To Will Miller, “architecture for everyday life” must sound like home. He grew up in the Miller House and Garden and attended North Christian Church, both designed by Eero Saarinen with landscapes by Dan Kiley. He was educated at Lillian C. Schmitt Elementary and Northside Middle School, two of Harry Weese’s designs. Miller will moderate the Architecture for Everyday Life session of “Foundations and Futures,” leading conversations with other luminaries who have helped shape Columbus: Deborah Berke, Robert A.M. Stern, and Michael Van Valkenburgh.
Will Miller’s life has reflected his family’s commitment to combining business leadership, civic consciousness, and philanthropy. His long career in Columbus with Irwin Management culminated in his tenure first as president and CEO, and then as chairman. Miller was also Chairman and CEO of Irwin Financial Corporation from 1990 to 2009. Since 2011, he has been the president of the Wallace Foundation, a New York City-based philanthropy dedicated to fostering improvements in learning, enrichment for disadvantaged children, and the vitality of the arts for everyone. Miller had already demonstrated his commitment to education closer to home as a founding member of the Community Education Coalition of Columbus, a regional partnership of school superintendents, community college leaders, and business executives that works to improve educational and economic opportunities. Miller has served on many boards both national and local, public and private, including Yale University, the National Building Museum, and Cummins Inc. His corporate and philanthropic leadership earned him election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008.
Will Miller’s parents, J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller, forged Columbus’ unique identity as a little city with big architectural clout. Whether through their private patronage, the businesses and foundations they ran, or public-private partnerships like the Cummins Foundation Architecture Program, the Millers have played a part in nearly every architectural landmark in Columbus, from First Christian Church to the Cummins Corporate Office Building. Will Miller has left his own mark on the everyday experience of architecture in Columbus. He was instrumental in the partnership known as “The Front Door Project,” which totally redesigned the roadways and bridges that carry visitors into Columbus. He explains, “We wanted an entry that . . . would help establish a sense of place to reflect our community values of innovation and striving for excellence.” To achieve those lofty goals, the project involved architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, bridge designer Jean Muller of Switzerland, and landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh—one of the keynote speakers who will join Miller for the Architecture for Everyday Life session. Although it took more than a decade and the labor of many partners for all the pieces to fall into place, the resulting ensemble of bridges, commercial center, and landscaped parkway provides a dramatic entrance into Columbus and a fitting introduction to the architectural treasures it holds. Will also co-chaired the Vision 20-20 Project with Mayor Fred Armstrong that redeveloped downtown Columbus in the early 2000s, a project that included the remaking of the Commons.
The design competition that forms the centerpiece of Exhibit Columbus is named after his parents, in honor of their visionary sponsorship of art and architecture in Columbus and their unmatched commitment to community. Will Miller’s career shows us that honoring the Miller legacy means not only celebrating past triumphs, but working to make the community an even better place to live. Like the Front Door Project, Exhibit Columbus hopes to welcome new and returning visitors to Columbus and open up fresh perspectives on its landmarks, while inspiring a new generation to strive for excellence.