Thursday, April 10, 2014

Columbus, Indiana

North Christian Church by Eero Saarinen (1954). Photo ©Darren Bradley
In my previous blog post, I talked about my visit to the famous Miller House in Columbus, Indiana. That house was the legacy of one exceptional man - J. Irwin Miller, CEO of the Cummins Diesel Engine Company. But his legacy didn't stop at the front door of his own home. Turns out, Miller left an extensive legacy of modernist architecture in his home town - enough to make this small city of 40,000 in southern Indiana one of the most important concentrations of significant architecture in the country, if not the world. 

The first modernist building - the Tabernacle Church of Christ (now the First Christian Church) - was brought to Columbus at the impetus of Miller's aunt and uncle. It was designed by Eliel Saarinen and is one of the first modernist churches in the United States. 

Tabernacle Church of Christ and Large Arch, a sculpture by Henry Moore. Photo ©Darren Bradley
The church was a complete departure from traditional designs, with its flat roof, asymmetry, and lack or stained glass and other ornamentation. 
Photo ©Darren Bradley
Photo ©Darren Bradley
It is said that Miller's lifelong friendship with Eero Saarinen was first formed during the construction of this church, as the younger Saarinen and the younger Miller were often relegated to spending time at the local soda fountain together while the elders worked on the church project. 

The Miller family founded the Cummins Diesel engine company, which was headquartered in Columbus. As the company grew, so grew the fortunes of the city. Irwin wanted to promote Columbus as a modern city, and believed that modernist architecture was a means to communicate this idea to the rest of the world. He soon began to fund projects around the city, paying the architecture fees for building projects, provided that they choose an architect from a pre-approved list. 

This program was a success, and soon schools and other public buildings, corporate headquarters, and other buildings around town were built in this fashion. 

Even other projects, like the city newspaper, the Republic, joined in. Their own headquarters was built by SOM, but without any support from Miller. 

Hommage à Monsieur Stoller
Ezra Stoller photographed this building almost 42 years ago, and took an almost identical photo to this one. The tree was a lot smaller then. Republic Newspaper Building by Myron Goldsmith for SOM (1972). It's a National Historic Landmark. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Republic Newspaper Offices by Myron Goldsmith for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. This section of the building used to house the printing press, but is now occupied by cubicles. Must have been quite a sight to see the giant machinery operating there at night.
Photo ©Darren Bradley
Architects were soon clamoring for an opportunity to design a project in Columbus, as a sign of prestige that continues to this day. There are projects by Richard Meier, Harry Weese, Kevin Roche, both Eliel and Eero Saarinen, John Carl Warnecke, I.M. Pei, Gunnar Birkets, Cesar Pelli, and many others. 
One of Eero Saarinen's first projects was the Tabernacle Church of Christ that he helped design with his father here in Columbus. So it seems fitting that one of the last projects he would design was also a church in Columbus. Saarinen died at the age of 51 in 1961. This church wasn't completed until 1964. It is designated as a National Historic Landmark. 

Inside the North Christian Church by Eero Saarinen (1964). The concrete structure is built around a central alter, with an oculus that lets in light from the ceiling. Photo ©Darren Bradley

There are six National Historic Landmarks in the city of Columbus, and all are modernist buildings. 
Irwin Union Bank & Trust
The Irwin Union Bank & Trust was also designed by Eero Saarinen (1954). It is also a National Historic Landmark. The bank itself fell victim to the banking crisis in 2009, and has since been acquired by the Cummins Corporation as a conference center. The glass building next door is an addition by Kevin Roche, Saarinen's chief designer who took over the office with John Dinkeloo after Saarinen's untimely death. The landscape architecture is by Dan Kiley. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Interior of the Irwin Bank & Trust building by Eero Saarinen (1954). Note the brick floors, which were intended to allow farmers and other laborers to feel at ease coming into the bank with their muddy work boots. The idea of a glass-walled bank at street level, accessible to all without pretense, was very novel in 1954, when banks were still traditionally built as stone or brick fortresses, raised on pedestals. The interior is currently a mess because of the ongoing renovation. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Harry Weese is one of the most prolific architects in Columbus. His First Baptist Church from 1965 is also a Historic National Landmark. 

First Baptist Church
I loved the interior of this church by Harry Weese (1965). Photo ©Darren Bradley

Finally for today, I'll leave you with one final project. The Cleo Rogers Memorial County Library by I.M. Pei (1969) is opposite Eliel Saarinen's church. Pei was very conscious of this and designed the library to compliment the church without trying to overshadow it or compete for attention. 
Photo ©Darren Bradley

Cleo Rogers Memorial County Library
Photo ©Darren Bradley
I have more photos of my visit to this amazing city to share when I have time to edit the photos. Stay tuned for part II... 


Anonymous said...

These are exactly the sort of buildings that used to really excite me when I was a boy in the 1960s, and which drew me towards my huge interest in architecture. The textures, perspectives and rather OTT symbolism are still engaging. Great photos.

Cory said...

Growing up in Columbus, I just assumed that everyone went to school, church, the bank, or even the phone company surrounded by beautiful architecture. It wasn't until we moved away that I really appreciated what an amazing town it was, and still is. Thanks for these great pictures. I'm glad you enjoyed your visit.

Unknown said...

Growing up there in the late 50s and 60s. was a great experience . My father Dr. James L Stoner was the minister of the North Christian Church . We were very close friends of the Millers. J Irwin was very involved with the church. And I grew up with his son William. Great times and a beautiful city to live in .