New Middles

New Middles: From Main Street to Megalopolis, What is the Future of the Middle City?
Edited by Mimi Zeiger, Iker Gil, and Jamie Goldsborough
Exhibit Columbus, August 2021

Paperback | 6-1/4 x 9 inches | 186 pages | English


Curated by Iker Gil and Mimi Zeiger, New Middles explores the future of the center of the United States and the regions connected by the Mississippi watershed. New Middles situates Columbus within the watershed, up and downstream, connecting it to a network of cities with shared affinities and similar concerns about economics, the environment, and equity. The Exhibition presents site-specific installations and photography by architects and landscape architects, artists, and designers, who use research, creativity, and innovation to build Columbus' design and civic legacy and to envision the future of this city and its community.

Iker Gil is founder of MAS Studio and the nonprofit MAS Context and executive director of the SOM Foundation. Mimi Zeiger is a Los Angeles-based critic, editor, and curator.


On August 21, Exhibit Columbus opened New Middles: From Main Street to Megalopolis, What is the Future of the Middle City?, an exhibition of site-specific installations and photography curated by Iker Gill and Mimi Zeiger. This is the third biennial Exhibition Columbus, and while I did not go to the first two exhibitions nor will I most likely make it to Columbus, Indiana, before New Middles wraps up its run on November 28, I have long had a fondness for the town (even before visiting it about twenty years ago) and am glad Landmark Columbus Foundation draws even more attention to the Midwestern mecca of modern architecture through the exhibition and other events. Graciously, the organizers sent me a copy of this iteration's catalog, which was edited by curators Gil and Zeiger with Jamie Goldsborough, and features graphic design by Jeremiah Chiu, who did the exhibition's environmental design and wayfinding, and Carina Huynh.

Writing about the exhibition for World-Architects upon its opening last month forced me to learn a little bit about its different components. The core element of the exhibition is the J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize, which consists of contributions by five "practices that celebrate design and have a deep interest in research and making" (fifth spread, below). It is named for J. Irwin Miller, who was "instrumental in the rise of the Cummins Corporation and giving his hometown of Columbus, Indiana international stature with its modern architecture buildings," as capably put by Wikipedia, and his wife, Xenia, who was "was deeply involved in the civic and cultural life of her community," per the Columbus Area Visitors Center. Although the catalog, printed in time for the opening, features renderings instead of photographs, the information provided on the Miller Prize installations by Dream the Combine, Ecosistema Urbano, Future Firm, Olalekan Jeyifous, and Sam Jacobs Studio is more revealing than the Exhibit Columbus website, press releases, and other materials I found beforehand.

Another element of the exhibition is the University Design Research Fellows, which consists of seven contributions from eight universities in the United States and Canada. Like the Miller Prizes, the Fellows created site-specific installations that engage the notable buildings and landscapes in the small Indiana city, while also engaging the "New Middles" theme (fourth spread) laid out by the curators. These dozen installations are the main reason to visit the Exhibit Columbus exhibition, since they encourage visitors to see much of the city rather than looking at displays in a gallery, as is the norm for most architectural exhibitions. The inside of the book's wrapper — the reverse side of the graphic identity designed by Chiu — is a handy map (first spread) that locates the fifteen contributions to New Middles, which also includes two Photography Fellows (Virginia Hanusik and David Schalliol) and a construction by the High School Design Team. As such, the catalog is a helpful guide to the exhibition and a beautiful souvenir for those able to visit.

An unexpected bonus came in the form of a 48-page Activity Guide, "Drawing A Space" (at bottom), that was "designed to encourage people of all ages to examine their world and reflect on their place in it." Written by Chiu  and Liana Jegers, the guide contains fifteen activities that overlap with the fifteen places and contributions to Exhibit Columbus. Children seeing Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller's Spectral, which "collects data from all of the invisible technologies in the air above us," are encourages to trace a path on the paper as they walk, using a grid of points that continues on the opposite page and Dream the Combine's Columbus Columbia Colombo Col√≥n, which encourages people to imagine what is inside a tree, building, or some other object. The book is full of such unexpected activities. Furthermore, with shapes, drawings, and colors that have a mid-century vibe befitting Columbus, Indiana, the Activity Guide is a beautiful printed object in and of itself — even before the scribbles of a youngster turn it into something more meaningful.

If you'd like to purchase a catalog, contact the organization directly via email. Additionally, I'll be giving away one copy of the New Middles catalog and activity guide, with details on the giveaway found in my newsletter going out Sunday, September 12th. Subscribe to my newsletter here if you're not already subscribed.