Eliel Saarinen's First Christian Church

Must-See Downtown Art & Architecture

Eliel Saarinen's First Christian Church

Columbus, Indiana 47201, United States

Created By: Columbus Area Visitors Center



The First Christian Church was designed by architect Eliel Saarinen, father of Eero Saarinen. Completed in 1942, it was the first contemporary building in Columbus and one of the first churches of contemporary architecture in the United States. The geometric design is one of direct simplicity. A large stone cross accents the limestone façade. To the west stands the 166-foot high campanile, or free-standing bell tower. The materials, exterior and interior, are mostly buff brick and limestone.

One of seven national historic landmarks in Columbus.

From Curbed.com :

In the midst of World War II, the opening of a small-town church in south central Indiana became national news before it even opened its doors. When the design for the church was announced, Time magazine rhapsodized about how, “the costliest modern church in the world, planned by Europe’s most famous modern architect and his son, is going up across the street from a Victorian city hall.“

The architects were Eliel and Eero Saarinen, and the church was the First Christian Church, occupying an entire city block in Columbus, Indiana.

The boxy brick-and-limestone-clad complex, a series of rectangular masses accented by a 166-foot-high bell tower and a yard dotted with maple trees and a reflecting pool, was a revelation when it first welcomed parishioners in 1942. The progressive design was considered “the most daring innovation in American church architecture,” according to a reporter from Christian Century, and would become both a model for 20th century ecclesiastical architecture. It was also the first of many stunning contemporary buildings that make Columbus a mecca of modern design. In a town of less than 12,000 residents, more than 10,000 visitors signed the guest book in its first six weeks.

“It’s amazing that a city could raise that kind of money to build a church the size of a city block in the midst of World War II, especially one that’s so radical in its design,” says Richard McCoy, founder of Landmark Columbus, a preservation organization dedicated to protecting the town’s architectural heritage. “The total budget Newsweek published for the church, $950,000, would be $15 million in today’s dollars.”

- by Patrick Sisson, Feb 2, 2017

This point of interest is part of the tour: Must-See Downtown Art & Architecture


Leave a Comment



Download the App

Download the PocketSights Tour Guide mobile app to take this self-guided tour on your GPS-enabled mobile device.

iOS Tour Guide Android Tour Guide



Updates and Corrections

Please send change requests to changerequest@pocketsights.com.