Week 2 (Northside Middle School)


Art, Architecture and Design

This article spotlights a particular building or some other aspect of Columbus design. I welcome your comments, corrections and additions. Please share your experience and perceptions of these uniquely Columbus projects.

Northside Middle School

  • Built: 1961, additions made in 1992
  • Architect: Harry Weese, Chicago
  • Architect of 1992 addition: Leers Weinzapfel & Associates, Boston (Andrea Leers & Jane Weinzapfel)

Just down the street from Lillian C. Schmitt Elementary is another Harry Weese/Leers Weinzapfel Associates combo, Northside Middle School. Again in a similar situation, the original Harry Weese design became a beloved building in the community and the addition was seen as an intrusion not in keeping with the spirit of the earlier design.

Original – This is a three story building distinguished by the repetitive use of brick arches (on the interior as well as the exterior) over the windows. It is very reminiscent of the old Mooney Tannery which used to sit in the Mill Race Park area. The building is a compact rectangle of brick and masonry bearing wall construction. Harry Weese described the building as “a firm statement of the dignity and prominence in the community that a school should possess”. This was a three story building in contrast to the sprawling mostly one level schools built during this time period. Unlike many architects, Harry Weese buildings never had a definitive signature look which might become identified as “Weese”. Each of his buildings were an attempt to solve the unique design problem at hand. Weese playfully suggested that he chose a three story design because students loved climbing up and down stairs, teachers however might have different feelings. Much of the design work here was done by Ben Weese, Harry’s younger brother who was part of his firm for many years. There were classrooms on three floors surrounding three sides of an interior courtyard. The gymnasium/multipurpose room and a swimming pool were along the fourth side. The library was on the third floor overlooking the interior courtyard.

Addition – The 1992 addition was designed by a female led (Andrea Leers and Jane Weinzapfel) architecture firm. They used the original building as a “point of departure”. It followed the perimeter and elevation of the original but the geometric shapes accenting the addition were in sharp contrast. The variety of rooflines were intended to represent other schools in Columbus that might be feeding students into Northside. The addition contains a new commons area with a concourse connecting it to the original courtyard. There is a pyramid over the commons area, industrial skylights over the art spaces and a double-barrel vaulted ceiling over the cafeteria. The red steel theme on the exterior complements other 90’s projects such as Mill Race Park and the Front Door Project at the gateway to the city as well as their nearby addition to Lillian C. Schmitt Elementary. A failed school bond issue in 2000 proposed to somehow remodel the addition for a more seamless blend. Leers Weinzapfel & Associates were 2007 recipients of the Architecture Firm of the Year Award given by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

I love the dignified traditional look of the original school building but I especially like the radically modern look of the addition (unlike many Columbus residents and my fellow tour guides). The transitions between the old and the new are very subtle but effective and seeing the other Leers & Weinzapfel/Harry Weese combo just down the street makes it even more so. Your comments are welcome.

Original entrance – Harry Weese design    (photo by Ricky Berkey)

Original Harry Weese design (photo by Ricky Berkey)

Arched windows on the Harry Weese design    (photo by Ricky Berkey)

Leers & Weinzapfel addition      (photo by Ricky Berkey)

Leers & Weinzapfel addition     (photo by Ricky Berkey)

Leers & Weinzapfel addition     (photo by Ricky Berkey)

Original Harry Weese design on right, Leers Weinzapfel on left    (photo by Ricky Berkey)

The Architects

Harry Weese

  • Born June 30, 1915 in Evanston, Illinois
  • Died October 29, 1998
  • Yale University (1936-1937)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (1934-1938)
  • Cranbrook Academy (1939-1940)

Harry Weese was born in the Chicago suburbs and went on to become one of the most influential of the Chicago architects. His work predominated in Chicago, in little Columbus, Indiana and around the world. His many projects ranging from high-rises and giant urban complexes to intimate residential designs remain as a testament to his genius.

Harry was a student of renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto at MIT. He also studied city planning at the Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where he met and became close friends of Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. His life was greatly influenced by his brief time at Cranbrook and his later interior design work can be seen as a result. His association with Eero Saarinen led to many projects as Saarinen referred projects to Weese that he simply didn’t have time to take on himself. He also became a close friend of J. Irwin Miller which led to over a dozen small projects in Columbus, Indiana.

He was primarily considered a modernist but his work was always shaped by the needs and vision of his clients. As a result his designs were almost always unique without an identifying personal style. Early on he worked for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) but felt stifled in the world of corporate architecture and started his own much smaller firm in 1947. He also became a fierce advocate of historic preservation and city planning. He had a lifelong interest in sailing and boat-building which was often reflected in his designs especially in some of his residential projects.

