Eero Saarinen’s 1957 Miller House in the modernist mecca of Columbus, Indiana, has been donated to the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) and is now open to the public.
With the interior by Alexander Girard and landscape design by Daniel Urban Kiley, the Miller House and Garden was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000.
The house has undergone an 18-month renovation, which included careful restoration of many of the original period details.
Eero Saarinen designed the glass-and-stone house for J. Irwin Miller, a industrialist who championed modernist architecture, in Columbus, Ind., 40 miles south of Indianapolis.
Its 13-acre grounds were designed by well-known landscape architect Daniel Kiley, and its interior designer was Alexander Girard. But unlike other modern structures such as Fallingwater and the Farnsworth House, the 7,000-square-foot house was a full-time home for more than 50 years.
“It was a place where people raised kids,” says Will Miller, a member of the family. Though selling the house, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2000, was always an option he says, the family knew the house was a cultural asset and hoped to find a steward that would open it to the public.
“It’s more difficult to appreciate the significance of things that happened in our time,” says Katie Zurich, a spokeswoman for the museum, but that the museum hopes that seeing modernism in the context of a real family home will boost appreciation for modern design.
Miller says he has mixed feelings about seeing the home open to the public. “It’s the house I grew up in. It will always be home,” he says. But, on the other hand, he adds, “It’s a cultural asset, and I think it’s great that it will be accessible to a wider public.”
One of the most celebrated architects of his time, Eero Saarinen (1910–1961) was also one of the most controversial.
The son of internationally famous architect Eliel Saarinen, he was widely acknowledged as a leader of the second generation of modernists who rose to prominence after World War II. While helping to advance his predecessors’ focus on deriving architectural form from new construction technologies, Saarinen sought to expand modernism’s vocabulary beyond what he called “the measly ABC.” He also frequently moved away from simple, abstract compositions in favor of exuberant visual effects and historical references.
His works included such 20th-century icons as the General Motors Technical Center, the United States Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, better known as the Gateway Arch, New York’s Trans World Airlines Terminal, and Dulles International Airport Terminal outside Washington, D.C.
Though many critics accused Saarinen of inventing a new style for every job, his diverse and sometimes unabashedly theatrical designs attracted powerful clients who played pivotal roles in trends that transformed the culture of the time, from the promotion of automobiles, air travel, television and computers, to the expansion of major corporations and institutions of higher learning.
Indeed, so central were Saarinen’s clients to his success that he considered them to be “cocreators.” Although Saarinen died in 1961 at the age of 51, he left a remarkable body of work, as well as a strong legacy of innovation, collaboration, and media savvy, that continues to inform architectural practice today.