To some, spending a couple of days in Fort Wayne, Indiana after two weeks in England would be akin to the sentiment of the popular World War I song, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?” But to those of us who make the most of our travel opportunities, it was a chance to visit an important landmark of the place that Look magazine called “America’s Happiest Town” in 1949.
Nestled in a tranquil 15-acre patch off North Clinton Street, the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary is the creation of Eero Saarinen, the brilliant Finnish-American architect who designed notable structures like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the main terminal of Dulles International Airport, and the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Founded in 1846, the seminary was the first of its kind in preparing American men to be Lutheran ministers. A senior college providing pre-theological training was established in 1957, and Saarinen was chosen to design its campus.
To create a contemplative environment that would be appropriate to the intellectual and spiritual nature of a seminary, Saarinen patterned his design after a typical medieval Scandinavian village, with dozens of buildings clustered around a chapel that stands on the highest elevation. A man-made lake provides the perfect complement to the towering structure and its more modest neighbors.
Some of the whitewashed Modernist campus buildings curve along the lakeshore, while others line a plaza on the hilltop. Diamond-shaped bricks, patented as “Concordia bricks,” run horizontally on the majority of the main buildings. These represent members of the community’s relationship to one another. This pattern is even repeated in window screens throughout the campus.
Kramer Chapel is the architectural and spiritual focal point of the campus. Many American suburban churches followed this trendsetting A-frame structure’s standard of design.
A modern glass entrance opens into a low-ceilinged vestibule…
then leads to a soaring sanctuary filled with orderly rows of pews.
Low interior lighting creates a restful space, while daylight from a skylight and side windows dramatically spotlight the altar, which was created from one six-ton piece of Vermont marble. Over 160 Concordia bricks comprise the wall behind the minimalist cross. Here, the bricks run vertically, rather than horizontally, symbolizing God’s relationship with his people.
Other talented designers contributed to the seminary’s show-stopping campus.
The Katherine Luther Dining Hall, named after the wife of Martin Luther, features a relief of incised whitewashed bricks on the south wall that was designed by sculptor William C. Severson. Inspired by a phrase in the Christian hymn of praise, Te Deum, “All the earth doth worship Thee, the Father everlasting,” the work illustrates praise and thanksgiving offered at harvest time.
Colored plastic, enameled copper and stained glass chips of harvest-themed colors take the shape of loaves of bread.
Named after Lutheran theologian Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther, the library is a great example of how well Saarinen incorporated mezzanines into his work. Saarinen used the free-standing floor to remind students to work together toward the same goal. Two towers of whitewashed brick stand next to a connecting staircase.
Severson’s dining hall mosaic relief inspired Fort Wayne artist William Lupkin to create another expressive mosaic relief that ascends one of the library’s staircases as it depicts how God’s word has been shared throughout the ages. A figure of Christ stands at the bottom of the staircase; then the mosaic ascends to an image of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the doors of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, the historic action that began the Protestant Reformation.
Further up the staircase, Martin Chemnitz holds the Book of Concord. Chemnitz compiled this doctrinal standard of the Lutheran Church, and it was printed in Dresden, Germany in 1580. Lupkin painted this image of the title page of the first edition of this volume, which is owned by the seminary.
The library is also home to another Te Deum mosaic.
Classrooms and faculty office hallways in this building are adorned by symbols of Old Testament prophets and New Testament Evangelist shields.
A 12-feet-high statue of Martin Luther is the work of Friederich Adolph Soetebier. The German sculptor relied on Lucas Cranach the Elder’s portraits of Luther to capture the reformer’s facial features, while the hands on the sculpture were molded from casts that were taken of Luther’s hands after his death.
Dan Kiley, a landscape architect whose work includes the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, designed a setting shaded by thousands of trees. A 2001 tornado downed hundreds of them, but they are gradually being replanted.
For more information, see Eero Saarinen, edited by David G. De Long and C. Ford Peatross, and the Concordia Theological Seminary Campus Guide.