November 19, 2010 Mid-Century Modern
Religious Innovation: Saarinen’s 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.