When you’re feeling a bit of wanderlust and looking for beauty in unexpected places, hit the road and make a beeline to Columbus, Indiana. Just 3-½ hours by car from Chicago and 50 miles south of Indianapolis, Columbus is a small city by American standards — and yet finds itself ranked 6th in the nation for architectural innovation and design by the American Institute of Architects.
As the website for Columbus explains, “Columbus is an improbable town. Every year thousands of visitors arrive to explore its streets and study its buildings, for it is one of the rare places on earth where the idea that architecture can improve the human condition has been put to the test. It’s a small, southern Indiana community with no apparent call to destiny that remarkably became an architectural ‘mecca.’”
The evolution of Columbus into an extraordinary experiment in modernist architecture began in the early 1940s when the industrialist J. Irwin Miller began commissioning world renowned architects to come to the city and undertake the design of commercial and municipal buildings.
A tour through the city will take you to a host of treasures including First Christian Church by Eliel Saarinen, the Irwin Union Bank, Miller House, and North Christian Church by Eliel’s son Eero Saarinen, and the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library by IM Pei. These commercial buildings and houses of worship expressed the deep beliefs held by J. Irwin Miller about the power of great architecture to shape the civic experience.
Besides being meticulously preserved, the buildings are situated in proximity to impressive public art installations that include works by Henry Moore, Dale Chihuly, Jean Tinguely, and Robert Indiana.
Adding to the caché and allure of Columbus is a feature film that has drawn even greater attention to this unique metropolis. Columbus is a 2017 American drama written, directed, and edited by Kogonada was shot on location in 2016 over a period of 18 days. The film follows the son of an esteemed architecture scholar who gets stranded in Columbus and strikes up a friendship with a young architecture enthusiast who works at the local library. The film premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and was released in the United States by the Sundance Institute, receiving broad acclaim from critics.
When planning a visit to Columbus, visit the city’s comprehensive website for a guide to the city’s architecture or to schedule a tour. And if you want to get inspired in advance, you can stream the film Columbus on Amazon Prime.