuse has turned a downtown church building, which would probably never have been reused in its original capacity, into a stunner of a redevelopment project.

Although some preservationists are loathe to express appreciation for keeping a facade intact while adding new buildings behind it, I have always thought that approach is better than completely demolishing a beautiful old building. I'm glad that Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf kept the original church building skin. I especially like how they fit new windows into the original openings, keeping the arched grillwork lintels in place and installing what appear to be operable sashes behind them.

And if ever a lesson could be taught in how to attach a new addition to an existing historic building, this property could be the text. The connection between original limestone and new brick is made elegant by the continuation of a buttressed limestone beltlline across the new section and the quote of the rusticated limestone foundation on the front section translated into the smooth squared block foundation of the newer section. The two buildings meet amicably with a slightly recessed window wall.

The new section of the building honors the old section with these details and with a somewhat whimsical design element that resembles stylized flying buttresses at roofline, and it is similar in color, which also helps the two sections meld well. But this addition is a fully modern building that in no way copies the original structure in front of it. I especially like the walls of windows opening out onto individual porches on the recessed bays. And the elegantly simple facade is made interesting with cool railings and interesting light fixtures.

This building, which seemed like such a sad idea a couple of years ago turned into a real winner. This is adaptive reuse done well. And although the alterations have made the church ineligible for the National Register, they made it eligible to remain a living, contributing building to the city. That was a good trade off.

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