Ready for its Close Up

Columbus, Indiana’s modern architecture inspired a new feature film

Architecture Art
Eero Saarinen's North Christian Church. (Courtesy wplynn/Flickr)
Eero Saarinen's North Christian Church. (Courtesy wplynn/Flickr)

For a small city, Columbus, Indiana has an impressive collection of modern architecture. Despite a population of only 44,000, the city has works from John Carl Warnecke, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, I. M. Pei, and many more notable modernists.

Columbus will provide the backdrop for the feature directorial debut of Kogonada, a filmmaker well known for his video essays. According to Variety, the film will feature Star Trek star John Cho and indie darling Parker Posey.

Columbus’s modern architecture was the inspiration for the film’s story. Kogonada told Variety that “After visiting the town, I felt an immediate sense for a film that would take place there, which would implicitly explore the promise of modernism (an ongoing quest for me). The story revolves around a man and young woman from opposite sides of the world, each mourning the potential loss of a parent.”

Cho will play the son of an architecture critic, while co-star Haley Lu Richardson will play the daughter of an addict. The pair finds a bond through their estranged parents and their love of architecture. Posey will play the role of a former student and current girlfriend of Cho’s father. The film is currently shooting in Columbus, which has been called the “Athens of the Prairie” because of its status as a mecca for midcentury modernism. The city has no less than seven National Historic Landmarks, and a biennial design exhibition is in the works starting in 2017. Columbus is also the home of Cummins, Inc., a Fortune 500 corporation that specializes in engines (see our article on preserving an architectural gem Cummins commissioned.)

Considering that architecture is a focal point of both the location and the plot, we can hope to see some of the city’s iconic buildings featured in the film. Some likely locations might be the Art Nouveau style Fire Station One by Leighton Bowers, Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church, or his son Eero’s North Christian Church, the last building he designed before his death in 1961. Other well-known locations include several of the city’s bridges, and Friendship Way, a brick-lined alley with sculptures and neon lights.

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