Experiencing Great Architecture and Creative Built Environments

Eero Saarinen

Irwin Union Bank (1954)

Eero Saarinen Architect

500 Washington Street Columbus IN

Aerial View and Directions

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Photographs taken March 16 2012

As luck would have it ( although I say this with a sad heart ) the day I visited the Irwin Union Bank and walked in the front door…was the last day that this building was open to the public. At least as a bank. All of the employees were packing up their desks, and carting off their belongings. I was able to take lots of interior photographs, probably the last opportunity in a long time. I asked several of the bank employees what they were going to do with the building. They all hedged a little, and I got the feeling they have been asked that question a hundred times and were uncomfortable because they did not have an answer. The consensus was that it may become a museum sometime in the future…a hopeful result but an unconvincing delivery.

Even if it does open as a “museum” it will not have the same feeling as being what it was designed as…a bank. When I was there, even on the last day, people were coming in and cashing their checks, and doing their banking, just as they did the first day the bank opened in 1954.

The building is an interesting low glass box with a thin white roof plane. The roof plane has 9 domes projecting out above the roof in a 3×3 grid. These domes are actually the light fixtures for the bank interior – reflectors for the suspended uplights flooding the bank with warm light. The only walls that go to the ceiling are the perimeter glass walls. The interior “walls” stop short of the ceiling. They actually look like part of the file cabinet system, with the conference room/private offices enclosed with the cabinets.  This keeps the overall ceiling plane pure and uninterrupted.

Still worth a visit….the exterior walls are all glass so you can still peek in.


North Christian Church – Interior (1964)

Eero Saarinen, Architect

850 Tipton Lane, Columbus IN

Aerial View and Directions

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Photographs taken March 16, 2012

The interior of this landmark church is as exceptional as the exterior.

It is intimate, simple, focused…

Inspirational.

Click here for photos and description of the exterior.


North Christian Church – Exterior (1964)

Eero Saarinen, Architect

Daniel Kiley, Landscape Architect

850 Tipton Lane, Columbus IN

Aerial Photos and Directions

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Photographs taken March 16, 2012

This is one of my favorite buildings. I have visited this building 4 times, and each time I am more impressed with it’s “complex simplicity” (this term is borrowed from a business associate who summarized my rambling passionate description of the building concisely).

Saarinen’s path he creates for the faithful (and tourist alike) is a sequence of carefully and subtly planned discoveries. Starting with Dan Kiley’s landscaping, each parking area is separated with rows of hedges just high enough to screen the cars, but the hovering hexagonal church is visible just above the hedges. The procession takes you through the only opening in the hedges on axis with the church’s  exceptionally tall and slender steeple and main entrance. Past the last row of parking spaces, there is a stairway taking you up through the center of a bank of flowers approaching the church. Here you see that the hexagonal structure is centered in a recess in the ground, raised on a bunker-like base with a landscaped bank surrounding the church. You then drop down a series of low and very deep steps, “ducking” below the low metal eave, revealing the tall glass windows tucked up in the shadows of the steeply sloping soffit. The series of glass entry doors open up the glass perimeter wall allowing entry to the interior. See the next post for photos of the interior of this landmark church.

The hexagonal form is stretched in the east/west direction creating a bit of dynamism, but maintains it’s pure simple presense, floating slightly above the earth, and pointing directly to the heavens.


J. Irwin Miller House and Garden (1957)

Eero Saarinen Architect

Daniel Kiley, Landscape Architect

2760 Highland Way, Columbus IN 47201

Aerial View and Directions

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Photos taken March 16 2012

My first stop in Columbus was the tour of the recently opened J.Irwin Miller House by Eero Saarinen. This modern masterpiece is well worth the trip. The 6,838 sq. ft. single story pavilion overlooks a 12 acre site designed by Landscape Architect Dan Kiley. The structure is organized in a grid formed by 16 cruciform steel columns connected by linear skylights. There is a 50 foot long display and storage wall, a cylindrical fireplace, and the quintessential conversation pit. The exterior walls are large glass panels which slide into pockets in the wall, opening the living room to the terrace and the yard beyond. Magnificent.

The house is now owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and is open for tours. The house is meticulously preserved and maintained, none of which I can show you in my blog – as cameras, cell phones, sketch paper and pencils (or any other writing utensil) are prohibited. After the tour, you can buy a small book with photos of the house for $25 in the gift shop. I understand that this is one of the reasons that the house is (and will continue to be ) in “original” condition. ( I am also sure the rule helps with book sales).  I would have paid an additional $25 if I could take my own photos.

The house is not visible from the street hidden behind Kiley’s hedge row.

I do hope that they add a special tour for photographers to capture the angles and elements they find interesting (following strict rules and supervision to not disrupt the house and its contents). If they do….I will add my photos of the building to this post