November 19, 2010 Mid-Century Modern

Religious Innovation: Saarinen’s North Christian Church

North Christian Church

With the Eero Saarinen exhibit running until Nov. 28 at the Finnish Embassy (I hope to go this weekend), I figured it was a good time to finally finish my trilogy on Saarinen’s mid-century modern designs in Columbus, Indiana. All three, North Christian Church, the Miller House and Irwin Union Bank and Trust were worked on closely with J. Irwin Miller, the town’s modernist patron. From the pictures I had seen of North Christian Church, I always thought the spaceship-like structure was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by acres and acres of lush Midwestern land. It is actually just a couple miles north of downtown Columbus and surrounded by homes.

The 1964 church, Saarinen’s last design before his premature death in 1961, was crafted as a hexagon (reflecting the six-point Star of David) with a long spire, symbolizing Christianity’s roots in Judaism. Playing off  title of the Finnish Embassy exhibit, Eero Saarinen: A Reputation for Innovation,  Saarinen was very innovative with the design of the church, moving well beyond the constructs of the typical structure of the time. He spent so much time perfecting it that Miller and the rest of the church board grew a bit tired of his delays. In the end, he delivered a stunning building reflecting the individual congregation and religious history.

The church’s tapestry, candelabra and colors were the work of Alexander Girard. The landscaping for the church, a National Landmark, was done by Dan Kiley. Here are some historical photos from the church’s web site, including images of the building being built.

North Christian Church sign

North Christian Church was the last project Saarinen desgined before his early death at 51.

North Christian Church entrance

The approach to the church slopes down as a way to humble the congregant. Once inside, congregants ascend stairs into the sanctuary.

Dan Kiley's always simple, clean and stunning lands surrounds the church.

Inside the hexagonal-bowl shaped sanctuary with prominent organ.

The "Living Cross" tapestry was designed by Alexander Girard.

The centrally located oculus allows light into the sanctuary.

Vintage Eames chairs in one of the meeting rooms that ring the inner sanctuary.

The church is one of six National Historic Landmarks in Columbus.