Following a two-day, four-session Design Presentations event on March 19 and 26, the 13 site-specific installations that will be realized for the 2021 Exhibit Columbus Exhibition have all been officially unveiled to the public. The installations, which respond to the curatorial theme New Middles: From Main Street to Megalopolis, What is the Future of the Middle City, will be erected this summer at ten different civic landmarks and public spaces across the modernist architecture mecca of Columbus, Indiana.
The outdoor exhibition component of Exhibit Columbus 2020–2021—the third cycle of the nonprofit Landmark Columbus Foundation’s signature program—is set to kick off on August 21. The installations, which will be refined in the coming weeks before construction at each designated site commences, will remain on display until November 28. Like past exhibitions, the 2021 Exhibit Columbus Exhibition is free to the public. (The 2020 Symposium series, which wrapped up in late October, was conducted wholly in an online format due to the coronavirus pandemic.)
Below are the 13 freshly revealed design concepts from the five J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize recipients, seven University Design Research Fellows, and, last not but least, the Columbus-based High School Design Team. Included is information about the installation site and a brief description of the work. Additionally, the titles of all exhibition design concepts link back to each installation’s respective page on the Exhibit Columbus website with additional renderings and photos, site/concept information, biographies of the designers, and embedded YouTube videos of the design presentations held earlier this month.
In addition to the installations teased below, Exhibit Columbus 2021 will feature the work of two inaugural Photography Fellows, Virginia Hanusik (New Orleans) and David Schalliol (Minneapolis), and environmental design and wayfinding by Jeremiah Chiu of Some All None.
2020–21 J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize design concepts
Columbus Columbia Columbo Colón by Dream the Combine (Minneapolis)
Site: Mill Race Park (Michael Van Valkenburgh and Stanley Saitowitz, 1993)
Description: “Columbus, and the places named after him, together form a series of associations—of American identity, capital, and property—that have considerable momentum. Columbus Columbia Columbo Colón is an investigation of these relationships. The installation in Mill Race Park is designed to make the invisible visible, through an overlay of material, texts, and discursive narratives that represent this system we negotiate every day. The installation consists of 58 vertical elements that represent the 58 distinct places named ‘Columbus’ in the world. By navigating between each of the poles, visitors are invited to become curious about what Columbus, as a system, props up, and how this founding narrative pervades our understanding of what constitutes our collective story. Columbus, Indiana is not just a city, it is part of a larger complex of meaning and signification—the persistence of its continuing legacy is one that we all must grapple with.”
CLOUDROOM by Ecosistema Urbano, Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo (Miami and Madrid)
Site: Central Middle School (Perkins&Will, 2007)
Description: “Today, as teaching and learning are forced by pandemic conditions to explore new formats, Cloudroom aims to rethink how education can take place through the physical space itself. Situated on the grounds of Central Middle School, the proposed installation is designed as a host and physical support for learning, as well as a compelling artifact to raise awareness about today’s environmental challenges.
An inflatable ‘cloud’ floats over a wooden structure, creating an inviting atmosphere and an environment with a comfortable microclimate to carry out a variety of activities between the school and the public space, encouraging learning through direct experience. The physical object, located at an intermediate scale between the school and the city, acts as a mediating space between school users and a broader Columbus community.
The design is based on two approaches: social, as a place for learning, playing, connecting and interacting; and ecological, as real time pollution sensors illuminate within the inflatable changing colors to reflect environmental qualities. Additionally, the installation is made of materials (printed fabric, ropes and wood) which are meant to be reused and recycled at the close of the exhibition.”
Midnight Palace by Future Firm, Ann Lui, and Craig Reschke (Chicago)
Site: Sears Building Plaza (Cesar Pelli of Gruen Associates, 1973)
Description: “Columbus is a city of night owls: 39 percent of the population works in manufacturing, compared to 9 percent nationwide. Among this group, many second and third shift workers begin their “days” in the evening and finish work in the morning. Midnight Palace asks: How can we design for the midnight city?
Midnight Palace is inspired by the atmospheric qualities of nighttime and designed for the city’s night owls. Located at the Cummins Sears Building, it features a “wall of light” made from the historic light-bulbs from Columbus’ streetscape: old high-pressure sodium fixtures, contemporary LEDs, signal lights for the adjacent train. Built from a lattice-work of electrical conduit, its method of construction highlights the elegant and often invisible craft of trade electricians. The pavilion will feature a series of ‘drive-in’ and ‘walk-by’ screens for gatherings of different scales, including partner programming with community organizations. Additionally, the screens will present a participatory work, ‘Night Owl Map of Columbus,’ highlighting the interviews with residents and the city’s nighttime wonders, past, present and future.”
