I’ve been to that tidy little city, located roughly midway between Indianapolis and Louisville, quite a few times over my career.
But so far I’ve never been in town long enough to have time to take the two-hour guided tour of its astonishing collection of architectural standouts.
Columbus? The one in Indiana? Architectural gems? Stay there longer? Huh? That pretty much sums up the reaction of family and friends when I broach my fascination with the place.
So, why Columbus? Let’s start with a key fact: This city of just 44,000 residents has been ranked 6th in the nation for architectural innovation and design by the American Institute of Architects—right after Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.
In Columbus, one can see over 70 structures as well as pieces of public art that are the work of such internationally noted architects and artists as I.M. Pei, Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen, Richard Meier, Harry Weese, Dale Chihuly and Henry Moore.
Cummins HQ, by architect Kevin Roche, FAIA [Photo: Cummins Inc.]
What really stands out about the place is that it all got planted there (and continues to grow) because one company— Cummins Inc.— determined decades ago that its “success in retaining the best and brightest employees was closely tied to the company’s ability to attract this talent” to its hometown.
“Investing in a vibrant and economically viable community in our headquarters location of Columbus has long been an important objective for Cummins,” according to the Cummins Foundation, which provides grants, primarily in communities in which Cummins plants are located, around the world.
The vision of embracing architecture to make a bold statement about the values inherent to the Cummins brand was the brainchild of J. Irwin Miller (1909-2004), a native son whose great uncle W.G. Irwin had provided the early financial backing for the company.
Miller joined the family business in 1934 and served brilliantly as chairman & CEO from 1951 to 1977.
Miller, who held a personal interest in architecture, began changing things up in Columbus by working to see that local school buildings going up as the Baby Boom went off had visual appeal.
In 1957, the Cummins Foundation made its first grant, to support the architecture fees for a Harry Weese-designed elementary school.
Within three years, what began with schools soon grew to take in all those facilities in Bartholomew County, of which Columbus is the seat, owned and operated by public tax dollars.
The foundation has sponsored over 50 projects, and other significant works of architecture have been privately commissioned as well over the years.
Engine "mobile" gracing lobby of Cummins headquarters
“Every one of us lives and moves all his life within the limitations, sight, and influence of architecture—at home, at school, at church and at work,” Miller once observed.
“The influence of architecture with which we are surrounded in our youth affects our lives, our standards, our tastes when we are grown, just as the influence of the parents and teachers with which we are surrounded in our youth affects us as adults,” he added.
You might like to delve into my recent feature article on how to brand your fleet, but to experience how truly alive a brand can feel, I suggest you find— as I am sure I will one of these days— the time to tour what so incredibly lines the streets of Columbus.
Yes, the one in Indiana.