The big reveal: Exhibit Columbus design presentations planned for Feb. 25

Republic file photo Architect Vishaan Chakrabarti of PAU Studio in New York City speaks as part of a panel discussion in October at The Commons.

New York City architect Vishaan Chakrabarti aims to strike a careful balance in his PAU Studio firm’s presentation of its Exhibit Columbus installation plans at The Commons in downtown Columbus. He’d like to highlight a surprise or two on his project, but also wants more than 100 local residents who offered ideas and input for his work to easily notice the fruit of some of their suggestions.

“I hope so,” Chakrabarti said. “I really hope so. People talked about a place to hang out. And they talked about the importance of lighting at night. And they talked about celebrating the downtown and creating more reasons for people to go there as a destination.

“So I hope people will recognize all that.”

He’ll be among some of the world’s top designers — and one of the exhibition’s four esteemed Miller Prize winners forming the base of the exhibition — unveiling their creativity Feb. 25 at Exhibit Columbus Design Presentations at The Commons.

In the past, these gatherings open to all generated a healthy buzz about the architectural aura of the city’s Modernist legacy. The Exhibit Columbus exhibition, titled “Public By Design,” opens Aug. 25 and runs through November with creations installed all over town.

In 2017, 2019 and 2021, the exhibition held every other year attracted tens of thousands to downtown, and a flurry of national and international publicity that residents said they’d never seen before and city leaders said even big budgets couldn’t have purchased.

The project is the star effort of the nonprofit Landmark Columbus Foundation, an organization that cares for, celebrates, and advances the cultural heritage of Columbus. At the 2019 design presentations, attendance totaled about 300 people, ranging from high school and college students to city promotional staffers to architectural tour guides to residents who simply love the creativity of Exhibit Columbus.

The 2021 presentations were done online as a streaming event amid a spike in COVID-19 cases. This event will highlight 13 total installations, including the University Design Fellows and the High School Design Team.

“We realize that the downtown is dealing with some issues related to recovery from the pandemic, and those are things we can’t exactly totally solve with just this process,” Chakrabarti of PAU Studio said. “But we’re hopeful that we can do something that pays respect to the extraordinary history and quality of your downtown and the diversity of the community — and creates reasons for people to come hang out downtown, and something that can help some of the businesses rebuild in some way.

“So, we do have some high aspirations that are built from what we heard from the community.”

Designers normally will slightly and artfully tease their plans for the overviews, but keep details and renderings under wraps until the day of the presentations. Chakrabarti acknowledged that he didn’t want to give too much away.

Richard McCoy, executive director of Landmark Columbus, has cautioned people in the past generally not to compare planned installations with one that some people say was a favorite from 2017: the elaborate ”Conversation Plinth” by IKD at the Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza. An added, $350,000 U.S. Forest Service Wood Innovatiojn Grant, besides the then-$70,000 that Miller Prize winners get for their build, helped pay for that extensive structure.

Today, Miller Prize now winners get $80,000 to complete their build.

“I think they’re all coming closer to their final concepts,” McCoy said of all the designers. “And actually, I think as far as a timetable, we’re ahead of the game this time because we have so many community partners involved (with each installation). And I think people are going to be really excited to see how much research about Columbus these designers have done.”

McCoy added that many of the designs reflect the current state of downtown.

“You’re going to see things that make things fun for Cummins employees to be downtown,” McCoy said. “And you’ll see things that are fun for people on Fourth Street. And you’ll see things that are thoughtfully engaged with the Bartholomew County Public Library, or things that are connected to the future of Mill Race Park.

“In essence, each of those communities of people becomes a client. This is the strategy that we have employed.”

McCoy mentioned that, no matter what, every local resident has different tastes, and that’s expected on the installations.

“It’s not that everyone has to love them,” he said. “But what we’re going for is that, one way or another, people do care about them.”

More about Exhibit Columbus

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