The story behind the Huntington Center's “sawtooth” design

When I was younger and we were coming into Columbus on I-70 from the west, I always wondered why the Huntington Center looked like Godzilla had taken a bite out of it. Why was this particular design chosen?
Agreed, that building is unusual. It was designed by architects from Chicago’s Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and stands on the former site of the Neil House Hotel. Completed in 1984, the Huntington Center brought a daring new building form to Capitol Square. Containing 1 million square feet on 37 floors, it’s clad in imperial red granite and bronze-toned glass, and it has atriums on the first, 12th, 20th and 28th floors. In addition to all its offices, the building has 27,000 square feet of retail space, a 1,000-car garage, a large athletic club and is connected to a DoubleTree hotel. A $16 million refurbishment in 2019 introduced a 2,400-square-foot living wall in the lobby.

But what about those Godzilla bites? Project records at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill shed some light. They cite the high quality of the building materials, the relationship to the river and its thoughtful connection to the adjacent 1926 bank. They also refer to the “sawtooth” design that is so distinctive.

But there may be an additional reason the sawtooth design is important, and it has to do with marketing the office space. If the building were a standard high-rise box, it would have only four corner offices on each floor. Instead, as the SOM records point out, the design gives it 16 per floor. And who wouldn’t like to have a corner office?

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Someone told me that Columbus State Community College and the park next to Nationwide Children’s Hospital were both built on top of graveyards. Is that true?
True in both cases. Not long after a community of any size is established, it unfortunately needs a cemetery. Columbus was no exception and had several by the middle of the pre-Civil War era, typically located well outside the settled area of town.

The first was the North Graveyard, now the North Market’s parking lot. There were others, among them Green Lawn, opened in 1849, and two more, one northeast of Downtown and one southeast. The northeast one was the Catholic Cemetery. It dated from around the same time as Green Lawn and was on the south side of Mount Vernon Avenue between Washington Avenue and North 11th Street. That whole area has been remade, and today the site of the cemetery is the heart of the Columbus State campus.

The 1856 atlas shows a “Gr. Yd.” (graveyard) at what is now Livingston Park, next to Children’s. By 1872, a much smaller “Jewish cemetery” had been appended along the north side, but by the 1920s it was gone and its land was being developed. By this time, Livingston Park had been established on the site of the larger cemetery.

When cemetery lands are converted to new uses, burials are respectfully removed and reburied elsewhere. Or at least, they’re supposed to be. We haven’t found any written descriptions of what became of the burials at Livingston Park or Columbus State. But archaeological studies have confirmed that graves remain at the former North Graveyard.

Sources: “The AIA Guide to Columbus”; hines.com; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill archives; atlases at Columbus Metropolitan Library; census.gov; 10tv.com; wosu.org

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Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus.