Thoughts on Potential Urbanism of Mid-Century Modernism

A few weeks ago, I stopped in to the Christian Theological Seminary for this first time. I’ve often seen it mentioned as the best example of Mid-Century Modern architecture in the city, and its origins from the Irwin Miller family helps lend that argument credibility. I admit that I was slow in appreciating this style, but I do agree that this space is special:

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Image Credit: Kevin Kastner



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Earlier this year, CTS released a document of their new Master Plan which includes a Spiritual Trail running through campus. Some screen captures are posted below:




This is all admirable, but I think it hits at a larger point: Mid-Century Modern buildings and Urban Infill goals are at times opposed to each other. The large footprints and single use structures that were popular during the height of MCM are a potential challenge for the area that is about 5 to 10 miles from downtown.

Another issue is that many MCM neighborhoods are past the old city boundaries. My child is approaching school age, and with another kid on the way, we’re considering options for that stage in our life.  It will be difficult to attract us to live in a place in the outer townships with no sidewalks, buses, or bike facilities, and given the groundswell of support for urbanism, there are going to be more people like us in the future. Not every neighborhood will be able to have the initiative that the CTS is planning, but the ones who can may be able to reap the benefits.

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  • Does anyone remember the church (Lutheran, I think) that was in the quadrant NW of the intersection of I-465 and US 31? It was torn down during the “improvements” to the intersection. I regret never stopping by and checking it out. I wonder if there is some good photo-documentation of it. It was sort of a Sputnik-inspired, mid-century modern structure. Pretty neat seen from afar.

  • That is the former location of Pilgrim Lutheran Church, now in the West Clay are of Carmel at 106th and Shelbourne. Their website doesn’t seem to have a “history” tab.

    • I was inside Pilgrim Lutheran a few years ago. I had always admired it from the exterior. Honestly, it looked better from the exterior. It was not one of the better modern church interiors on the inside. Take a trip to Columbus, Indiana, for modern church interiors that “work.” Though I do miss the view of the exterior of Pilgrim.

      • Absolutely. I have been inside several of the Columbus churches and agree. Especially North Christian and First Baptist.

  • CTS has a landscape by Dan Kiley, arguably the most influential landscape architect of the 1950s-1970s. There is no “lack of sidewalks”, there is a sidewalk that circles the entire campus with walks to each building off of the main sidewalk, which is planted between an allee of beautiful old trees. Walking there is a contemplative experience, just as being inside Barnes’s buildings is. Not every inch of the city needs cut and paste urbanism. If there is a landscape in Indianapolis that should not be changed, that should be restored to the original, a Dan Kiley landscape is it. This landscape is it. Kiley’s plans are archived and alterations could be returned to the original design. I for one would implore CTS to do that.

    • Sorry, I was incorrect. I did not see the sidewalk on the aerial photo that I looked at due to the tree canopy. Google streetview set me straight.

    • My larger point stands however. Indy has many single-use buildings set upon large lots, and much of it is a challenge for alternative transportation options. Almost all of it was built without sidewalks. Think Devonshire, for instance. And in many cases, the newer they are, the more of the challenge, with cul-de-sacs being the literal and figurative end of the road.

      CTS was an exception, and I regret that I missed that in the original article.

  • I agree with you about the lack of sidewalks in mid-century subdivisions. I wonder why that happened that way? I guess because we were so thrilled with the family auto that we thought no one needed to walk anywhere anymore. Short-sighted. CTS, however, was very long-sighted. I would really love to see a restoration project there.

    • I believe the lack of sidewalks was due in large part to fear. People who didn’t have or couldn’t afford cars were stigmatized as “other” and people in middle-to-upper middle class neighborhoods didn’t want to be intruded upon by people from the outside. I’ve even heard this from someone who worked on street projects. He said that DPW was planning to install sidewalks, but residential neighborhoods would protest against them.

      I also suspect this fear goes way back in time. In my neighborhood, which was built in the ’20s and ’30s, the blocks along Winthrop Avenue that are next to the old Monon Railroad do not have complete sidewalks. My pet theory is that they were discouraging intrusion by transients, although I’ve never confirmed this.

      I’m sure another aspect of the lack of sidewalks was financially motivated as well.

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