ARCHIVAL/REVIVAL by Olalekan Jeyifous (Brooklyn, New York)
Site: Cleo Rogers Memorial Library (I.M. Pei and Partners, 1971)
Description: “The Cleo Rogers Memorial Library had its official open house in December, 1969. One of the very first exhibits to take place in the new building was an African Art exhibit which opened in late January, 1970, in the library’s gallery on the plaza level. The exhibit was part of a two-month-long program developed by the Human Relations Commission called ‘Africa and Black and White America.’ In the fall of that same year the Human Relations Commission then organized the Columbus Black Arts Festival, which took place over six weeks. All but one event was held at the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library.
Archival/Revival revisits these inaugural and transformative exhibitions through a series of engaging, interactive, and programmable ‘thresholds/moments’ that allow visitors to explore their historical significance to our present and future realities. The installation is both sculptural, with elements representing key figures revived from the archive, and virtual. Augmented reality (AR) documents and artworks can be viewed via a mobile phone or tablet.
Alternative Instruments: High readers, heraldry and other figures of speech for Washington Street by Sam Jacob Studio (London)
Site: Washington Street
Description: “Alternative Instruments attempts to respond to Columbus as a site, place, a history but also a fiction, recalling both the earlier European Modernist project and the utopian impulse of early European settlements in America Utopia itself is bound up with European expansionism and colonialism, and the design proposals for Washington Street respond to this dual history adding a new layer of civic design to the city.
Formed by combining multiple references: maps, the Utopian alphabet, Americana roadside signs, and ancient communication devices like weathervanes, with symbols from quilts and phrases. Familiar, optimistic yet also explicitly alienating.
The project aims to make present how histories of place are interconnected. It aims to acknowledge how central narratives are to the ways in which (and for who) we design. It uses design to excavate and propose new narratives that can help shape how we imagine the future.”
2020–21 University Design Research Fellowship design concepts
Spectral by Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller (Texas Tech College of Architecture, El Paso)
Site: Crump Theatre (Charles Sparrell, 1889)
Description: “Spectral addresses the legacy of aerial activity above the city and speculates on a future in which urban spaces are cognizant of their engagement with aerial imaging technologies. Recent advances in aerial imaging have rapidly expanded the ability for a host of actors to detect and respond to changes in cities, landscapes, and public spaces. Beyond the visible spectrum, these technologies record and analyze sub-perceptual shifts in heat signatures, radio waves, and radiation. Low-cost and widely accessible imaging devices have transformed the city into a multispectral environment, where previously invisible activities are newly detectable.
As an installation adjacent to the historic Crump Theater, Spectral is designed as both a public gathering place and a meditation on how and what is seen has changed from projected light (the movie theater) to increasingly pervasive aerial infrared imaging. The thermal activity of visitors to the site will be shielded from the view of multispectral cameras, making it a kind of ‘safe space’ in the urban landscape.”
Window Dressing by Ang Li (Northeastern University, Boston)
Site: The Commons (Koetter Kim, 2011)
Description: “Window Dressing is a façade installation along the Washington Street face of The Commons that invites the public to reflect on the cultural and architectural legacy of Late Modernism. Through a lightweight and ornamental cladding system of overlapping mylar shingles, the installation recalls the mirror-glass façade of the original 1973 building designed by César Pelli and Norma Merrick Sklarek of Gruen Associates, which was demolished in 2008. Li’s research into the conflicting material histories of mirrored glass—first developed by the aerospace industry then rapidly used within architecture throughout the 1970s—continues her interest into the afterlife of building materials. Her installation, in contrast to the smooth and hermetic surface of the curtain wall façade, will present layered reflections of the surrounding context and the shiny mylar shingles will react dynamically to changing atmospheres and events: wind and light, pedestrian traffic, and the civic rhythms of downtown Columbus.”
Tracing Our Mississippi by Derek Hoeferlin (Washington University in St. Louis)
Site: Columbus Pump House (Harrison Albright, 1903)
Description: “Tracing Our Mississippi will be an interactive installation and public programming series at the site of the Columbus Pump House, on a terrace adjacent to the Flatrock River. By representing the Mississippi Watershed as a large-scale, abstracted model (composed as a set of moveable pieces), and complemented by a series of large-format drawings drawn at multiple scales, the installation emphasizes the relentless infrastructures controlling the Mississippi’s landscapes, communities, and resources. Hoeferlin’s project in Columbus and ongoing research presents the question: Is the Mississippi Watershed really a watershed anymore?
Tracing Our Mississippi answers by literally and physically engaging people in a new understanding of the vast territorial scales of the fourth largest watershed in the world. The installation and programming planned for Fall 2021 asks: What does it mean to empower all of us to question our past methods of control and power, with the hope of re-establishing new, collective understandings, in turn connecting all of us across ecological and cultural geographies? What would mean to re-trace our Mississippi?”
