The Indiana Insider Blog

Columbus: Unmatched Architecture

Last week I visited Columbus to tour the town and see its top attractions. This is the first post in a three-post series about my trip.

Sweeping landscapes, impressive modern buildings and a variety of public art make Columbus, Indiana, an architectural rival to cities like Boston and Chicago. With a population of approximately 39,000, Columbus has accomplished something few small towns even dream of. The community has attracted top international architects to its projects over the last seven decades. On my trip to Columbus, I hopped on the Visitors Center tour bus to find out why the American Institute of Architects ranks Columbus sixth nationally for architectural innovation and design.

Large Arch outside The Cleo Rogers Memorial Library.

On the 2-hour tour, more than 80 structures amazed me with their unique design, modern aesthetic and sheer beauty. Vines climbed the Cummins Worldwide Headquarters in a beautiful pattern, a sloping rounded roof covered Fire Station Number 6 and glass panels and brick adorned the Fourth Street Parking Garage. Funky geometric shapes made City Hall and St. Bartholomew Catholic Church stunning and the Bartholomew County Jail was one of the most awe-striking buildings I saw that day! Few structures were left untouched as even the restrooms in Millrace Park were beautifully designed.

Our tour guide explained the origin of modern architecture in Columbus and described the significance and design of each building we passed. Internationally-recognized names like Kevin Roche, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Cesar Pelli and Koetter Kim were mentioned frequently as the guide named each building’s architect. We got off the bus in several places to see the beauty inside some structures as well.

Steeple at North Christian Church.

My two favorite buildings were St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and North Christian Church. While both had impressive steeples, their designs created contrasting indoor atmospheres. St. Peter’s is designed in circles and the auditorium balcony forms a sweeping open circle around the church. Natural light filters in from many hidden glass panels and the entire room feels light, open and welcoming. North Christian is also circular, but it is made largely of stone and the sanctuary itself is a small oval. The dark slate floors and dark wood pews make the room feel intimate and sacred. Another favorite was the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library that featured an open plaza in front of it and a waffle-iron ceiling inside.

Sculpture outside of the visitors center.

Two unique bridges make entering Columbus a delight. The Gateway Bridge and the Second Street Bridge both feature the town’s signature color, Millrace Red and give visitors a hint of what’s to come. Walking through town, you’re sure to stumble on many pieces of public art, from angels to arches to war memorials. Although much of the work is modern, I was impressed by the collection of historic buildings as well, including 5 that are designated National Historic Landmarks.

At $12 for adults and $7 for students, the bus tour is a must-do for any lover of art and architecture. Cell phone and walking tour guides can be picked up at the visitors center if you would rather explore the streets on your own.

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