His luster was tarnished in later years as his drinking and personal problems put a sad footnote on what should have been a celebrated life. After numerous stints in rehab clinics and several strokes his wife Kitty and family had him committed to the Illinois Veterans Home where he died quietly in 1998. Recently his work has come back into focus as a number of articles and a new book has been released on his life and works. Much like the recent surge of interest in Eero Saarinen, the work of Harry Weese is finally getting the critical respect and admiration that it always deserved.

Ben Weese

  • Born: 1929 in Evanston, Illinois
  • Harvard University
  • Ecole des Beaux-Arts – Fontainebleau, France

Ben Weese began working with his brother Harry in 1957 after his education was complete specializing in urban renewal and subsidized housing projects. He was deeply involved in various Harry Weese projects although credit usually went to the firm, Harry Weese Associates.

In the mid-seventies Ben joined with a group of fellow architects dubbed as the “Chicago 7” to promote the history of Chicago architecture and to spotlight the work of emerging contemporary architects. After 20 years with Harry Weese, Ben founded Weese Seegers Hickey Weese, in partnership with his wife Cynthia Weese later becoming Weese Langley Weese. Their firm is well known for non-profit and educational projects with a vernacular design sensitivity reflecting cultural and historical context. Ben has received numerous Chicago and national design awards and is a member of the City of Chicago Landmarks commission. He was one of the founders of the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Andrea P. Leers

  • Wellesley College – 1964
  • University of Pennsylvania -1966

Andrea Leers is a partner in the Boston-based firm Leers Weinzapfel Associates which she formed with Jane Weinzapfel in 1982. She studied art history at Wellesley College and received an advanced degree in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania which at the time was led by renowned architect Louis Kahn.

She is currently a professor and administrator at Harvard specializing in teaching urban design. She has also taught at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and the Tokyo Department of Architecture.

Jane Weinzapfel

  • University of Arizona

Jane Weinapfel was born and raised in Tuscon, Arizona and received her degree in architecture from the University of Arizona. She moved to the Boston area after graduation and began her career as an architect. She started her own independent firm in 1980 and joined Andrea Leers in 1982 forming Leers Weinzapfel Associates in Boston.

She has taught at the University of Massachusetts (MIT) and has served on many Boston area committees and commissions specializing in in urban infrastructure and transportation. She has maintained a close affiliation with the University of Arizona in several capacities.

Leers Weinzapfel Associates

received the Firm of the Year award in 2007 from the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In the beginning the struggling firm took on a number of very utilitarian projects such as power plants and maintenance facilities and ended up giving the resulting buildings an unexpected sense of style. As their reputation grew they were able to gain numerous commissions many of them in academic settings which seemed especially appropriate for their design style. They have also specialized in governmental buildings such as courthouses. Their firm has embraced the new technology of architecture and almost all plans are computer based.

I’m wondering how the archivists are planning to deal with the lack of paper trails in today’s world. All those fascinating bits of paper: scribbled notes and drawings, letters between client and architect and so forth that together tell the story of an architect and his work are seldom in a form that can be documented. Even those fascinating models constructed to show the architects vision are few and far between today.


Harry Weese:  fascinating recent article about his life and career

Harry Weese: recently published book, a career retrospective

Harry Weese Houses: (out of print book by Kitty Baldwin Weese)

Harry Weese Interview: part of the Chicago Architects Oral History Project

WeeseLangleyWeese: firm founded by Ben Weese

Ben Weese Interview: part of the Chicago Architects Oral History Project

Leers Weinzapfel Associates: official website

Upcoming Book on the Architecture of Leers Weinzapfel Associates

Columbus Area Visitors Center

City of Columbus: official City of Columbus website

Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives

Columbus Indiana Architecture Digital Archives: A small portion of the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives available online from the IUPUI digital library

3D Models of Columbus Architecture Executed in Google SketchUp:

The Republic Newspaper – Columbus, Indiana newspaper

Bartholomew County Public Library

Historic Columbus Website – David Sechrest’s tribute to Columbus History

Historic Columbus Message Board – a companion interactive forum to the David Sechrest historical website

Bartholomew County Historical Society

Columbus Area Arts Council

Click HERE for a Calendar of Upcoming Events in the Columbus Area.

Click HERE for information about Tours of Columbus Architecture and Design including the Miller House.

Ricky Berkey

Email me: rickyberkey@gmail.com

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