The Miller House (Columbus Indiana part 2)

Yes, yes, I know I’m behind but I’m finally writing this post from Leamington Canada (north side of Lake Erie across from Clevelandish) about our visit to The Miller House (for the CEO of Cummins, his wife and five kids) designed by Eero Saarinen with interiors by Alexander Girard and landscape by Dan Kiley.

The house was finished in 1957 and influenced so much modern residential architecture that was to come.

The three designers were all at the top of their game and had two clients who understood and wanted good design and had money to get it. As Mike wrote on this Facebook post, it was the perfect storm. The openness of the living spaces to each other in particular survives to this day. The stark architecture is enhanced by the mixture of contemporary and antique furnishings and the geometric plantings and allees of trees were a far cry from the romantic gardens most popular at the time.

The Millers were friends with all three of the designers and apparently Mrs. Miller and Mr. Girard were particularly close. He even designed special patterns for the upholstered cushions for the dining room chairs which included the Miller’s monograms. Mrs. Miller and her bridge club then needlepointed these. (quite a difference from the needlepoint my mother did for her dining room chairs!)

The Miller House is often considered the first modern mansion. It is said it cost around $500,000 to build ($4.5 million today) and at least that much in furnishings and art. But unlike other mansions of its time, the house isn’t full of crown mold and gold leaf. Rather, it is full of expensive materials and details.

Book-matched slate (according to the guide but looked like bluestone to me) on the exterior and book-matched sand finished marble slabs for some of the interior.

Skylights through-out the house emphasize the structural grid and more importantly bring diffused light to even the most interior rooms. These skylights along with the exterior plantings give the whole interior of the feeling of being under a huge canopy of trees. Through the huge windows you can see out and the skylights make the interior bright but not too bright.

The granite topped dining room table has built in lighting in the base and the center was a fountain where Mrs Miller often floated flowers for fancy dinners.

This is the view from the entry, it’s not a true entry hall but the screen serves to provide privacy for the living room.

The free standing fireplace with segmented glass firescreen also helps delineate the living space

Unfortunately we were only allowed to take photos of the exterior and of the entry/living/dining room but below are some photos I found online that may help explain just how wonderful a house this is.

The Miller’s bedroom which has a view across the huge meadow to the woodlands along the river.

The modern kitchen and breakfast room. Note the builtin Nutone blender/mixer/food processor on the counter. I was the only one on the tour (other than the guide) who knew what it was-Clara always wanted one! Who knew that Joanna Gaines didn’t invent the huge kitchen island?

The family room is just off the huge living room. There is a tv behind the cabinet doors and the pool is outside that sliding door and behind the hedge.

The children’s common space. Each of the girls had there own dorm like bedroom with a twin bed and the two boys shared a similar room with a bunk bed. The space above was in between them all.

Unlike some of the other iconic modern houses like the Farnsworth House by Mies or Phillip Johnson’s Glass House, this was a house built for a family and it served that purpose for over 50 years. The children grew up here, it was used to entertain and house Cummins’ international guests when Columbus didn’t have any appropriate hotels or restaurants and finally was where both Mr and Mrs Miller lived until their deaths in the 2000s. I wish I could live in such a great house but just imagine doing so after it was made a National Historic Landmark like both of them did!

The house was given to the Indianapolis Museum of Art after Mrs Irwin died in 2008 and is open for tours through the Columbus Visitor Center. If you make it to Columbus be sure and take this tour!

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.

Brunch, Athletics, & Architecture

Had a nice day today. We went to the popular cafe a block or two away for brunch. Turns out it was a buffet which was just ok but the made to omelets were tasty. The sad part is that Ohio law doesn’t allow alcohol before 11 am on Sunday which means it was more breakfast than brunch. 😢. Guess it also explains why the only reservations I could get were for 10 am.

After brunch…ahem breakfast, we lazed around the apartment a bit and then headed to the Columbus suburbs to catch a little of the North American regional gay rugby championship. As you can see there was a big crowd watching but the biggest crowd was at the beer tent which I failed to photograph.

The “old boys” (those over 35 years old) match was going on so we watched a bit of it. One fellow stole the ball and worked his way from one end of the field all the way to score. Those “old” boys play pretty well!

Mike was texting with his brother Chris, who asked what was the difference between rugby and gay rugby. I sent him the pictures below as evidence of the difference. (FYI, it wasn’t raining! LOL)

From the athletic field we headed back into town and did a windshield tour of The Ohio State University. It’s a huge campus and the older part is pretty and green. The newer parts are very urban.

The real reason to drive through was to see the Wexner Arts Center https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wexner_Center_for_the_Arts designed by Peter Eisenman https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Eisenman in his deconstructionist style. I remember when the building was being lauded and criticized when it was first designed and built.

The towers near the entrance are a reference to the “castle” that had previously been on the site while the metal grid was a reference to scaffolding to symbolize the building not being complete.

Eisenman was one of the five architects profiled in a book in the early seventies- New York Five. The others included Michael Graves and Richard Meier (my fav among the five). Eisenman was more of a writer and educator than the others. He also designed the convention center here in Columbus. I suspect because of his ties to Wexner who was the President of The Limited.

We have enjoyed our time in Columbus and hope we get to come back sometime.