There isn’t a city in America quite like Columbus, Indiana. With a population of only 45,000, it boasts a collection of noteworthy architecture one would expect to find in a city ten times the size. There are buildings designed by Eliel Saarinen and Kevin Roche; Harry Weese and I.M. Pei. What other comparable city has a bank, a church, and a house all designed by Eero Saarinen?
Columbus’ modern architectural heritage dates back to 1939 when J. Irwin Miller, president of Cummins Engine Company, commissioned Eliel Saarinen to design the First Christian Church. The church is recognized now as one of the earliest examples of Modernist church design in the United States.
In the mid-1950s, Miller continued commissioning contemporary architects to design buildings both for Cummins and for the city of Columbus. Early works include the Irwin Bank and Trust in 1954, the Cummins Engine Plant in 1955, and Miller’s own home in 1957. By this time, Miller had arranged for Cummins to provide grants to the school board to cover architects fees for the design of primary and secondary schools. The Cummins Foundation Architecture Program was expanded over time to fund the construction of fire stations, government buildings, and parks.
This tradition of commissioning exemplary architects to design private and civic buildings in Columbus has continued through to the present. The number of buildings designed and/or renovated under the Cummins Foundation Program alone is over fifty. I recently spent three days in Columbus and wasn’t able to visit every site, let alone photograph all of them. I hope the photos below inspire you to visit Columbus for yourself.