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Film about Pyramids, Cummins architect in the works

January 10, 2016

A man who played a significant role in the look of Columbus and its worldwide architectural significance will again put the Indiana city in the spotlight.

London-based film company Wavelength Pictures is producing a feature-length documentary about renowned architect Kevin Roche, who has designed corporate headquarters, museums and many other buildings around the world.

Wavelength Pictures plans to come to Columbus this year to conduct interviews and film some of the buildings he designed or had a hand in creating.

Roche notably designed the U.S. Post Office downtown and the Cummins corporate headquarters. He also was a design associate for architect Eero Saarinen on industrialist and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller's house, and helped complete the North Christian Church project after Saarinen's death.

The Miller House and North Christian Church are two of seven buildings in Columbus designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Roche also designed The Pyramids, a unique three-building office complex that was built on the northwest side of Indianapolis in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A documentary on Roche had not been made for about 20 years, and the idea for an updated one came when Roche celebrated his 90th birthday three years ago, said John Flahive, the film's producer.

"It's a good time to review his impact on the world of architecture," Flahive said.

Roche has made a significant contribution to modern architecture, and the subject of architecture is one that a lot of people are interested in, Flahive said.

One purpose of the documentary is to show how Roche's buildings have stood the test of time, Flahive said. The documentary also intends to explore what drives Roche to keep working at his age, and capture the intellect and philosophy that he brings to his work, according to a Wavelength Pictures news release about the project.

The approximately 90-minute documentary, titled "Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect," is expected to be completed by the end of this year so that it is ready to be viewed at film festivals in early 2017 and eventually on television and DVD, Flahive said.

Wavelength's crew hopes to come to Columbus in June so that it can gather footage of and thoughts about Roche-designed buildings, such as the Cummins Corporate Office Building and downtown post office.

"It's because of the reputation of the buildings. Look at Kevin's resume of projects, the Cummins headquarters and the post office feature very high, and his working repeatedly with (former Cummins chairman) J. Irwin Miller is definitely of significant interest," Flahive said.

The crew also wants to get footage of some Saarinen-designed buildings, such as the Miller House, to help show their influence on and ties to Roche, Flahive said.

Miller's idea for the Cummins Foundation to pay the architectural fees of renowned architects to design local buildings was brilliant, Roche said.

"I think it worked out well. It kind of put the town on the map," he said.

Roche said he worked on the Miller House from the beginning. He recalled that Miller didn't want a pretentious building, but one that was fitting for a family and had areas that created a sense of community, such as the sunken conversation pit.

Creating a sense of community in designs is important, Roche said, so people don't feel isolated. That idea was integrated in the design of the Cummins Corporate Office Building, to get people out in the open, he added.

"The most important thing is belonging to a community," he said.

The post office is a design Roche said he's fond of because he wanted to create something that was distinguishing of the federal government. Incorporating large columns into the design helped accomplish that, he added.

"It's never been a popular building but I like it. It makes a very strong statement," he said.

Roche said it's flattering that Wavelength Pictures is making the documentary, and he's trying to help as requested such as with interviews, but is trying to avoid getting wrapped up in the project.

Retirement is not in Roche's plans. He said he prefers staying busy with his firm's projects instead of taking vacations.

"I think retiring is the worst thing you can possibly do. I love to work; it isn't work, it's enjoyment, the whole thing. I don't understand people who go to Florida and watch television all the time. You've got precious years on Earth; use them," Roche said.

Columbus architect Louis Joyner and former Cummins Chairman and CEO Jim Henderson said the Roche documentary would provide additional good exposure for Columbus.

"His stuff through the '60s and '70s, that's the solid heart of American design," said Joyner, a Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives board member.

Roche's design of the downtown post office evokes signs of confidence from the civic structure — something he conveyed in other designs, Joyner said.

"He built great, monumental buildings. He wasn't shy about that. That is one of his great virtues," Joyner said.

Henderson said he was most involved in discussions about designs of Cummins' Walesboro plant and its corporate headquarters. Roche did a great job listening to what Cummins wanted and considering what was important to the company, and then coming back with a design that is unique for Cummins.

"Those are both really fine buildings that have been recognized beyond Columbus, Indiana," Henderson said.

Energy conservation was incorporated into the Corporate Office Building because any significant window has the most neutral orientation of north, Henderson said. Also, the open lobby with the historical displays reminds employees every day of what they do, and the fact that the COB is spread out over three city blocks gives it high visibility without towering over downtown, he added.

"This man is an absolute giant in the world of architecture. He is one of the world's best," Henderson said.

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