Click here to read, “A Visual History of Michigan’s Outsize Influence on American Modernism” by Mark Byrnes.
CRANBROOK SIGHTING #6
Sighter: Chad Alligood
Sighted: Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church, 1940-42; Eero Saarinen’s North Christian Church, 1964; Harry Weese’s Cummins Engine Company Tech Center, 1968
Location: Columbus, IN
Date: February 22, 2013
Part one of my road trip from Michigan to Kentucky brought me to the doorstep of Eero Saarinen’s Miller House in Columbus, IN. Here, then, I submit for your consideration part two: the rapid-fire highlights of my whirlwind, self-cobbled tour of Cranbrook in Columbus.
3:02 PM, Friday afternoon: I need to be in Louisville, KY—about 75 miles away—by 5 PM. Short on time but long on curiosity, I decide to hit as many of the Cranbrook-related local gems of modern architecture as possible before I hit I-65 South.
3:04 PM: I wander out of the Columbus Area Visitor’s Center, map in hand, attempting to plot an architecturally significant route while walking. As I ponder which cool building is closest, I look up from my map to be confronted with the answer:
Crisp lines, modern geometry and repetition, minimal ornament: the soaring tower of Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church breaks my nerd-alert map concentration. It’s difficult even now to imagine how such a monumental reduction of form emerges so early in the century: Eliel begins work on this project in 1940 (at the same time as he develops the design for Cranbrook Art Museum, with which the church shares numerous stylistic attributes). Composed of three rectangular wings surrounding a sunken garden, First Christian Church comprises an essay in clarity of thought and unity of overall form. Taking cues from the earlier models of his Finnish countrymen Alvar Aalto and Erik Bryggmann, Eliel—in concert with his son Eero—imbued the rational, linear form with the tactile material warmth of buff stone panels and tan brick. Bonus vintage shot of the church under construction on March 19, 1941, courtesy of Cranbrook Archives:
3:21 PM: With no time to linger, I hop into Celeste, my beloved ’91 Camry, bound for yet another Saarinen church—but this one is Eero’s. As I drive up the winding path, North Christian Church looks as if it could lift off at any moment. In his architectural vocabulary of simplified forms, Eero sought a language that would “clearly and logically express the form and character of the church.” Hexagonal in plan with a 192-foot spire, the building cuts a knifelike silhouette through the high cloudbank of a February storm:
Given the chilly drizzle and the fact that it’s early Friday afternoon, I have the place to myself. I steal a moment of quiet under the curved awning, reveling in Eero’s visionary forms and sensitive materials.
3:30 PM: I try to enter several locked doors of the church. I fail. I curse.
3:36 PM: With only time for one final drive-by, I plot my next move on the way to the I-65. I settle on the quirky, proto-Brutalist Cummins Engine Company Tech Center designed by Cranbrook alum Harry Weese in 1968. I’m always drawn to the concrete construction and repetitive form of American architecture of the late 1960s and 1970s—it’s often so withholding, so dutiful in its drilled-down muscularity. Weese enlivens the façade with idiosyncratic pre-cast concrete sun shades over each of the glass exterior windows. I find a certain awkward charm in this strange detail, so I snap a photo through the fence:
Posted by Chad Alligood
2012-13 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow
Photographer Alec Soth spoke with Cynthia Canty, host of Michigan Radio’s “Stateside,” about his travels across the state of Michigan as part of his current exhibition “From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America,” currently on display at Cranbrook Art Museum through March 30. Listen to the podcast here.
Visit Detroit, the official publication of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, takes a tour of our new Collections Wing with Art Museum Director Gregory Wittkopp. For the full story, complete with photos from the vault, click here.
The Detroit Free Press takes a look at metro Detroit’s art exhibitions to go see this holiday season. Of the current Alec Soth exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum, writer Mark Stryker says, “It’s a diverse and impressive body of work, including a printed newspaper that meditates on themes of community, and it’s a good example of the savvy kinds of collaboration that Cranbrook facilitates between leading artists and the next generation.” For the full story, click here.
Image: Alec Soth
Peter’s Houseboat, Winona, Minnesota, 2002. Chromogenic print.
Photograph © Alec Soth.
The Huffington Post, Detroit takes a look at Cranbrook Art Museum’s new exhibitions by Alec Soth and Soo Sunny Park, detailing how the two artists document place and transform space, with work that captures individualized moments of the American landscape and experience. For the full story, click here.
This month’s edition of Contract magazine profiles the current exhibition “George Nelson: Architect / Writer / Designer / Teacher,” on view through October 14 at Cranbrook Art Museum. Museum Director Greg Wittkopp discusses how the exhibition was a perfect fit for Cranbrook. “People come to Cranbrook to see this exhibit, and it just feels at home here,” he said. To read the full story, click here. To view a virtual edition of the magazine, visit here.
The innovative new lighting system on display at the renovated Cranbrook Art Museum is praised as a restoration of Eliel Saarinen’s original vision for the space in the June issue of Architectural Lighting magazine. The SmithGroupJJR oversaw the project, referencing Saarinen’s blueprints and construction documents to install lighting in the coffered ceilings that is in line with Saarinen’s original design to make the ceiling seem “lit from within.” SmithGroupJJR installed flexible, state-of-the art LED lighting, keeping with Saarinen’s tradition of showcasing a lighting system ahead of its time. For more information, click here.
Art21, the group responsible for producing the Peabody-winning PBS series “Art:21 – Art in the Twenty-First Century,” recently featured the contributions of the Cranbrook Art Museum and the Detroit Institute of Arts in the blog post, “The Anchor Art Museums in and of Detroit.” The pioneering work of 2D Artist-in-Residence Elliot Earls is lauded, along with the accessibility of the museum’s collection after the recent expansion and renovation. Cranbrook’s new leadership and its commitment to our cultural heritage is also highlighted as the region prepares for the future. Click here for the article.
The Detroit News explores the interesting story behind George Nelson’s journey from architect and journalist to iconic American designer. The vision of the Herman Miller Furniture Company and the talents of Nelson ultimately changed design as we know it. “George Nelson: Architect / Writer / Designer / Teacher” makes it’s final stop at Cranbrook through October 14 as part of its American tour. Click here to read the article in the Homestyle section of the Detroit news.