October 7, 2013 | John Berendzen | Uncategorized

New Harmony then and now

The year was 1983, spring break.  Three of us (Marc, David and me) from Wash U School of Architecture decided to get out of town for the week.   Everyone else was headed to Florida but we were flat broke.  The best we could do was hop in Marc’s Olds Cutlass and head to David’s parents house in Berea Kentucky.  This was to be an architectural trip though – besides Berea, we would visit Columbus and New Harmony.  We made the drive in to New Harmony to see Richard Meier’s recently completed (1979) Atheneum.  We drove all the way into town, went into the building and were told it would cost $5.00 to go through it.   Being broke college students, we walked around the exterior (free), visited Phillip Johnson’s Open Air Church, and left town.

The Atheneum was the progenitor of about half the projects my friends and I completed at Wash U as undergrads.  Meier, Graves and  Eisenman had a huge effect on the profession then – we devoured their work – pre-internet – through magazines and books like “5 Architects”.

Almost 30 years later, I finally made it back to see the entire building.  Now you can tour for free (the movie on New Harmony cost $3.00).  I was amazed with how well this building is aging.   The metal panels and glass look great.  The exterior steel stairways and handrails need some painting but seem to be doing OK.  The interior is holding up well.  This is a great building.  One of Meier’s best.

The woman who was in charge told us that “a lot of people wonder why we have such a modern building as the visitor center for what’s essentially a historic town.  The people who planned this building believed that the original settlers of New Harmony were looking to the future.  We wanted our visitor center to look to the future too.”

Today, 30+ years later this building still “looks to the future”.  I really loved going back and touring the building and the town.

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Detail, Open Air Church
Detail, Open Air Church
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