June 22, 2010 Mid-Century Modern

Modern Columbus: Saarinen’s Irwin Union Bank and Trust

Irwin Union Bank

Saarinen’s Irwin Union Bank is a Miesien glass pavilion.

As I noted in my previous post about Columbus, the friendship between J. Irwin Miller and Eero Saarinen resulted in three important projects in the city, all National Historic Landmarks with stunning landscapes by Dan Kiley. The Irwin Union Bank and Trust (1954), the Miller House (1957) and North Christian Church (1964). This post will focus on Saarinen’s bank, which, unfortunately, has been renamed First Financial Bank after the financial company that has taken over the assets of Irwin Union. The bank, a Miesien glass pavilion with a wide roof overhang, is seen as the first glass-walled open plan bank in the country and a key influence on the design of future banks. “We wanted to change — insofar as architecture could change it –people’s concept of banking, which we thought was on the whole unfavorable,” Miller said in an interview with the writers of the bank’s National Historic Landmark nomination. Mr. Miller, I think you achieved your goal. (Note: We did not take pictures of the open teller area to respect the privacy of the customers and bank employees.)

Irwin Union Bank

The bank amid Kiley’s landscape. A 1973 addition by Saarinen protege Kevin Roche is at left.

Irwin Union Bank

The space-agey domes create carved out spaces for dramatic lighting fixtures inside.

Irwin Union Bank and Trust

A close-up from the drive-through area, which was added in 1966.

Irwin Union Bank

The nine illuminated domes are a dramatic view at night.

Irwin Union Bank

Sign of the times. First Financial took over the assets of the failed Irwin Union.

 George Nelson desks have been slightly adapted to accommodate modern electronic equipment.

A more private conference room sits in the middle of the open space.

A close-up of one of the suspended light fixtures.

Nelson-inspired planters bring some green inside.

The open staircase foreshadows the even grander example in Saarinen’s GM Technical Center.

The vault.

Saarinen chairs that have replaced the originals.

The Kevin Roche designed three-story glass arcade that connects the bank to the annex.

Art by Alexander Girard in the bank annex.