Building architecture and relationships: Exhibit Columbus’ beauty includes 1,000-plus volunteers

Maybe the most beautiful part of the upcoming Exhibit Columbus exhibition stretches beyond the cool creativity of architects and their ideas gradually taking shape, as organizers see it.

They’re watching 1,000-plus volunteers working to help build the event’s 18 temporary architectural installations all over Columbus. Amid those efforts, Anne Surak, director of exhibitions for Exhibit Columbus, sees relationships also slowing building between residents and designers from all over the world.

All of which makes the exhibition a true team effort of widespread proportions in a city known for a Modernist movement heralded worldwide.

“Part of this really is about people being able to actually touch this — and really see up close what all goes into making Exhibit Columbus,” Surak said. “That’s really important to all our designers.

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“We realize, though, that from a practical perspective, yes, of course it’s helpful to have extra hands to get things done, allowing the designers to do even more with the budget they’ve been given.”

Surak said that, thanks to continuing volunteer involvement, everything is on schedule to be completed by the Aug. 23-24 opening dates, including a opening bash expected to include more than 700 people under a tent in Mill Race Park.

The exhibition, titled “Good Design and Community,” will run through Dec. 1. The free gathering, held every other year, focuses on art, architecture and design, and uses new, pop-up installations from the world’s leading designers to highlight existing structures and landscapes in a city known globally for its architectural impact.

Just as with the first exhibition here in 2017, the community also is once again constructing a reputation of warm-hearted teamwork. Surak mentioned that students from various university installations already have been helping one another with building tasks.

“It’s good to see all that interaction,” Surak said.

Columbus native Tim Cox, now a junior architecture student at Virginia Tech University, is among local volunteers. He first was involved with the exhibition in 2017 when he was part of the high school installation team, which completed the popular and multi-colored work “Threads” on Washington Street. He mentioned that he feels fairly amazed to be able to talk with circles of people who have worked on projects across the nation and world.

“I’ve just been very excited about some of the different installations (to come), and I have been excited also about meeting some of the different designers,” Cox said.

Last week, he spent time working with the team of students from The Ohio State University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology building a piece called “Understorey” on the lawn of Eero Saarinen’s North Christian Church.

“It was just a neat opportunity to talk with all of them, and be able to help them out,” Cox said.

He said it’s still impressive to hear design professors affiliated with exhibition’s University Design Research Fellows teams talk of all the colleges — some eight hours away by car — bringing graduate architecture students to Columbus to study structures.

Columbus resident Stephanie Gorham recently saw a call-out for volunteers on the Facebook page for the Bartholomew County Public Library for Freda Escobedo Studio’s planned nature-oriented installation “Untitled” on the library plaza.

“So, I went online, and looked at all of the projects — and I just couldn’t help myself,” Gorham said, adding that she’s free most days.

She added that she thought the 2017 works “were beautiful and inspiring,” and already has picked a favorite design for this year: the high school design team’s pillar-themed piece “Dencity,” inspired by the Bartholomew County Memorial For Veterans. So far, she’s been inspired by designers’ down-to-earth demeanor.

“I love being able to hear what made some of them come up with their idea,” Gorham said.

Amid all the flurry of building, others acknowledged they are feeling a bit inspired and impressed. Courtney St. John is an graduate student in architecture with assistant professor Marshall Prado’s University of Tennessee team building the 30-foot “Filament Tower” on the North Christian Church lawn by week’s end. In 2017, as an undergrad student at the Ohio State University, she helped build that school’s local installation.

“It’s an amazing experience just to see so many people come here for this just to experience and celebrate architecture,” St. John said. “That’s just incredible.”

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Currently, leaders at eight Exhibit Columbus installations that are recruiting volunteers to help complete their designs. Those designers and the locations are:

  • MASS Design Group (Central Middle School)
  • Viola Ago and Hans Tursak (North Christian Church)
  • Christopher Battaglia (St. Peter’s Lutheran Church)
  • SO-IL (Bartholomew County Courthouse lawn)
  • Bryony Roberts Studio (City Hall);
  • Frida Escobedo Studio (Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza)
  • LA-Mas (Seventh and Washington streets)
  • PienZa Sostenbile (Irwin Conference Center).

To volunteer: Click on the sign-up link on the Facebook page for Exhibit Columbus (near the top).

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The Exhibit Columbus exhibition is a once-every-two-years display of a wide variety temporary architectural installations meant to highlight or somehow connect to nearby, permanent structures and buildings in Columbus.

The exhibition is set for Aug. 24 to Dec. 1 and is an exploration of art, architecture, and design.

Exhibit Columbus seeks to celebrate Columbus’ heritage while making it relevant in new and modern ways, according to organizers. It is the signature project of Landmark Columbus, which was created in 2015 to care for the design heritage of Columbus, and is under the umbrella of The Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

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