Inspired by the dwellings of the Myaamia people indigenous to Indiana, studio:indigenous adorns a walkway leading to First Christian Church with a contemporary “wigwam” — wiikiaami in the Myaamia language — constructed of rebar and copper scales. The swooping conical form is aligned both to the church’s iconic campanile and to mark the autumnal equinox. The copper scales, equally reminiscent of eagle feathers and textile designs, are perforated and patinated to make shifting patterns of sunlight and shade, creating a space for gathering as well as a gateway to Saarinen’s church.

Miller Prize Winner

studio:indigenous is an architectural design firm in Milwaukee, WI, led by Chris Cornelius as a design practice focused on creating intelligent, thoughtful, and contemporary design solutions for American Indian clients. As a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, Chris is concerned with the architectural translation of Native culture in order to make that culture experiential. Chris has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors including an Artist in Residence Fellowship from the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian Institution, and multiple wins in the Ken Roberts Architectural Delineation Competition (KRob). He recently served as a cultural consultant and design collaborator with Antoine Predock on the Indian Community School of Milwaukee.

Fabrication sponsors

Ignition Arts


First Christian Church, 1942
Saarinen and Saarinen
531 5th Street

Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen designed First Christian Church at the request of the Sweeney and Miller Families to build a new church in the “modern” style. Once a railroad depot, the site was a small park when construction began in 1939. Completed in 1942, the church is known as the first “modern” building in Columbus. The basilica and campanile arrangement is a bold reinterpretation of Renaissance church forms. Also notable is the sunken garden that flows under the educational wing through an arcade. Interior elements were designed by Charles Eames, Saarinen’s wife Loja, and son Eero.

Material and Fabrication

Wiikiaami was fabricated entirely on-site in collaboration with a team of welders from Faurecia, a global automotive-parts manufacturing company with facilities based in Columbus. The thirty-foot-tall structure has a skeleton of elegantly curved rebar that was welded together while supported by a complicated system of forms. The covering of expanded metal scales was produced by Ignition Arts in Indianapolis. The steel of the scales is intended to change color as it weathers over the course of the exhibition.

Wiikiaami is the confluence of indigenous design and architectural statement. I am humbled to have this piece next to Saarinen’s catalytic work.

Chris Cornelius