Dan Kiley provided the landscape plan for Eero Saarinen’s last architectural work in Columbus, Indiana – a Modernist, hexagonal church constructed between 1959 and 1964. The church is sited on a former cornfield on the outskirts of the city, boasting a dramatic 192-foot spire, which rises skyward from the flat plane of the agricultural landscape.
Kiley’s concept controls the way in which the church is viewed by shaping the approach through a sequence of ordered outdoor rooms. A long, curvilinear drive meanders through a copse of native hardwoods and a small meadow, terminating in parking lots screened by high evergreen hedges and trees. From the parking area, a pedestrian path shaded by maple trees aligns with the church’s main axis. The path emerges into a sunlit space where broad steps are flanked by beds of seasonal flowers that cross over a low, grassy berm that surrounds the building. The church’s low, sloping roof nearly meets the top of the berm, accentuating the verticality of the spire. Steps lead downward to the building entrance, accessed through glass doors into the sunken sanctuary space. A magnolia grove surrounds the sanctuary, while maple allées line the edges of the property, screening the surrounding streets. The North Christian Church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000.