First Christian Church – Columbus, Indiana - Atlas Obscura

First Christian Church

Columbus, Indiana

The design of this modernist church was revolutionary when it was constructed in 1942. 

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Columbus, Indiana, is a city of just over 50,000 people located in the southern part of the state about 45 miles (75 km) from Indianapolis. At first, Columbus may seem like an average city, but Columbus is a haven for modern architecture filled with innovative and unusual buildings.

The modernist architecture movement started in Columbus with the First Christian Church, which is located within the city’s downtown area. The church was designed by Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen and his more famous son, Eero Saarinen (who would later go on to design such notable buildings as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, and the TWA Terminal in John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City). Constructed in 1942 during World War II, the church was quite radical and innovative for its time. The structure consisted of a large rectangular central building and a freestanding rectangular bell tower. A heavy emphasis was placed on simplicity and geometric designs, including the limestone cross in the church’s façade.

At the time of its construction, the church garnered many accolades, and national news agencies such as Time magazine and Newsweek even published articles about it. The church is also cited as having started a new trend in modern church architecture that has influenced the design of other churches across the United States and potentially beyond. Even today, the church is still noteworthy for its revolutionary design and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The building still functions as a church and has an active congregation.

Many other cutting-edge civic buildings, including other buildings designed by Eero Saarinen, have been constructed around Columbus. However, the First Christian Church is still recognized as the first of these buildings and is used as a symbol of the city.

Know Before You Go

The First Christian Church is located of 5th Street in downtown Columbus, Indiana. The exterior of the church can easily be viewed from the Library Plaza across the street (which features a sculpture by Henry Moore and which is in front of the public library designed by I. M. Pei). The church is still a functional place of worship and holds regular Sunday services, with additional information about its services available on its website. The church is also available for weddings and other special events. The city of Columbus, Indiana, has organized a series of tours that include the First Christian Church and may go inside the building. Information about these tours are available from the Columbus Visitor Center.

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