A New York City architect who has risen to the top of her profession always has prized practicality over beauty and pizazz — although she clearly believes in striking aesthetics.

She expects to build on that idea during a panel discussion with two other top designers at the inaugural Exhibit Columbus architecture and design symposium, “Foundations and Futures,” Sept. 29 to Oct. 1.

Deborah Berke, who designed the Hope Branch Library that was completed in 1998 and is the new dean of the Yale Architecture School, will be discussing “Architecture For Everyday Life” at 5:20 p.m. Sept. 30 at The Commons, 300 Washington St. Joining her will be former Yale dean and friend Robert A.M. Stern, who designed the Columbus Regional Hospital expansion in 1995, and Michael Van Valkenburgh, who brought Mill Race Park back to life in 1993.

“The best architecture both looks great, but also can become a nice background for all the activities there,” she said from her office in New Haven, Connecticut.

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At the branch library on the historic Hope Town Square, she referred to the high-ceiling in the main area and its curved, wood-laminate beams with natural light streaming in.

“Now that’s architecture,” she said. “But when a Hope resident sits there and reads their book by daylight, I see that private pleasure as one that takes dominance, and the architecture becomes background.

“That balance is so important.”

Berke aims to touch on those and other topics during the discussion that will include past and current staff leaders connected with each architect’s local project.

Lynne Maguire, the head of innovation strategy, and Jim Bickel, president and CEO of Columbus Regional Hospital.

Chuck Wilt and Mark Jones, retired and current directors of the Columbus Parks and Recreation’s Department.

Beth Booth Poor and Jason Hatton, retired and current directors of the Bartholomew County Public Library.

This symposium will set the stage for the August through November 2017 element of Exhibit Columbus, which will feature more than 15 temporary installations, all meant to re-energize the buzz of the design heritage of Columbus, organizer Richard McCoy said.

McCoy, director of the non-profit Landmark Columbus, came up with the idea of Exhibit Columbus.

Landmark Columbus, launched last year, cares for the city’s artistic and architecturally significant sites.

Already, McCoy is a fan of Berke’s glass, nine-story Cummins Inc. distribution headquarters building which is scheduled to open in early 2017.

“Without much question, that is the most significant piece of architecture in the last 20 years in Indy,” said McCoy, an Indianapolis resident.

He added that each architect in next week’s discussion saw their Columbus area work boost their individual careers.

With the late Cummins executive, philanthropist and architectural champion J. Irwin Miller living and working in Columbus, getting a commission for a Columbus design project carried stature, McCoy said.

Miller launched the Cummins-funded architectural program which began recruiting top building designers to work on public buildings starting in 1942, putting Columbus on the international architectural stage.

Berke was chosen to design the Hope library at a time when she mostly was known for residential architecture.

“That was a big project for me,” she said. “Even though I grew up in New York City, I liked the idea of building buildings outside of New York. So that was a natural fit.”

Just in the past five to 10 years, Berke has designed elaborate art museum hotels as part of restoration projects in Louisville and Cincinnati.

Columbus native Will Miller, J. Irwin Miller’s son who now serves as president of the New York-based Wallace Foundation, will serve as moderator of the Exhibit Columbus discussion. He also has extensive experience working with top-tier architects from his time living in Columbus.

“There is seldom much of an opportunity to understand the design intent — the process of how a building got that way,” Miller said. “This (discussion) is a way of encouraging a deeper understanding of that process — and how that process adds value to a community.”

Miller said he was privileged to grow up in a home regarded as a Modern architectural masterpiece designed by Eero Saarinen. The Miller House, as it’s now known, is a popular tourism attraction owned and operated by the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

He also attended North Christian Church, also designed by Saarinen. He was educated at Lillian C. Schmitt Elementary and Northside Middle School, two of Harry Weese’s building designs.

But he yearns for people to put away any concerns of missing the message of good design or not having an educational pedigree linked to architecture.

“The value of good design operates on multiple levels, only one of which is where you get all the subtleties,” Miller said. “The level of pure function is important.”

He cited one easy example.

“You certainly don’t have to understand the history of Western architecture and the influences Michael Van Valkenburgh was drawing from in order to enjoy the beauty of Mill Race Park,” Miller said. “It’s a great place for a picnic — and if that’s the level at which you engage with it, then to me the purpose of the design has been accomplished.”

Exhibit Columbus highlights

Sept. 29

6 to 8 p.m.: 10: The Miller Prize Competition Finalists, IU Center for Art + Design, 310 Jackson St.

A gallery exhibition featuring work by the 10 J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize finalists. Free — no ticket required.

Sept. 30

All at The Commons, 300 Washington St.

9 to 11:45 a.m.: Modern Art and Life, featuring the following presentations:

  • Jochen Eisenbrand, Vitra Design Museum, “Learning From Vernacular: Alexander Girard in Columbus.”
  • Ron Henderson, Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture, “Gleditsia: The Finely-Textured Canopy of Modernism.”
  • Alexandra Lange, Curbed, “Shape of Schools: Reading, Writing and Rooflines at the Columbus Schools.”
  • Marleen Newman, IU Center for Art + Design, “Forgotten Architecture: Harry Weese and the Social Agenda of Modernism.”
  • Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, Yale School of Architecture, “Kevin Roche: Buildings for Life and Work.”

11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Miller Prize Finalist panel discussion.

2 to 4 p.m.: “Making and Maintaining,” featuring Jeff Brown, Travel Indiana; Mary Chandler, Cummins Foundation; Steve Forster, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.; and Ben Wever, Indianapolis Museum of Art.

4 to 4:45 p.m.: Miller Prize Finalist panel discussion.

5:20 to 7:45 p.m.: “Architecture in Everyday Life,” free panel discussion with guests including architects Deborah Berke, Michael Van Valekenburgh and Robert A.M. Stern with moderator Will Miller.

Oct. 1

All at First Christian Church, 536 Fifth St.

9 to 11:45 a.m.: “Architecture + Industry in the Future of Cities,” featuring:

  • Mark Burry, Melbourne School of Design, “Global Futures: Prototyping Design for Maximum Impact in a Multidisciplinary World.”
  • Jennifer Rumsey, Cummins Inc., “Adaptive Industrial Models: The Role of Technology as an Industrial Model in Adapting to Global Needs.”
  • Fabio Gramazio, Gramazio Kohler Architects, “Machines: the Shift, the Discipline: How Technology Can Change an Entire Industry: the Robotic Influence on the Constructed World.”
  • William Kreysler, Kreysler & Associates, “Crafting Innovative Material Solutions: New Materials for New Buildings: Composite Materials Reveal a New Architecture.”
  • L. William Zahner, A. Zahner Company, “Formulating Digital Craft: Achieving Incredible Surfaces in Metal by Combining Engineering and Craftsmanship Within a Digital Platform.”

11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Miller Prize Finalist Discussion.

2 to 5 p.m.: “The Future of Design in Columbus.”

Presentations by the Exhibit Columbus Curatorial Team and partners for the 2017 exhibition.

Complete schedule: Visit exhibitcolumbus.org/schedule

If you go, Exhibit Columbus symposium

Tickets: $35 for one day, $60 for two days. University students: $10 per day. Order tickets online at exhibitcolumbus.org. Click “register” on left column and then “register now” at bottom.

Information: exhibitcolumbus.org.

Bios for keynote panelists

  • Deborah Berke: Designed the Hope Branch Library that opened in 1998 after designing mostly residential structures at that time. Recently named dean of the Yale School of Architecture, succeeding Robert A.M. Stern. Also designed the Cummins Inc. new distribution headquarters, scheduled to open in early 2017 in Indianapolis.
  • Robert A.M. Stern: Handled the design for a $40 million effort, including courtyards and gardens, at Columbus Regional Hospital in 1992. His is among the nation’s largest architectural firms in the country, and among the most renowned, according to Exhibit Columbus leaders.
  • Michael Van Valkenburgh: Coordinated the design of Mill Race Park in 1993, including such popular touches as the covered bridge and Round Lake. He specializes in landscape architecture. Van Valkenburgh is the Charles Eliot Professor of Practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
  • Moderator Will Miller: His life has reflected his family’s commitment to combining business leadership, civic awareness and philanthropy. His long career in Columbus with Irwin Management culminated in his tenure first as president and CEO, and then as chairman. Miller was also Chairman and CEO of Irwin Financial Corporation from 1990 to 2009. Since 2011, he has been the president of the Wallace Foundation, a New York City-based philanthropy dedicated to fostering improvements in learning, enrichment for disadvantaged children, and the vitality of the arts for everyone.
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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.