Modernist Columbus / by Serhii Chrucky

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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.

First Christian Church, Eliel Saarinen, 1942

First Christian Church, Eliel Saarinen, 1942

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Cleo Rogers Memorial Library, I.M. Pei, 1969

Cleo Rogers Memorial Library, I.M. Pei, 1969

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AT&T Switching Center, Paul Kennon, 1978

AT&T Switching Center, Paul Kennon, 1978

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St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Gunnar Birkerts, 1988

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Gunnar Birkerts, 1988

North Christian Church, Eero Saarinen, 1964

North Christian Church, Eero Saarinen, 1964

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Landscape of North Christian Church, Dan Kiley, 1964

Landscape of North Christian Church, Dan Kiley, 1964

Irwin Union Bank & Trust, Eero Saarinen, 1954

Irwin Union Bank & Trust, Eero Saarinen, 1954

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Cummins Irwin Office Building, Kevin Roche, 1972

Cummins Irwin Office Building, Kevin Roche, 1972

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Cummins Corporate Office Building, Kevin Roche, 1984

Cummins Corporate Office Building, Kevin Roche, 1984

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The Republic, Myron Goldsmith, 1971

The Republic, Myron Goldsmith, 1971

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Columbus City Hall, Edward Bassett, 1981

Columbus City Hall, Edward Bassett, 1981

St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, Ratio Architects (Steven Risting), 2002

St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, Ratio Architects (Steven Risting), 2002

Crump Theatre, 1889/1941

Crump Theatre, 1889/1941

Irwin Garden, 1910

Irwin Garden, 1910

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Buildings on Washington Street

Buildings on Washington Street

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Robert N. Stewart Bridge, 1999

Robert N. Stewart Bridge, 1999

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Bank of the Flatrock River

Bank of the Flatrock River

Columbus Regional Health Mental Health Services, James Polshek, 1972

Columbus Regional Health Mental Health Services, James Polshek, 1972

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Creekview Branch Bank, Deborah Berke, 2006

Creekview Branch Bank, Deborah Berke, 2006

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Lillian C. Schmitt Elementary, Harry Weese, 1957

Lillian C. Schmitt Elementary, Harry Weese, 1957

Lillian C. Schmitt Elementary Addition, Leers Weinzapfel Associates, 1991

Lillian C. Schmitt Elementary Addition, Leers Weinzapfel Associates, 1991

Mill Race Park, Michael Van Valkenburgh, 1992

Mill Race Park, Michael Van Valkenburgh, 1992

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