To Middle Species, with Love by Joyce Hwang (University at Buffalo)
Site: Mill Race Park (Michael Van Valkenburgh and Stanley Saitowitz, 1993)
Description: “To Middle Species, with Love is designed to amplify habitat conditions for urban wildlife in Columbus and bring increased visibility to their presence among us, as co-inhabitants of the built environment. These animals—which we call ‘Middle Species’ in contrast to ‘flagship’ species—are common and embedded in our communities: bats, birds, reptiles. They are neighbors and residents who are active agents in our urban ecosystems and contribute significantly to the health of cities, yet often remain invisible in our imaginations of where we live.
Sited within the landscape of Mill Race Park, Hwang’s installation is conceived of as a series of ‘strata,’ featuring bat and bird habitat conditions above, and environments for terrestrial and amphibious species below. To shift human perception to sense the less-visible world of urban animals, the project provides visitors ways to explore Middle Species sounds, like using ultrasonic detectors to regularly record nightly bat calls. The recordings are then accessible to visitors both in-person and through online platforms.”
LaWaSo Ground by Jei Jeeyea Kim (Indiana University, Bloomington)
Site: First Christian Church (Eliel Saarinen, 1942)
Description: “LaWaSo Ground is a contemporary memorial and a community ground of (La)nd, (Wa)ter, and (So)il designed to help bridge some of the cultural dichotomies of our time through the lens of material culture. Sited on the lawn of First Christian Church, the installation draws from an acknowledgment of the silenced and suppressed voices of the past, and advocates for more diverse inclusion in the future. LaWaSo Ground combines stone elements that echo the topography of the limestone quarries found in the region with landscape mounds reminiscent of Indigenous earthworks along the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys.
Water is the common element linking the two formal pieces of the installation and is manifested in several ways including engraved patterns across the stonework. Indiana limestone plays a complicated symbolic role, referencing its use in the construction of civic monuments across the United States. Meanwhile, the scale and location of the project are meant to establish a dialogue with Henry Moore’s Large Arch and the clock tower of First Christian Church.”
THIS APPEARANCE IS ______ by Lola Sheppard and Mason White (University of Toronto and Waterloo University)
Site: Washington Street
Description: “This Appearance Is ____ invites citizens into the space of appearance and disappearance. In the 1950s, Hannah Arendt viewed the public realm as a collaborative process of world-making; that which is seen and heard in common is continually reaffirmed as constituting a ‘space of appearance.’ Today, however, our collective space of appearance is fragmented, as are individual visibilities and perceptions. How can we negotiate our visibilities today?
Located along Washington Street north of 6th Street, the installation is a study in the ability to retreat from and then rejoin the larger world—a test made all the more poignant after more than a year of pandemic restrictions. This Appearance Is ____, the title a homonym for ‘disappearances,’ is a maze of curved walls made of lenticular plastic sheets which create a unique optical condition, effectively blurring the subject from view and allowing them to disappear almost completely within the installation. These surprising optical effects are designed to invite visitors to weave in and out of the structures. By night, the panels will be illuminated, creating an ethereal ribbon of light creating shadowy and lit figures.”
Calibrate by Natalie Yates (Ball State University, Indiana)
Site: Franklin Square (ca. 1835; additions 1870, 1920)
Description: “Calibrate is an apparatus for registering and perceiving multiple scales of intricate, accumulated environment data gathered from across Columbus and its environs. This installation in the courtyard of Franklin Square, home of the Heritage Fund of Bartholomew County, records the cultivated ecological layers of a city rich in making, creativity, and innovation over multiple, disparate timescales—from geologic time to real-time sensing data. The aggregation of thousands of years of glacial motion, together with the Ohio River watershed ecosystem has long nourished anthropogenic ingenuity for industry, agriculture, and technology.
Calibrate is a kind of drawing machine. Its armature is a large, transparent repository, superimposed with terrain mappings and a foundational terrain base. Inside the repository, choreographed by environment sensing data, a hopper and stylus on a robotic gantry methodically deposit and disperse media onto the horizontal bed. The media accumulates and repositions, continuously redrawing and remapping the underlying terrain. Visitors will see the gantry’s movement as a slow drawing, which might also be interpreted as a kind of performance that makes visible the interconnected ecological information that centers Columbus within a long timeline.”
2020-21 High School Design Team design concept
Tunnel Vision by students from the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation (Columbus North High School, Columbus East High School, and Hauser High School)
Site: Central Middle School (Perkins&Will, 2007)
Description: As noted by the organizers of Exhibit Columbus, Tunnel Vision, the design concept from the 2020–2021 High School Design Team, “considers how rivers, foundational waterways to middle cities like Columbus, shape how cities are formed and how they develop into the future.”