Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

The Limits of Architecture

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

The Limits of Architecture

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "Goodbye Columbus" by Philip Nobel, in Metropolis, July 2006, and "Columbus Explored" by John King, in Dwell, July-Aug. 2006.

J. IRWIN MILLER OF CUMMINS Engine Company was a civic-minded industrialist who believed that uplifting architecture could make the world a better place. He started in 1942 in his hometown, Columbus, Indiana, population 39,000. Over the next six decades, Columbus was transformed into an outdoor museum of Modernist design that is listed among the top six American cities in architectural distinction. Now, however, its downtown is suffering from the same enervating forces that have killed so many small urban centers across the United States. Columbus is beginning to consider the unthinkable: Should it tear down some buildings designed by the nation's leading architects to keep its downtown alive?

When Eliel Saarinen's First Christian Church was commissioned in 1940, it was only the first of what would become more than 60 architecturally significant buildings in town. Saarinen's son, Eero, returned two decades later to build the even more striking hexagonal North Christian Church, topped by one of the most famous spires in America. I. M. Pei designed the public library, whose plaza is dominated by sculptor Henry Moore's Large Arch. William Rawn conceived Fire Station No. 6 as an abstract takeoff on a barn, Richard Meier built a school, and the list goes on: Harry Weese, Cesar Pelli, Kevin Roche, James Polshek, Charles Gwathmey, John Johansen, Robert Venturi, Gunnar Birkerts, Edward Larrabee Barnes, and John Carl Warnecke--almost a complete roll call of Modernist stars. …

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