About New Middles

The 2020–2021 Exhibit Columbus presents New Middles: From Main Street to Megalopolis, What is the Future of the Middle City? Curated by Iker Gil and Mimi Zeiger, this symposium and exhibition cycle explores the future of the center of the United States and the regions connected by the Mississippi Watershed. New Middles speculates on the heartland, an ecology stretching beyond political borders—from North to South—from the Canadian Border to the Gulf, and from East to West—from Appalachia to the plains.

Columbus, Indiana, best known as a mid century modernist destination, is an archetypal middle city—a middle amongst middles with an impressive history of socially-minded architecture designed to foster civic life. Midwest, mid-sized, or middle American, the notion of “middle" goes beyond geography and does not mean average or neutral. Middle is its own condition, especially in relation to changing demographics, technology, mobility, climate change, health crises, and ways that cities are trying to address past and present injustices. The middle is a network of relationships, multiple centers, and potentials.

Embracing a long timeline of cities past, present, and future, New Middles builds upon Columbus’ legacy as a laboratory for design as civic investment. In a moment when we most need reflection, creativity, and innovation to envision new ways of being, New Middles considers Columbus a place to destabilize assumptions, and imagine new architectures and landscapes as a way to positively move our cities forward.

As the first public program of the 2020–2021 Exhibit Columbus cycle, the 2020 Symposium approaches the New Middles curatorial theme from a variety of perspectives and presents a series of online conversations centered on four topic areas: Futures and Technologies, Resiliency and Climate Adaptation, Arts and Community, and Indigenous Futures and Radical Thinking.

These dialogues serve as foundational research for all New Middles participants—as a kind of Exhibition Design Brief. Additionally, the symposium will highlight Columbus as a historic host and speculative think tank on design—convening conversations that invite audiences to consider innovative ideas around design’s role in shaping the future of our cities. By involving community leaders and public programming, the symposium will also serve as a “Community Design Brief” that identifies topics, themes, and writings for community partners and exhibition participants to consider throughout the multi-year exploration.

For the 2021 Exhibition, the curators invite the J. Irwin and Xenia Miller Prize recipients, University Design Research Fellows, and High School Design Team, to create site specific, future-oriented installations, which will be developed over the coming year. Miller Prize recipients will work in relationship to particular sites around Columbus indicative of archetypal civic forms: Main Street, bank, post office, park, library, church, or school. University Design Research Fellows were selected for their ability to tackle specific sets of issues germane to the future of the city and the Mississippi Watershed region, such as sustainability and material reuse, non-human habitat, watershed ecologies, emergent technologies, and migration.

What makes Columbus’ design history so unique is the investment in architecture as a social project. We are thrilled to join the Exhibit Columbus team and the Columbus community to shape conversations, installations, and research honoring this past, while recognizing the complex social and ecological issues facing American towns and cities at this very moment. And it is through architecture and design—through the symposium and exhibition—that we hope to explore meaningful and necessary ways forward.

— Iker Gil and Mimi Zeiger, 2020–21 Exhibit Columbus Curators