Columbus.

Indiana this time-long post ahead, you’ve been warned!

We left the Ohio version of Columbus on Memorial Day morning headed for Indiana’s Columbus which was abut 2 hours away. We stopped for lunch outside of Cincinnati and for lunch we tried Cincinnati Chili at a local chain Skyline Chili. Here they put their chili over spaghetti with cheese on top-that’s called chili three way, which is what Mike had. I had mine five ways, adding onions and beans. It was very tasty but after seeing the picture my friend claudia asked-have you taken your Lipitor?

They also serve hot dogs or coneys as they called them in a similar fashion. You can see some loaded on the coney rack the guy is holding in the picture below.

I wondered if it’s someone’s job just to grate cheese all day!

After lunch and a little more time on the road, we arrived in the other Columbus.

Lots of folks have asked why we were going out of our way to visit this small town of less than 50,000. Coming to Columbus is part of any architectural pilgrimage. The city has an incredible collection of modern buildings designed by many of the most influential architects.

This collection was brought about due to the influence and money of Irwin Miller, the longtime CEO of Cummins (Engine), Inc.

The first project that started the push for great architecture was the First Christian Church (designed by Eliel Saarinen, a Finnish Architect. He initially declined the congregation’s request but after Mr. Miller met with him and noted that the congregation wanted a building that reflected their values and community, Eliel agreed.

This church was built in 1942 so imagine how different it was from other churches at the time. It’s lack of decoration, asymmetry, lack of stained glass are just a few things that set it apart from other churches being built at that time.

The interior is all about light. The ceiling soars especially after the relatively dark and low vestibule (though thankfully Eliel didn’t go as low as Frank Lloyd Wright!).

What decoration that exists is typically achieved by revealing attachment methods or by simple manipulation of materials as with the doors below.

Eliel was the father of Eero Saarinen, who later designed the St. Louis Arch, the TWA terminal at JFK among others. He had a small hand at 1st Christian while an intern at his dad’s practice. The light fixtures are attributed to him.

More (lots more of his work to come). For me, it was so great to experience in person a building that I had seen since starting college. While I understood it had greatly influenced churches to come, standing in it let me see how parts of it had evolved into similar pieces of my Mother’s church in Charleston. I had similar thoughts in many of the buildings we visited during our time in Columbus.

After WWII ended, the city was growing and a new school was needed. Cummins Foundation (Mr. Miller really) offered to pay the design fees for the school if the School Board would select their architect from a list of 5 architects recommended by the foundation. This was the beginning of the Cummins Foundation Architectural Program.

Lillian Schmidt Elementary school by Harry Weese was the result of this first effort. It is easy to see the impact this school had on future schools. The classrooms with high ceilings and lots of windows greatly reminds me of one we recently worked on in Houston-

The architectural program continues today though the guide said the last building built under it was finished in 2008. The Cummins Foundation will pat the design fees for any non profit or government building. So lots of churches and such…and of course Cummins’s buildings.

A mental health building by James Polshek which spans a creek. He also designed the Clinton Library we visited in Little Rock last year on our Christmas trip.

The library designed by I.M. Pei who designed the glass pyramid at the Louvre, the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame which we will visit a few days after being here. Mr. Pei died a month or so ago at the age of 103.

The ice skating warming house by Harry Weese

Cummins Engine Plant #1 which was clad in a design by Harry Weese to consolidate the disparate buildings.

Weese used a similar design on the research building he designed nearby.

An addition to Engine Plant #1 by Kevin Roche.

Roche also designed the international headquarters for Cummins. This huge 200,000 square foot building covers two or three city blocks adjacent to downtown but is barely noticeable as it has setbacks and is covered in many places by plants.

AT&T switching station recladding by CRS. The first picture below is how it looked originally. Unfortunately, the plantings proved problematic and were removed.

Newspaper building by Myron Goldsmith. The glass windows allowed all who passed by to be able to see the presses (which were of course painted Columbus (Cummins?) red.

Eliel Saarinen’s son, Eero also left his mark on Columbus. In 1954 he designed the first modern bank. While other banks looked like Greek temples, his was at ground level and all glass. The tellers were not behind cages but open and available to customers…and there were drive up windows!

Today, it is used as a conference center by Cummins.

Eero also designed North Christian Church for an offshoot group from First Christian (designed by his father you’ll remember). It is said that this building is the one he most wanted to be remembered for. He told Mrs. Miller that he hoped when he got to the pearly gates that he would be welcomed with, “oh you’re the guy who designed that great church” Certainly one can see the influence this church made on many others across the country-none of which are as powerful on the exterior.

The Church is much more intimate than First Christian and while joy as light filled, is still brighter than my pictures show. It’s my opinion that St. Peter might have said to Eero, that you’re the guy who designed that church that isn’t quite as good as your Dad’s!

The Church is basically all steeple. I was surprised to learn that the entire roof is supported by just six huge steel members:

Eero’s most impressive building in Columbus was the house he designed for the Millers. Here is a taste as it deserves (and will receive) a whole post!

Mr. and Mrs. Miller were also great supporters of the arts. When I.M. Pei was designing the library he told them that the plaza out front needed a Henry Moore sculpture, so they bought one and donated it. Of course it also does a great job of framing the First Christian Church.

They also became great supporters of Dale Chihuly and provided the chandelier and adjacent art for the Columbus Visitor’s Center’s stair.

The city has held a temporary sculpture exhibition a few years ago and due to the popularity of one work, the city purchased it.

There is also some fine historical architecture in Columbus including the County Courthouse.

Immediately behind the courthouse is the county’s veterans memorial. We were lucky enough to visit on Memorial Day and were both greatly moved by it. On the columns are engraved letters typically from service men and women written to family just days before they gave their lives for our country.

Columbus is also home to one of the few remaining ice cream parlors so of course we had to visit! One side of the parlor is the working restaurant while the other half is devoted to old ice cream fountains and other historic pieces including music devices. Oh and the ice cream was delish!

Mike and I both felt like none of the buildings well except for the First Christian Church and the Miller’s House (to which I will devote a whole post) are the best example of the architect’s work, rather it is the concentration of work by these leaders of architecture that makes a visit to Columbus so worthwhile. We highly recommend that you go out of your way if necessary to spend some time in this great little town.

2 thoughts on “Columbus.

  1. Feel like I just had a Master Class in Architecture. Good post. I wish you could have stayed long enough here to see the gorgeous old buildings on Richmond’s Main Street. Such detail to roof lines, some of which remind me of Amsterdam’s gables, and the window shapes and framing are beautiful. I’m not a photographer and don’t have the lenses needed to do them justice. It’s a shame the city doesn’t focus on the treasure it has.

    Sent from my iPhone

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