First Christian Church - Saarinen

13 – First Christian

Visitors are welcome to view the interior of this church on weekdays (subject to availability) – all guests must check in at the east entrance between Fourth and Fifth Streets on Lafayette.

Designed by famed Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen (father of Eero) and completed in 1942, First Christian is considered one of the first modernist churches in the United States. Its design was radical at a time when many churches were gothic in style, with tall steeples and steeply pitched roofs.

Saarinen’s design is asymmetrical – the doors, cross, and the clock on the clock tower are all off center, as are the aisle and the cross in the sanctuary.

Patrick Sisson wrote in Curbed, “In the midst of World War II, the opening of a small-town church in south central Indiana became national news before it even opened its doors. When the design for the church was announced, Time magazine noted, ‘the costliest modern church in the world, planned by Europe’s most famous modern architect and his son, is going up across the street from a Victorian City Hall.’“

First Christian Church has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

First Christian Church - Saarinen

14 – Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount tapestry was designed by Eliel and Loja Saarinen, woven by Loja Saarinen and a group of weavers at the Cranbrook Academy, and installed in 1942. At that time, it was the largest hand-woven tapestry in the United States.

The tapestry depicts 13 colorfully-robed people standing among vines and branches with birds, sheep, and other animals. They gaze up towards Jesus, who has arcs and halos irradiating from him. It hangs in the sanctuary to the proper left of the large wooden cross.

First Christian Church - Saarinen

15 – Historic Columbus City Hall

Designed by local Charles Sparrell and built in 1895, this building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building was recently converted to law offices and loft apartments – the building has served many purposes throughout the years, including housing city government offices, the police department, a ballroom, a courtroom, an exhibit hall, and a gymnasium where basketball legend and Columbus native Chuck Taylor played!

First Christian Church - Saarinen

16 – Irwin Conference Center

Cummins Inc. Irwin Conference Center, formerly Irwin Union Bank and Trust, was designed by Eero Saarinen in 1954, with landscape design by Dan Kiley. It was a groundbreaking design at a time when banks were typically imposing stone structures with tellers behind bars.

It is a low, glass-walled building set in a grove of trees. Unusual domed lights and an open interior creates a large, open, welcoming space. The building was linked to the 1910 office building and three-story building by a three-story glass arcade, which was designed by Kevin Roche and added in 1973.

It has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.

Take me to the Irwin Conference Center.
First Christian Church - Saarinen

17 – Irwin Office Building and Addition

Architect Kevin Roche, of Roche Dinkaloo and Associates,created this glass corridor to connect the modernist bank building to neighboring Victorian buildings when Irwin Union expanded its offices in 1973.

The building now houses offices for Cummins, Inc.

Note that you can view three Roche works from the intersection of Fifth and Jackson Streets! (the Arcade, Cummins Corporate Office, and the U.S. Post Office) 

First Christian Church - Saarinen

18 – Irwin Conference Center landscaping

Landscape Architect Dan Kiley has been called “the supreme master of the modern garden” – with designs that include Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., The Gateway Arch in St. Louis,  Independence Mall in Philadelphia, and John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. Yet, Kiley worked on over 30 projects in Columbus, Indiana – most notably Miller House Garden and North Christian Church.

(photo by Dan Wallace)