The first Catholic parish established in Indianapolis, St. John’s Catholic Church has been serving a diverse congregation of downtown parishioners and visitors for more than 175 years. This diverse group ranges from downtown professionals, to IUPUI students and the homeless, all of whom come to this house of God for solace, encouragement, and refuge.
Located adjacent to the western end of Georgia Street, the church’s courtyard is one of the few spaces that offer a potential for outdoor seating and enjoyment at that end of the street. As part of the church’s front-door from the street, the courtyard has often been used to host private functions and take part in the larger events occurring on the adjacent street. After the recent enhancements along Georgia Street, the church embarked on a vision to bring life into the space. Browning Day provided a creative redesign that enabled St. John’s Courtyard to contribute to the surrounding aesthetic improvements.
The existing conditions consisted primarily of central turf lawn that operated as the primary programmable space. Previously, overgrown landscape acted as a buffer between the church parking lot and the courtyard and prevented views into the courtyard, while an existing historic brick wall separated the courtyard from the street. Another issue was the lack of shade from the sun, which the church mitigated by utilizing a tent for their events.
Browning Day’s priorities for the project were to provide a beautiful enclosed space that would help the church operate their various events while still providing a quiet tranquil garden adjacent to the busy Georgia Street. The courtyard experience is greatly improved by a defining hierarchy of spaces to accommodate larger group gatherings and intimate sitting areas. Four honey locust canopy trees form the boundaries of the central space and provide shade for the garden. Walkways surround the central space and help maintain circulation through the yard. The overgrown landscape was replaced by a more open vegetation of boxwood shrubs, flowering hydrangeas, and a brick and iron fence that complemented the existing brick wall but allowed more visibility into the courtyard. The large cross located as a focal point on the axis of the central space was relocated from across the parking lot to become a prominent feature in the garden.
Browning Day took great care to ensure the courtyard easily integrates into the fabric of Georgia Street, providing an active anchor on its western end while offering a quieter architectural style, favoring a formal layout with materials that complement the architecture of the church as opposed to the contemporary design of Georgia Street. Through the design of the hierarchy of spaces, the courtyard can act either as an extension of the activities occurring along the street or close itself off the noise, acting as a small pocket park within the city.