Daily Archives: March 19, 2008

Modernism in Indiana

Modernism, Indiana-style

By Angie Quinn and Michael Galbraith, ARCH Inc., Fort Wayne.
(This article was originally written for the Indiana Preservationist, but was not published.)


Mark Dollase’s excellent introduction to Indiana’s modern architecture (Indiana Preservationist, #6, November-December, 2005) identifies and highlights Indiana’s impressive collection of important Modern Architecture, and provides a jumping-off point to explore the residential side of a style which he described: “flat roofs, smooth and uniform wall surfaces, expansive windows, and a complete absence of ornament. Skeleton construction of steel or reinforced concrete is typical, though some smaller buildings use wood. The style usually favors a strongly horizontal form, often using ribbon windows to reinforce horizontality.”
Modernism’s roots are in the Midwest, with the ground-breaking work of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. Following publication of the first set of Wright’s work—the Wasmuth Portfolio—in Germany in 1911, several European architects and designers were inspired to create new forms and styles. These and other efforts soon created what was called Bauhaus style. Bauhaus included all of the elements that have come to be known as Modernism. Le Corbusier called these new homes “machines for living.”                     
The style then returned to America in the 1920s, with several immigrant architects who contributed major works nationally and in Indiana for the next four decades. Eliel Saarinen and his son Eero first came to the notice of American architects when Eliel submitted a modern design for the Chicago Tribune contest. Although the building did not win, the design was widely applauded. Eliel Saarinen was soon hired as director of Cranbrook School, in Detroit. He rarely designed residences in the United States; one is in Fort Wayne.
The A.C. Wermuth House was constructed 1941-1942. Eliel’s wife, Loja Saarinen, designed several interior textile pieces for the home. A.C. Wermuth was the contractor for many of the Cranbrook buildings, and also for the First Christian Church in Columbus, IN.
Richard Neutra—who worked with R.M Schindler, with most of his work centered in California. Neutra designed a home at Dune Acres, Indiana in the 1950s. Other International or Modern buildings in Dune Acres were designed by Keck & Keck, and Crombie Taylor.
In 1932 the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York exhibited recent architectural works and coined the term “International” to describe the style.  The show was curated by Philip Johnson, and Henry-Russell Hitchcock. During the decade that followed, interest in International or Modern style increased dramatically. The first large collection of the new style appeared at the Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago in 1933. Following the Exhibition, the homes were taken by barge across Lake Michigan to Beverly Shores, Indiana (in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore).
In 1938, Wayne and Jacob Knee, of Fort Wayne began construction of an International/Art Moderne home. Designed by Wayne Knee, the home was built by several family members. Designed as a double home, it was constructed of poured concrete, using a reusable mold for forming the walls and columns. Construction was completed enough to occupy in 1951, and although the home was occupied by family members until 1961 it was never quite finished. By 1966 it was vacant, and sold to a developer. It became a legendary hang-out for generations of Indiana teens, and others who were enthralled by the design. Architect Michael Graves visited the site during his years as a student and told ARCH that it was an inspiration in his own design work.  It was demolished in 1988.
Construction came to an almost complete stop during WWII, and commenced again beginning in 1946. Pre-fabrication was utilized in the Modern Lustron Houses built between 1948-1951. 148 of the homes were built in Indiana.
In 1949 Edwin A. Gibson, a principal in the firm of A.M. Strauss Associates in Fort Wayne, designed an International/Usonian home in Wildwood Park in Fort Wayne. Gibson was Indiana’s first registered by examination African American architect, and worked as the Indiana State Architect during the 1970s.  
In 1955 J. Irwin Miller—the foremost patron of Modern architecture in Indiana– asked Eero Saarinen to design a modern home for him in Columbus.  Landscape Architect Dan Kiley designed the garden. The Miller House is a National Historic Landmark for its exceptional design.
By the 1960s International and Modern design was losing popularity as ranch houses and neo-colonial homes were being built. A new generation of architects brought energy to the style in the late 1960s. “The New York Five” were featured in a 1969 Museum of Modern Art exhibit. The five young architects included Michael Graves, Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Richard Meier, and John Hejduk. Graves, an Indiana native, designed his first professional commission in 1967 for the Hanselmann family  in Fort Wayne. He also designed the Snyderman House (now demolished) and the Crooks House (never built) for Fort Wayne families.
Another of the “Fivers”–Charles Gwathmey—designed the Sycamore Place in Columbus, with his firm, Gwathmey/Siegel Associates in 1982. Sycamore Place offers public housing. Pence Place Apartments, also in Columbus, was completed in 1985 by the firm.
As preservationists, we assume that a historic style has a general beginning and ending point. International and Modern style is unique, however, in it has not yet reached an end date. This poses an interesting challenge as the “modern” homes of the 1960s reach the 50 year benchmark for significance. While in the past, styles have been replaced by newer ideas, International has not yet met the next new thing.