Mid-Century Marvel

On Tuesday, September 9th, Christian Theological Seminary and Indiana Modern, an affinity group of Indiana Landmarks, are hosting an evening of celebration for something many of us who study, teach or work at CTS take for granted – the mid-century modern masterpiece in which we’re housed that references both ancient cloisters and future religious aspirations. It is, in fact, a ‘vision’ that serves as a testament to the contemporary aesthetic embraced by J. Irwin Miller (1909 – 2004), Chairman of the Cummins Engine Company (Columbus, IN), lay leader of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and enthusiastic patron of modern architecture. His support was instrumental in guiding seminary leadership to focus their architectural interests on modernism, the 20th century style that sought purity in simplicity, plain materials and generous sight lines through acres of glass that brought the outside in and gives the 150,000 sq. ft. masonry structure a light and airy feel.

Eero Saarinen, the Finnish-American master of contemporary architecture who designed the St. Louis Arch as well as Miller’s Columbus, IN home (now owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art), was originally chosen to design the seminary. Before a contract was signed, however, Saarinen realized he could not give the project the priority it needed to meet the school’s desired schedule. So, he recommended a group of young architects gaining attention for their skilled explorations of modernist design. From this group Edward Larrabee Barnes, who would later design the Indianapolis Museum of Art, was chosen as lead architect in December 1960. Sadly, Eero Saarinen would die of a brain tumor just nine months later at the age of 51.

By the fall of 1961, Barnes had developed a campus flow plan and, over the next two years, refined a structural composition he described as ‘pre-Gothic,’ in part because of its lack of ornamentation. The designs were compelling, and the CTS board was able to raise additional funds for construction to supplement the initial $2 million vote of confidence from the Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation and the Christian Foundation. Construction of Barnes’ plan took nearly two years to complete in February 1966 and was expanded by the architect to include the current library in 1977 and Sweeney Chapel in 1987.

As the original structure approaches its 50th anniversary in 2016, join I.U. Professor and former Indianapolis Star Art & Architecture Critic Steve Mannheimer and CTS President Matthew Myer Boulton for an evening that celebrates this design landmark and its role as a meeting place for the community that surrounds it.

Re-discover a Mid-Century Modern Masterpiece   

Tuesday, September 9, 2014
5:30 p.m. Reception | CTS Common Room
6 p.m. Presentation | Shelton Auditorium
6:45 – 7:30 p.m. Building Tours

This event is free and open to the public. To assure adequate refreshments and seating, however, please RSVP here. The mission of Indiana Landmarks (www.indianalandmarks.org) is to revitalize communities, reconnect us to our heritage, and save meaningful places. The mission of CTS (www.cts.edu) is to form disciples of Jesus Christ for church and community leadership to serve God's transforming of the world.

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