Each year we try to highlight projects from some of our student capstone and thesis courses. Architecture grad Kurt Green shares his thesis project “For Every Mind, For Every Body: Architectural Interventions Toward Equity & Inclusion in the Indianapolis Athenaeum.”
Over the past several decades, cities have developed a new level of interest in reusing historic buildings as part of their urban fabrics. This growing cultural interest has run concurrent to another urban phenomenon: diversification. While these two positive trajectories have happened simultaneously, their practical implications create a conflict because most historic buildings were not designed for diversity.
This conflict is very prevalent in the Indianapolis Athenaeum, which is a late 19th-century wellness center designed for the local German-American population, with the mission of promoting a “sound mind in a sound body.” Like most social buildings of its time, it was designed for cultural seclusion, gender segregation, and, perhaps unintentionally, it was designed for people without disabilities.
In the decades since its completion, the Athenaeum has gradually become more equitable and inclusive due to changes in its programs, ownership, and context, and still promotes its original mission of wellness. However, because of its original design intent, the building consists of many failures at equity and inclusion that prevent the building’s programs and architecture from reaching their full potential for the community. Building codes have addressed some of these failures, like requiring that at least one entrance is wheelchair accessible, but achieving equity and inclusion in a building like the Athenaeum requires far more than codes prescribe.
For that reason, this thesis pursues a design scheme for expanding participation in the building’s programs, architecture, and, by extension, its history. These expansions, which consist of both interventions into the existing building as well as additions to it, engage in universal design and inclusive design, which are sets of strategies for creating a built environment that prioritizes all users in the design process. The design result is the Athenaeum transformed into an equitable and inclusive center with an updated mission: wellness for every mind, and for everybody.
By Kurt Green
2021 Architecture Thesis