Design work at library plaza to give Columbus a lift

In a city that long has elevated fine design, two Boston architects’ latest project will in turn elevate the local populace to see noted art and buildings from a new perspective.

Such is the vision of IKD’s Yugon Kim and Tomomi Itakura, among Miller Prize winners linked with this fall’s three-month-long Exhibit Columbus, an exploration of art, architecture and design — one that organizers expect to attract about 10,000 people to downtown over a three-month stretch.

The pair has designed a piece, “Conversation Plinth,” that includes several wooden, raised and lighted platforms at the Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza.

The name is a playful reworking of Eero Saarinen’s colorful Conversation Pit at the Miller House just a few miles north of I.M. Pei’s plaza. Plus, it refers to the circular element that elevates Henry Moore’s Large Arch sculpture, long a showpiece of the library grounds, and the slight elevation of First Christian Church across the street.

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“What struck us was that there was this concert of conversation going on between the art and the buildings,” Kim said. “What we thought was missing was a conversation with the people.”

The duo also wants to show that a new high-tech, cross-laminated timber can be developed from Indiana hardwood, which they aim to make for the project. That’s important to the two since they familiarized themselves with Edinburgh area wood and veneer firms on one of their two Columbus visits last year.

They also feel strongly that their installation can serve as a symbol of art and architecture linked with industry and manufacturing jobs.

“Wood is one constant that has been with me a long time,” Kim said, referring to some of his firms’ other designs and also his previous role as a sculptor.

Library director Jason Hatton already is a fan of the piece-to-be that will be in place until the end of November.

“I especially like the fact that it really focuses on the Large Arch (sculpture),” Hatton said. “It really gives you a new perspective, and a new way to interact with that (piece).”

Hatton also noted that Large Arch always has been a sculpture that people readily can touch and embrace. And he likes that Kim and his design partner will make Conversation Plinth interactive enough for people to literally walk on for a new view of their surroundings.

Richard McCoy, the director of Landmark Columbus who launched Exhibit Columbus in May, mentioned that although each of the Miller Prize winners get $70,000 to execute their design, none of the architects will make a profit from this effort.

“But one thing that the designers are getting out of this is great exposure,” McCoy said, because of the city’s stature in the architectural world.

Funding for Exhibit Columbus, including the prize money, has come from individuals, foundations and corporations throughout Indiana. Exhibit Columbus is a project of Landmark Columbus, a program of Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

McCoy sees the exhibition as far more than an effort to freshen and revitalize local architecture.

“Exhibit Columbus projects these folks are doing should be the bar for new designs and new buildings in Columbus,” McCoy said.

People such as Kim seem eager to be part of any new designs and structures.

“All these young and developing architects were able to design buildings there, which then became a great platform for long and wonderful careers,” Kim said. “Columbus made an investment in these designers so they could then do something very special.

“And in an age where so many people are so risk-averse, Columbus is a wonderful role model for all of us. Because in the architectural world, it can be so difficult to separate yourself from the pack.

“… And in Columbus, there is definitely a different sensibility when it comes to looking at space.”

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Landmark Columbus Director Richard McCoy sees 2017 as a special time for local growth and development.

“We should start thinking about 2017 as a time of renaissance for Columbus,” McCoy said.

Besides Exhibit Columbus inspiring new design ideas, he cited Indiana University’s proposed plans for a master’s of architecture program in Columbus and the city’s efforts in its riverfront project.

Plus, he cited national publicity about the architecture-driven and yet-to-be-released film, “Columbus.”

“There are really exciting things happening,” McCoy said. “And if all this is packaged and positioned in the right way, you can have a lot of new people interested in Columbus, Indiana.”

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  • Yugon Kim: A founding owner/partner of IKD, a Boston-based design and architecture firm. Prior to establishing IKD, he was with the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, spending two years at its home office in Genova, Italy before overseeing the construction phase of the recently completed extension of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
  • Tomomi Itakura: A founding partner of IKD. She was recently appointed as head of exhibition design at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. She was formerly the senior designer at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where she designed and oversaw installations, galleries, and exhibitions that reached more than one million visitors a year.