We’ve all been there at some point in our careers. Architecture just within a days worth (or maybe longer) of driving that calls to you.  The only thing you can do is gather your friends and hit the road.

I’m sure you are all wondering where this is coming from. Quite simple. Richard Meier’s Atheneum was recently awarded the 2008 25-Year Award by the American Institute of Architects. Back in the early 90’s, a couple friends and I decided to squeeze this road trip into a weekend.

We left Detroit extremely early on Saturday morning during the summer. I don’t know if your realize it, but New Harmony, Indiana is in the southwest corner of Indiana. After being there, I’m not sure you can get any further away from Detroit and still be in Indiana. We planned on driving for nine hours. After picking up a friend near Marshall, we
turned south toward New Harmony.

After the excitement wore off, we made it past Columbus, Indiana and agreed on stopping on our way home. Did I mention we were in a soft-top Jeep? By late morning, it was stifling and loud.  I could barely hear Aerosmith playing on the radio. The farmlands of central Indiana gradually conceded to foothills as we reached the southern edge of the state and turned west. We had to be getting closer. We passed a highway advertisement for Cave Tours. That sounded cool. We had to stop here on our way back also. This trip was getting longer.

Finally, we reached the exit for New Harmony only to discover we now had miles of cornfields to navigate before we actually arrived in New Harmony. We would drive for a mile, turn 90 degrees and drive for 2 miles, turn 90 degrees again, and so on. You couldn’t see over the corn and the road was not long enough in any direction to see anything other than corn. Imagine our surprise when a monster truck (or something much bigger than our Jeep) appeared behind us and showed no signs of caring we were also on the road. It came at us, barely changed lanes to pass us, and when we turned the next corner, it was gone. Everyone in the Jeep was screaming. Thankful for our lives, we stopped at a gas station to eat. Yes, a gas station. It had booths and everything.

AtheneumWe were in New Harmony a few minutes later. Have you ever been to New Harmony? Keep in mind this is before the internet was prevalent and we had no idea what to expect. It’s a very small town. Somehow we made a wrong turn, crossed a toll bridge, and ended up in Illinois before finally arriving at the Atheneum.

We did the usual inspection. We toured the inside asking to see everything since we were “architecture students.” Sometimes this one works and we got access to a private balcony overlooking the town and river. We were in awe of the building. It is one thing to study a building and memorize what makes it special. It is another thing to actually experience what makes a building special. In this case, the masterful manipulation of light, structure, and circulation left us speechless and we took as many photos as we could. We bought a few postcards, took the token “stand in front of the building” pictures, and jumped back in the Jeep.

One of us was always watching for monster trucks out the rear window as we drove through the corn field. We decided to not stop at the caves and only stopped briefly in Columbus, Indiana. By then we were pretty exhausted and nothing seemed to be open by the time we arrived around 8:00 PM.

We finally arrived home nearly 24 hours later. Like most of our road trips, the journey was as memorable as the destination.

We’ve made a few trips since then: Fallingwater followed by a surprise, but famous detour to Washington DC, Waterloo and Kitchener with the “crazy Austrians”, and Columbus, Ohio to see Frank Gehry speak.  Even though we’ve seen architecture all over Michigan, our most memorable trips seem be out of state.  Now that none of us have the freedom of a student schedule, it’s even harder to fit in a road trip.

How about you?  Any road trips in your past or recommendations for Michigan road trip destinations?  Let us know by hitting the Add Comment link.

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