Monthly Archives: October 2011

Columbus, Indiana, Saarinen & My Favorite US Building


Though I’m a Mid-Western American girl I’d never heard of Columbus, Indiana, until an architect told me about it when living in Florida. What I excitedly discovered upon my two visits there was why the AIA lists itamong the top 10 US cities for best architectural innovation and design. Most people think Chicago (which is, fortunately, my home town), San Francisco, Savannah, Boston, and of course, New York.

Columbus, Indiana, is likely known as the home to Cummins Engine Company, which designs and manufactures many types of engines. Its population doesn’t sparkle at 39,000, but its buildings, designed by the grandest names in international architecture, dazzle. Among them is my favorite American building, a building that would have made me cry had people not been around when I first visited in 2007: Eero Saarinen’s North Christian Church.

Balthazar Korab, who worked as an architect in Saarinen’s office and later gained renown for his architectural photography, wrote in his book Columbus Indiana, “While he was working on the design, he wrote the congregation that he wanted to make a great building… ‘so that as an architect when I face St. Peter I am able to say that out of the buildings I did during my lifetime one of the best was this little church’.” (Read more about what Saarinen said about the church.) Tragically, Saarinen didn’t live to see the church’s completion in 1964. It may, in fact, have been the last building he worked on.

From the outside the building’s low roof and 192-foot high spire, not to mention its hexagonal shape, lend a sci-fi appearance. Wide steps lead to the entrances, which feature large overhangs that protect visitors outside yet provide daylighting inside. Inside, a massive pipe organ and altar-in-the-round grant community, warmth. Dare this non-religious writer even say there is even magic….

Dense wood among the pews and climbing up the walls envelopes the congregation. Some natural light spills in from an oculus skylight at the base of the spire. The light-colored ceiling is dimly illuminated via subtle tract lighting at head-level. The ceiling dramatically yet gracefully ascends like a metaphor of someone overtaken by rapture. The common spaces are close but not claustrophobic, and the effect warms the visitor. Slightly twisting stairwells are like hands gently beckoning visitors further into the church, and details abound, giving church-goers something this-worldly to ponder.

National Geographic Traveler ranked Columbus as America’s most significant historic place based on its architectural heritage. The city boasts more than 70 buildings by noted modern architects—such as I. M. Pei, Cesar Pelli, Robert Venturi, Richard Meier, and Harry Weese. The city also features public art by internationally renowned architects and artists.

Tenerife, a Visit to the Canary Islands


This week’s Writer’s Choice Wednesday is a return to the guest post.


When my husband and I first went to Tenerife, an island in the Canary Islands, we were desperate for a vacation. He worked seven days a week and I spent nearly 30 hours a week just commuting to my full-time job. We needed a vacation where we could just flop and recharge ourselves. Tenerife delivered the goods.


Tenerife is a five-hour flight from the UK.  I would say that after Spanish, German is the next popular language, and then English.

Photos courtesy the author

Las Caletillas is a lovely area with traditional charm on the northeast coast. Although hilly, it’s a nice place for walking and strolls. The ocean is practically at your front door and there are neighborhood shops, bars, and restaurants. In no time at all, you feel like a local resident. You get a real feel for life in Tenerife without being swallowed by the holiday hordes. Visiting in January, Las Caletillas is quiet and laid back and any tourists there are mainly German senior citizens.


Hotel Catalonia Punta Del Rey is where we like to stay. It’s a three-star hotel and a little dated and worn in places, but it is very clean, the rooms are spacious, the balconies are big, meals are included, and the staff is very friendly and helpful. The hotel has a giant pool on the property, but it also owns a sea pool across the street that is pure heaven.

While I don’t like loud and crowded tourist resorts, I have nothing against tourist attractions, especially if they are cultural or geographical rather than purely commercial. People talk about the beaches and resorts on Tenerife, but the mountains are something to behold too; therefore Mount Teide, Spain’s tallest mountain, is a definite must-see.  The drive up Mount Teide is exquisite. You literally go above the clouds travelling through forests and into what is typically described as a “Martian” landscape as the trees give way to reveal the desert, arid topography of this active volcano. But don’t worry. The last eruption was in 1909.

A word of warning. Do keep in mind that you are travelling from sea level to above the timberline. The air gets very thin. I actually felt the effects of the altitude but I don’t regret going. If you want to go to the summit, you will need special clearance from the national park service in Santa Cruz, but a cable car will get you very close to it.


Zetta Brown is a native Texan currently living in Scotland. She is editor-in-chief for LL-Publications, the author of Messalina: Devourer of Men, and a reviewer for New York Journal of Books.

Florida Architect Lends Tranquility to Contemporary Design


Casa Orquidea by Roney Mateu, an architect with offices in Palmetto Bay and Orlando, Florida, elicits tranquility in its chic contemporary design and shows why Mateu was named architect of the year by the Miami Chapter of the AIA.
The house was built on a site of 50 by 55 feet. It also includes a basement– a rarity in Florida, least of all because of its low elevation– which Mateu used to house a garage. Yet there was another challenge.
“The owners wanted privacy but they also wanted to use the outdoors,” Mateu said about his clients, a young couple. “The answer to the challenge resulted in a trifecta of design.”
A linear circulation spine on the main level on a great-room floor plan connects the public parts of the house. It leads from an office/studio space the front of the house and encapsulates the kitchen, dining, and living rooms. Finally, a guest suite and bedrooms comprise the third level.
Narrow vertical and horizontal spines of windows visually connect the indoors with the outdoors like a translucent buffer, while a landscape of orchids and trees lend privacy from close-by neighbors. Rather than simply designing a rectangular structure, Mateu’s team created a compelling composition juxtaposing enclosed and open cantilevers plus other playful elements such as a frame of the landscaping.
Inside, the material selection ensures the owners low maintenance while minimally intrusive interior architecture seems to enlarge the otherwise modestly-sized home.