Building through Beauty

Miller house
Miller House, designed by Eero Saarinen and located in Columbus, Indiana.

Clare Butterfield is the Executive Director of the Christopher Family Foundation, and sometimes thinks about philanthropy even when she’s on vacation.

To live surrounded by beauty. It’s a good aspiration. My house is full (maybe too full) of art, and things I’ve collected from travels. They soothe my heart when I see them. They have a life, because of the work that went into them and because that work translated some reality of the quotidian world into a beautiful object. Math becomes weaving becomes the tapestry in my hallway that I bought from its weaver in Peru.


On vacation this summer I had the chance to visit Columbus, Indiana. It’s a town highly influenced by J. Irwin Miller, one-time CEO of Cummins Engine Company. His love for architecture and love for his town led to the direction of the Cummins corporate philanthropy. Through the foundation, Miller agreed to cover the design fees public buildings in Columbus, as long as they were designed by the leading architects of the mid-20th century.


Miller himself, with his wife Xenia Simons Miller, chose Eero Saarinen to design their home (pictured above). While it looks impossibly tidy for a home that once had five children living in it, it is warm, bright with natural light and color, resilient to daily life, and it hums on some higher frequency. It is a building that reminds us that to be human is to aspire to goodness, order, and beauty. Saarinen said that “[t]he purpose of architecture is to shelter and enhance man’s life on earth and to fulfill his belief in the nobility of his existence.” In his hands it surely did that.


Miller’s commitment, and his position as a community leader and philanthropist means that everywhere you look in Columbus’s downtown area there is something beautiful to see. Churches picked up the mantle, like St. Peter’s Lutheran Church (Gunnar Birkerts, architect).

North Christian Church, the Disciples of Christ congregation where the Miller family attended, hired the same trio of Saarinen, Kiley and Girard (architect, landscape architect, interior designer) that built the Miller home to build the breathtaking North Christian Church.

North Christian Church, photo by Rhonda Bolner
Photo by Rhonda Bolner, from Columbus, Indiana tourism site,


I love my Chicago, which is also full of amazing architecture, beautiful parks, and the Lake Michigan shore. And I admire Mr. Miller for understanding that one power of philanthropy is to make places beautiful, for the hearts and souls of their inhabitants.