Nearly two dozen students excited to be part of something new started classes in something old — yet distinctly Modern.
Inside First Christian Church, one of the most well-known designs of renowned Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, Indiana University’s new J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program commenced Monday in downtown Columbus.
The church, which opened in 1942 at 531 Fifth St., and is the first example of Modern architecture in the city, provided the setting for the students in IU’s new master’s program for architecture to dive into their studies. Traditional start-of-the-semester details could wait for another day.
T. Kelly Wilson, director of graduate studies in Columbus, guided the students to the church in field-trip fashion on a warm, sunny day, leading a procession from 333 Second St., the program’s home and former offices of The Republic newspaper, to the church.
Such trips will be commonplace for students, as the program is designed to use Columbus’ more than 65 examples of Modern architecture as learning opportunities. The city is home to works by I.M. Pei, Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen, Kevin Roche and Harry Weese.
“I want them to get close to the voice of the author,” Wilson said, adding that he is teaching the students new habits of the mind.
Once inside the church, their journeys to understand the intentions of architects began. Wilson, whose class involves analysis of architecture by drawing and survey, asked the students to draw a section cut — a detailed portion — of the church.
“You’re reverse-engineering the process by which they engineered it,” Wilson told the students.
To help the students determine proportions for the section they would draw, he showed them how to use their thumb and a pencil against a backdrop to determine the scale.
Such a technique is old in the technological world of today, but a basic skill they can use the rest of their lives as architects, Wilson said. Learning to draw the structures one sees is a fundamental skill for architects, he said.
“You’re doing what someone once did to invent something,” said Wilson, who has worked for professional architectural firms, taught at universities such as Harvard and Yale, and was hired in 2011 as founding director of the Indiana University Center for Art + Design in Columbus.
With the birth of the master’s program, IUCA+D in name and as a program has been retired, Wilson said. What will happen with the space IU leased from Cummins Inc. at 310 Jackson St. for the program is uncertain, he said.
Inventing is essentially what the faculty and first cohort of the three-year architecture program are doing — shaping what it will become. That was a huge attraction for students and faculty, they said.
Ross McKnight, 22, said that in talking to a professor at Southern Illinois University, where he earned his undergraduate degree in architecture, he learned that new master’s programs in architecture don’t often come around. So the opportunity to be in the first cohort, learn from talented and accomplished faculty and be closer to his hometown of Zionsville was appealing, McKnight said.
“Being part of (something) with the potential to be one of the best architecture programs in the country and world is a hard opportunity to pass up,” he said.
Columbus and its many examples of Modern architecture — earning it the ranking of sixth-most architecturally important city in the country by the American Institute of Architects — make it the perfect setting for the program, said McKnight, who has moved into an apartment in the city to be close to his studies.
McKnight said he was familiar with the city and its design heritage from visiting family members in Columbus and using the opportunity to see some of the famed structures.
The opportunity to see famous buildings and structures abroad through the program played a big role in Jacquelyn Brice choosing IU’s new program over established programs at two other universities.
“They didn’t offer anything near the level of experience,” the 27-year-old Lawrenceburg native said. “I’ve never seen a building 1,000 years old yet.”
But she will as part of the Columbus-based program.
Students will travel to Rome, a city more than 2,700 years old, after the first year as an introduction to the idea of the Nomadic Studio, part of their third year. The Nomadic Studio takes them to architecturally significant cities around the world, where they will learn to analyze and interpret buildings and spaces, according to the program’s description.
Such an experience will be a significant departure from her background, an undergraduate degree in kinesiology and three years of working in IU’s physics department. However, Wilson said that the majority of the students in the cohort do not have backgrounds in architecture — something the program encourages, he said.
A mix of backgrounds, genders, races and ethnicities are qualities the school sought in the cohort, Wilson said. The 22-student cohort is almost evenly men and women.
While looking for a master’s program in environmental biology, Brice said she continually found information about landscape architecture, which piqued her interest. That eventually led her to IU’s new master’s program in architecture, she said.
Several things interested assistant professor Etien Santiago, 34, about the new master’s program. Columbus’ wealth of significant architecture, the fact that the program is new and its connection to IU and a talented group of people interested him, he said.
“I had never been to Columbus before, but it blew me away in its architecture, its community and how it responds to the architecture,” said Santiago, who moved to the city with his wife in July.
Santiago co-teaches the Architectural Studio I class with Daniel Martinez, 36, also an assistant professor. Their first class with the students Tuesday was an afternoon-long series of design challenges for the students to figure out.
One of the challenges involved the students walking into as many spaces as possible in the program’s home building — termed The Republic Building in IU’s nomenclature — in 10 minutes. With some spaces in the iconic all-glass building, built in 1971 and named a National Historic Landmark in 2012, still to be converted and furnished, the exercise had the students weaving between complete and incomplete spaces.
When they reconvened in the building’s unfinished gallery space, Santiago and Martinez told them to draw the floor plan of the building from memory. The students sat on the concrete floor, with sketch books in their laps, and put pencil to paper to recreate what they could remember.
“Memory is super important,” Martinez said.
Architects travel and see sites, and the ability to draw what they see at the time or afterward from memory is a fundamental skill, he said.
“This is an exercise Kelly used to do with students in Rome,” Martinez said.
‘A new script’
Wilson and his wife, Jennifer Riley, an associate professor in the master’s program who teaches visual studies, started Harvard’s Rome program and taught and directed it for about 15 years, she said. That experience had a lot to do with influencing IU’s model for its architecture program, she said.
Former students told them the visual studies component of architecture they taught was fundamental and life-changing, said Riley, who has taught drawing and painting for the past 25 years.
“In the program they’ll learn architecture, but they’ll learn to draw from observation, the culture of architecture and urbanism,” she said.
Riley said being part of the founding faculty and working with the first student cohort is exciting.
“We have a chance to write a new script. We don’t have to fit into somebody’s mold,” she said.
Faculty and staff of Indiana University’s J. Irwin Miller Architecture program, located in Columbus:
- T. Kelly Wilson: director of graduate studies – Columbus, associate professor
- Marleen Newman: assistant director, senior lecturer
- Britt Brewer: community outreach coordinator, academic specialist
- Jennifer Riley: associate professor
- Daniel Martinez: assistant professor
- Etien Santiago: assistant professor
- Steven Baker: shop coordinator
- Rachel Wilken: program and center coordinator
What: Indiana University’s J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program, a three-year master’s degree program, offered through IU’s School of Art, Architecture + Design.
Location: 333 Second St., Columbus. Program’s building is the former home of The Republic, which the newspaper occupied from 1971 through December 2016. The all-glass building was designed by renowned American architect Myron Goldsmith, of the Chicago-based firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012.
Number of students: 22 in the first cohort.
More information: online at architecture.indiana.edu
- Open to students coming from different disciplines
- Utilizes Columbus’ more than 65 examples of Modern architecture, its size, its fabrication technology at local manufacturing companies and its coalition-building process
- Has study abroad component for students
- Involves hands-on learning that would include building projects that aid and support the Columbus community’s interests
- Students will learn how to become entrepreneurs and community contributors
- 2015 — Columbus-based Community Education Coalition discusses with IU the possibility of creating a master’s program in architecture, to be based in the city
- 2017 — Indiana Commission for Higher Education on March 9 approves IU’s proposed master’s program in architecture
- 2018 — Indiana University announces April 30 that it has purchased the former Republic building from Columbus Regional Health’s holding company, for $2.77 million, to be the home for the master’s program, with classes starting Aug. 20.