Architecture on Film: Columbus + Kogonada Q&A

In the unlikely Midwestern ‘Mecca of Modernism’, Columbus, Indiana, a pair seek respite in each other and the architecture that surrounds them. A delicate and stunning first feature, from Kogonada.


06:30pm, Thursday, 24 May 2018


08:30pm, Thursday, 24 May 2018


Cinema 1
Barbican Centre, Level -2
Silk St, London, EC2Y 8DS



AF Members:
£10.00 (Please contact AF for promotional discount code)


Young Barbican:

Tel (9am-8pm):
+44 (0)20 7638 8891

This is a past event

With thanks to Network Releasing and Visit Films

We are delighted that this screening will be followed by a Skype Q&A with director Kogonada, in conversation with Catherine Ince (Chief Curator, V&A East).


A delicate coming of age story set in the small and unlikely Midwestern ‘Modernist Mecca’ of Columbus, Indiana. In celebrated video essayist and film critic Kogonada’s acclaimed debut feature, local girl Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) – an ‘architecture nerd’ at a personal crossroads – meets visitor Jin (John Cho) – a translator estranged from his dying architect father. Burdened by the future, they seek respite in both each another and the architecture that surrounds them.

“How do you make a ravishing romance about architecture? You'll find the answer with Kogonada, whose debut feature, Columbus, is a spellbinder.”
- Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

As Casey and Jin take in buildings by Eero Saarinen, I. M. Pei, Robert A.M. Stern and Deborah Berke, Kogonada’s meticulous compositional eye – refined through previous visual essays on Yasujirō Ozu’s passages or Stanley Kubrik’s use of perspective – creates a film of formal equivalence to the stately mid-century masterworks it engages as its backdrop and co-protagonists. In so doing, the film’s cinematography, characters and remarkable architectural setting enter into an intimate dialogue, finding conflicts between roots and ambition, dreams and responsibilities, mirrored in both the film’s protagonists and Columbus’ living museum of 20th century Modern architecture.

“Architecture and cinema are a really interesting pair of art forms. The marriage of the two is inescapable. I think of cinema as the art of time. Architecture is the art of space. It also constructs our sense of emptiness. It makes us see nothingness and absence in a way that, without it, is almost invisible to us. Once I discovered the architecture in Columbus, I deeply wanted it to be a part of the first film that I made.”

- Kogonada

Kogonada takes us on a guided emotional and architectural tour; a journey encompassing the implications of learning to see. A film of psychological and aesthetic sensitivity, full of visual and metaphorical symmetries, engaging stunning cinema, remarkable design and delicate storytelling to negotiate the meeting of form and feeling.

USA, 2017, Kogonada, 100 mins

Programme notes by Catherine Ince

Chief Curator, V&A East

The ghost of businessman and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller looms large in Kogonada’s quiet and visually sumptuous exploration of Columbus, Indiana, a small town known to architecture aficionados for its unusual concentration of high-quality post-war buildings. Kogonada gives us snippets of information here and there but one must know a little more about the genesis of this modernist mecca to fully grasp the long shadow Irwin Miller’s architectural aspirations cast on his hometown.

Joseph Irwin Miller was born into a wealthy banking family and after studying at Yale and Oxford joined Cummins, the family’s engine manufacturing business founded in partnership with his great-grandfather’s chauffeur and mechanic Clessie Cummins. The Inn at Irwin Gardens, a grand nineteenth century villa, where Columbus protagonist Jin finds himself living among the traces of his hospitalised father, was once the Irwin family estate. Irwin Miller was knowledgeable about architecture through his liberal arts education, time at Yale and from travel throughout Europe, but it was his family’s active life within the local Christian community that led him to father and son architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen. Columbus’ First Christian Church was designed by the elder Saarinen in 1942, and Irwin Miller first met Eero when the young architect accompanied his father on a site visit to Columbus with Charles Eames - then both at Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art with Eliel - in 1939. At the beginning of Columbus Jin’s father – an esteemed Professor of architectural history - collapses in the grounds of the First Christian Church; the film then cuts to Casey, architecture ‘nerd’ and – we later discover – fan of the Professor, as she smokes in front of the Church while awkwardly reciting her architecture tour spiel about America’s first ‘modernist’ church. Saarinen and Irwin Miller became lifelong friends and the businessman remained an important client and collaborator until Saarinen’s premature death in 1961. Earlier that year Saarinen finished the design for the North Christian Church. His own contribution to the congregation of Columbus was completed posthumously by his practice three years later.

Saarinen and Irwin Miller realised four projects together, and the opening scenes of Columbus are shot at the most celebrated and well-known of these commissions: The Miller House (1953-1957), a lavish ‘contemporary Palladian villa’ (according to Architectural Forum at the time) and family home for Irwin Miller, his wife Xenia Simons and their five children. The project was completed by Kevin Roche, then an associate at Eero Saarinen’s practice, in collaboration with Alexander Girard, who designed the interiors and commissioned Charles and Ray Eames to make special brass-framed editions of their furniture. Saarinen and Girard had already designed a family holiday cottage for the Miller’s in Ontario, Canada, in a modest regional vernacular style. The Miller House is quietly opulent by comparison. Its central open-plan living space complete with novel sunken conversation pit, overlooking vast grounds, made it the perfect house for the couple’s significant collection of art and extensive entertaining.

Casey’s ‘second favourite’ building in her top twenty is Eero Saarinen’s Irwin Union Bank and Trust commissioned by Irwin Miller as a new headquarters for the family’s banking business, completed in 1954. That same year would forever change the landscape of Columbus when Irwin Miller founded the Cummins Engine Foundation, for ‘religious, educational and charitable purposes’. A discerning client with a good eye for design and strong civic values, Irwin Miller responded to the need for new school buildings in the post-war baby boom by setting up a system of architectural procurement that would ensure talented early-career architects were given opportunity to build in a mid-west town not yet on the architectural map. The first school building project for which the Foundation suggested a shortlist of architects and paid the selected practices fees was won by Harry Weese. Irwin Miller had asked Saarinen for help in establishing the shortlist and they consulted with Pietro Belluschi, Dean of the School of Architecture at MIT. Weese’s school building was a huge success and the school board returned to request another architect for its next project. Irwin Miller’s Foundation went on to determine and support over half of the buildings that make up the sixty or so one might typically visit on an architectural tour of Columbus, putting the city on the modernist map. Significantly, all of them are public buildings, but the Foundation’s influence reached the commercial sector and raised the level of architectural aspiration for the entire town. Casey works in I.M Pei’s striking Cleo Rogers Memorial Library of 1967; Robert Venturi designed Fire Station 4, his first public building, the same year. James Stewart Polshek’s 1972 Columbus Regional Hospital is the brutalist bucolic retreat where Jin’s father may or may not end his days. Kevin Roche returned to Columbus after establishing his own practice with John Dinkeloo, and went on to complete a number of projects over subsequent decades.

But it is Deborah Berke’s First Financial Bank of 2006 that is Casey’s first and most ardent love. Berke’s design is an homage to Saarinen’s radical typology-busting Irwin Union Bank of some fifty years earlier, and through Kogonada’s lens one understands why the softly glowing, floating glass volume hooked Casey on first encounter, forever changing the course of her young life. Kogonada’s sensitive and - at times - wry appraisal of the emotive power of architecture deftly negotiates our complex relationship with the built environment. It comes as no surprise to find Winston Churchill’s oft-quoted aphorism on the official website guide to Columbus architecture and its history: ‘We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us’. J. Irwin Miller understood this more than most.