The Evolving Potential of Columbus’s Modernist Buildings

Exhibit Columbus, a citywide festival launched by the Landmark Columbus Foundation, seeks to build connections between the Indiana city’s Modernist past and all-embracing future.

“A Carousel for Columbus” at Ovation Plaza by Joseph Altshuler and Zack Morrison

With its extraordinary assortment of architectural landmarks—including major works by Eero and Eliel Saarinen, I.M. Pei, César Pelli, and dozens more—Columbus would be more than justified in establishing itself as an urban museum of Modernist history. For the last three years, though, the Landmark Columbus Foundation program Exhibit Columbus has pushed the city into the future, rethinking histories and activating the old buildings with up-and-coming designers. This year’s iteration, “Public by Design,” tackles contemporary phenomena of alienation and inequity in a citywide festival of vibrant connection-making.

Thirteen installations seek to foreground local perspectives for a global audience. Each of the four J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize winners partnered with a city agency for their public project. These included Harlem-based Studio Zewde’s collaboration with the parks and recreation department, “Echoes of the Hill,” which recontextualizes Michael Van Valkenburgh’s landscape design as a community gathering space. A team of local high school designers made a place for themselves on the main thoroughfare of Washington Street, working with independent bookstore Viewpoint Books to create “Machi,” a vibrant series of hangout zones from some 1,000 linear feet of steel tubing.

Seven University Design Fellows worked with local designers and fabricators to show work in dialogue with the city’s architecture. Deborah Garcia, for example, teamed up with local producers Propellor to make “Responder,” a throne-cum-loudspeaker that broadcasts field recordings Garcia made in and of Pei’s Cleo Rogers Memorial Library. (Nearby, prize winner Tatiana Bilbao Estudio has installed “Designed by the Public,” a library of equipment offered in the hope of people building their own work.) Garcia assembled the charred wood frame and electronics herself, with the help of Columbus volunteers and her own two sisters. Design doesn’t get more connected than that.

“Side Effects” by Molly Hunker and Greg Corso and The Commons Plaza
“Designed by the Public” at Cleo Rogers Memorial Library Plaza by Tatiana Bilbao
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