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A Modern Romance

Columbus, Indiana is home to some of modernism’s greatest works, including the IMA’s Eero Saarinen designed Miller House. Recently I had the privilege of venturing off the grounds of Miller House for a special tour of Columbus’ veritable treasure trove of architectural gems. It’s mecca for modernism.

Miller House

I was moved by I.M. Pei‘s sleek lines. Seduced by Eames‘ furniture design. Amazed by Harry Weese‘s understanding of light. But in all this courtship, something unexpected happened. An unmistakable tug at my heart strings and a tummy full of butterflies. I fell madly in love with landscape architect Dan Kiley. Well, to be exact, I fell in love with his landscape architecting skills.

Kiley knew the landscape a structure sits on is just as important as the structure itself. It’s a balanced, complementing relationship. A gentle dance across a crowded floor. Swoon.

I wandered through Kiley’s shaded clean grid patterns, well-trimmed shrubs and meticulously placed trees. All were in linear harmony with the horizontal and vertical lines of the structures at their center.

Kiley's work outside Saarinen's North Christian Church

I know what you’re thinking: “He’s so not your type!” Those who know me are aware “linear” and “well-trimmed” are rarely associated with my aesthetic approach. I’m more of an asymmetrical, scruffy and slightly overgrown kinda gal. So what was it about Kiley that stole my heart?

Mark Zelonis captured it in this post detailing the reverent experience he and Ed Blake (landscape architect for the IMA’s 100 Acres) shared while visiting the Miller House garden, designed by none other than my new beau, Dan.

Ed first witnessed the site decades ago while on a work assignment in Columbus. He was then only able to peek through the already tall arborvitae hedges guarding the property’s east side, but knew the place was indeed very special. After all, one of the 20th century’s masters of landscape design, Dan Kiley, had worked his magic here. For all of us in the field, this is a place for reverence.

Miller House garden

Columbus is adorned with Kiley landscapes, both public and private. Perhaps the most cherished are the grounds surrounding North Christian Church, the last building architect Eero Saarinen designed before his death in 1961. It is the last of three buildings in Columbus that Saarinen and Kiley worked on together. The building is woven into the fabric of the site like a fine Girard textile. I was lost, and found there.

Lucky for you, I won’t keep my Danny Boy all to myself. I’ll share him in the form of a Dan Kiley tour I put together  just for you (with the help of the Columbus, IN Visitors Association):

– North Christian Church: The entry sequence consists of a long curving drive that runs through open woods of old native hardwoods, to a series of parking lots formed into courtyards and camouflaging vehicles by high hedges and perimeter trees. Maple allees define much of the perimeter of the property. A small meadow bounded by woods, allees, magnolia grove, and hedges affords the single unobstructed view of the building.

North Christian Church

Eero Saarinen's North Christian Church (1964)

– Irwin Union Bank: The 1954 Irwin Union Bank building was an early collaboration between architect Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley. The building is flat-roofed, made of steel and glass in the International Style. Kiley wanted an office building within a garden. Kiley surrounded the base with thick groundcover and place it inside a grove of honey locust trees to connect inside and outside.

Irwin Union Bank (1954)

– Miller House and Garden: A “classic of modern horticulture, unsurpassed in the United States…” — The Magazine Antiques. The IMA recently acquired the landmark Miller House and Garden in Columbus, Indiana. One of the country’s most highly regarded examples of mid-century Modernist residences, the Miller House was designed by Eero Saarinen, with interiors by Alexander Girard, and landscape design by Daniel Kiley.

Miller House and Garden

Miller House is slated to open to the public next year, but don’t sit around waiting til then to dive deep in to all the design goodness Columbus has to offer. Who knows, maybe you’ll fall head over heels too.

Filed under: Design, Horticulture, Local, Musings, Travel

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