Designs on creativity: Exhibit Columbus installation presentations set for Jan. 19 at The Commons

Five design firms that have completed structures worldwide will present plans Jan. 19 for their temporary artistic architectural installations for the upcoming Exhibit Columbus exhibition.

Those firms are the J. Irwin and Xenia Miller Prize recipients. And they form the centerpiece of the event that celebrates Columbus’ Modernist design heritage while making it relevant to new audiences, according to organizers.

Their prize is named in memory of the local leadership couple who promoted excellence in art, architecture and design nationally and internationally for decades.

Plus, the Jan. 19 event at The Commons in downtown Columbus also will include presentations from University Design Research Fellows.

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Representing eight universities, these fellows will translate their research into installations highlighting how architecture and design can improve cities and advance new practices, organizers said.

The upcoming presentations are especially significant since the last exhibition in 2017 attracted an estimated 40,000 people to Columbus over three months time. Also, notable, former community leader Will Miller, son of J. Irwin and Xenia Miller, pointed out during the last exhibition that his daughter thought it significant that young local residents were talking excitedly about architecture in local bars and restaurants.

As a source of inspiration for the 2019 exhibition that begins Aug. 24, Exhibit Columbus leaders looked to the 1986 exhibition, “Good Design in the Community: Columbus, Indiana,” organizers said. This exhibition was mounted by the National Building Museum when J. Irwin Miller became the first living American inducted into the museum’s Hall of Fame.

Several of the Miller Prize winners spoke of Miller’s legacy in architecture, business, civil rights and beyond when they spoke at the closing session of the Exhibit Columbus symposium Sept. 29 at The Commons. He was considered a leader in all those areas.

Each Miller Prize winner receives $70,000 to plan and build their design.

Anne Surak, Exhibit Columbus director of exhibitions, mentioned that she has been talking with the designers regularly throughout the fall.

“To have these people come to Columbus and feel that (architectural) magic, and not only to connect them to the city but to each other, and have all these great minds just come together is truly inspirational,” Surak said.

Overall, this fall’s exhibition will feature 18 installations, Surak said.

Richard McCoy is director of Landmark Columbus, the nonprofit agency that planned and led Exhibit Columbus in May 2016. He views the presentation as a chance for residents to get something of a behind-the-scenes look at architects’ thought processes.

“It’s a rare chance to see how excellent designers approach their work,” McCoy said.

Architect Bryony Roberts of the firm carrying her name and based in New York City, just completed a temporary work in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She already know a remarkable amount of history about her installation site at Columbus City Hall when she spoke locally on Sept. 29.

“I think what excites me the most about it is the public space there,” she said, speaking from her office in Manhattan. “And it’s been really great to talk with people who have organized all sorts of events there.”

She was referring to everything from immigration rallies to faith-related events to Black Lives Matter of Columbus gatherings.

Though firms obviously prefer an element of surprise in their presentations, Roberts did say her planned installation will propose “a way to enhance this civic space as a place of play, performance and participation.

“So there will be a lot of color and interactive and tactile things for people to use and lounge upon,” she said.

The design is meant to make Columbus City Hall a good place to unwind, she said.

Designer Sophie Nichols from the New York City firm SO-IL, which has worked on several continents, mentioned that a team has sifted through multiple ideas for the Bartholomew County Courthouse lawn area at Second and Jackson streets in downtown Columbus. Nichols mentioned that having an older structure such as the courthouse on the property and a newer element such as the Bartholomew County Veterans Memorial “is only a plus. And it’s a really rich site — and one that we believe really helps welcome you into the city.”

Nichols said her team is still fine-tuning its installation and presentation. But, considering the parcel offers probably the most room of any of the Miller Prize sites, her team figures it could be planning the largest of the five Miller installations.

“We’re really excited to be a part of Columbus’ Modernist legacy,” Nichols said.

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What: Design presentations for the 2019 Exhibit Columbus exhibition, scheduled Aug. 24 to Dec. 1.

When: Begins with the University Design Research Fellows at 10 a.m. Jan. 19. Coffee and light breakfast from Lucabe Coffee Co. at 9:30 a.m.

Miller Prize Recipients will begin presentations at 2 p.m.

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in downtown Columbus.

Admission: Free, but a catered lunch from nearby Fresh Take Kitchen ordered by the morning of Jan. 19 is $15. 


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The five Miller Prize winners making presentations at 2 p.m. Jan. 19 are:

  • Agency Landscape + Planning (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Site: AT&T Switching Center, 1978, Paul Kennon of Caudill Rowlett Scott

  • Bryony Roberts Studio (New York, New York)

Site: Columbus City Hall, 1981, Edward Charles Bassett, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill

  • Frida Escobedo Studio (Mexico City, Mexico)

Site: Cleo Rogers Memorial Library Plaza, 1971, I.M. Pei and Partners

  • MASS Design Group (Boston, Massachusetts; Kigali, Rwanda)

Site: Central Middle School, 2007, Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will

  • SO-IL (New York, New York)

Site: Bartholomew County Courthouse lawn, 1871-74, Isaac Hodgson