Columbus Indiana : Midcentury Midwest

Columbus Indiana is 4 hours outside Chicago and the last place one would expect to find a city full of building by big name architects, but it is.  For architecture enthusiasts there is no better weekend getaway.  Columbus is like a petting zoo for architecture.  Get up close in friendly with buildings from all the greats including but not limited to I.M. Pei, Richard Meyer, Robert Venturi, and Harry Weese.  Your first stop should be the Columbus Visitors Center.  The staff there is fantastic and you can pick up a map and associated smart phone app that charts out every building you would want to see.  The great thing about Columbus is not just the density of good buildings but the fact that this community embraces those who come to see them.  I have travelled all over the world to look at buildings and never have I been invited in by as many strangers to see them in detail.  I chalk it up to Midwest hospitality.

The true gem of the bunch is the Millar House and Gardens which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000.  Designed by Eero Saaranin with interiors by Alexander Girard and grounds by Dan Kiley it was completed in 1953.  All three were at the height of their creative peak when collaborating and executing this home, and it shows.  It is a stunning example of the midcentury aesthetic and is full of design innovation.  It’s the type of place that shows the power of design and architecture to transform and inspire.   I suggest booking your tour in advance and it is well worth the fee.

I think the most remarkable thing about this city is not all the buildings.  Each building individually is not necessarily something revolutionary, but a city where good architecture and design is embraced across the board is.  The Cummins Foundation under the leadership of J. Irwin Miller created a program in which they would pay the architects fee if the client picked an architect from a list compiled by Cummins.  This allowed the whole project budget to go to the building itself.  In that sense the project budgets were higher but not astronomically so.  It is the job of architects and designers to produce something that provides a solution to the everyday needs of a society.  Columbus is a place where architects have used the resources at hand to implement the most effective, functional, and inspiring interventions possible.  When walking around Columbus you have this crazy idea that every city could be like this.  It feels so possible.  If this can be done here… why not everywhere?  One fairly simple intervention from a visionary man and the hard work of many architects and designers made this place into something special and well worth the drive. 

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Written and photographed by our explorer of all things architecture : Emily Handley