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Architect praises Columbus efforts at revitalization

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Prominent architect George Miller praised Columbus’ efforts to revitalize its downtown, especially at a time that the nation has reached an infrastructure crisis.

Miller, a partner in Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and former president of the American Institute of Architects, was the featured guest at the recent annual meeting of the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives.

Miller lauded the local revamping of Fourth Street and the addition of downtown apartments to bring more people into the city.

“That’s a good civic gesture,” Miller said.

And it comes at a time that many civic leaders are forgetting to incorporate design in public buildings and parks in their drive to focus solely on cost, he said.

Good design does not often cost more than mediocre or bad design, Miller said, and good design of public structures and spaces brings art into people’s lives and plays an important part in their day-to-day experiences.

“It enriches life. Don’t give it up,” he told roughly 50 guests at the Columbus Area Visitors Center.

CIAA Director Tony Costello, who had a public conversation with Miller at the meeting, told the guests that he plans to launch a membership drive in the first quarter of next year.

The CIAA board named Costello as its first paid director in June. Board members have said they expect Costello to employ his part-time position primarily for fundraising, archival acquisitions and building a strong membership base.

In the annual report, CIAA Board President Randy Royer called 2013 a watershed year for the organization, primarily because of the hiring of Costello.

Royer also wrote that CIAA has revised its logo, created exhibits in the library on fire station architecture and Balthazar Korab, and has begun digitizing drawings and slides for long-term preservation and to improve ease of use.

Miller said digitizing and expanding the CIAA’s collection will draw even more people to Columbus. Architect I.M. Pei, now 96, designed the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library in Columbus.

Additional sketches of some of America’s most famous modern buildings will allow people to see how the history of design in Columbus unfolded, Miller said.

Costello said, for example, that early designs of the Miller House, one of the city’s seven National Historic Landmarks, included a pool.

Miller (not related to the family of the famed Miller House) said that if the CIAA tells its story and plans the right way, it should be able to garner financial support.

“Because of the riches you have in this community … I think you have a unique opportunity here to ask for help nationally,” Miller said.

As a first step, Miller said the CIAA should contact offices of architects who have built in Columbus to see if they can donate something to the local archives.

Costello told guests that he has visited Harvard, which keeps the archives of landscape architect Dan Kiley, and he plans to visit Yale, which has the Eero Saarinen archives. Kiley designed landscapes at the Miller House and the former Irwin Union Bank on Washington Street, while Saarinen designed the Miller House and North Christian Church.

Miller said that Pei, early in his career, began working for real estate developer William Zeckendorf, at a time that the American Institute of Architects frowned upon architects working for developers. Zeckendorf felt he could have a positive and lasting influence in some of America’s great cities, including Denver, Boston and New York, and he asked Pei, who was at Harvard, to join him.

Those days proved very challenging because of the schism between contractors and architects, Miller said, but those conflicts really helped Pei develop the backbone that he displayed when he was exposed to public backlash over his design of the pyramid at The Louvre.

Miller said Pei’s pyramid is an example of an addition that does not detract from the existing structure. Columbus, too, has examples of such work, he said, including Jim Paris’ addition to the Pei-designed library, and Nolan Bingham’s addition to First Christian Church, one of the city’s seven National Historic Landmarks.

Architectural solutions have to grow out of what’s already present, Miller said.

In Luxembourg, Miller’s firm once designed an art museum on the site of an old fortification, and the firm ended up building on top of the old foundations, carefully putting new columns in place. Pei’s addition to the German Historical Museum in Berlin is another good example.

Miller joined Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in 1975. He has lectured and served as guest critic at Columbia University, New York Institute of Technology and Yale University. Born in Berlin, he moved to the U.S. with his parents when he was a child.

Today, Pei mostly stays at home with his wife, Miller said.

Work at his firm continues, meanwhile.

Pei Cobb Freed & Partners recently was tapped to design the Daniel K. Inouye Center for Democratic Leadership at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The firm also is building a 558-feet-tall tower and office complex in Istanbul and a 700-foot-high tower in Boston.

CIAA also recognized Jim Nickoll as its volunteer of the year.

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