Tuesday, December 16, 2008

another article bragging about Columbus (IN)'s architecture

This one, a well-built article (fittingly so), from Dennis Maurizi, in the C-J...

The bus paused to give riders a better look, but still, all they saw was a park restroom.

"Keep looking," urged Dick Fleck, leading the architectural tour of Columbus, Ind. "You'll see it."

He was right. They did — eventually. The restroom architect had subtly made the roof over the women's entrance in the shape of a "W" and the men's in the shape of an "M."

In Columbus, even the small stuff plays a part in the city's modern design. Elaborate patterns decorate the brick intersections. Heating and cooling units of the phone switching station masquerade as giant crayons. Its Interstate exit is marked with a huge red double arch.

The American Institute of Architects ranks Columbus No. 6 when it comes to architectural innovation and design, behind Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington and San Francisco. Not bad for a town of 39,000...this architectural hotspot has more than 50 buildings designed by notable architects.

First Christian Church, erected in 1942, started it all. J. Irwin Miller, owner of Cummins Engine, the town's top employer (now Cummins Inc.), persuaded fellow church leaders to entrust its design to upstart Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen. Miller was a great admirer of Saarinen's modern style. In hindsight, Miller was lucky he wasn't booted out of the congregation. Or the town. Traditional Gothic, the church wasn't. What it was, was sober. And square....

But how did this small Indiana town become such an architectural mecca? In the 1950s, Columbus was booming because of Cummins Inc., the diesel-engine maker, and it needed to build schools, Frey said. Unfortunately, the attempt came up more than a little short.

"It just wasn't very pleasing or very functional," she said.

Enter J. Irwin Miller. Again. Miller believed that good schools would help attract the kind of talented employees he needed. And he believed that a building's very design could have a significant effect on a community. The schools, Miller figured, were a perfect place to start.

Over the years, the Cummins Engine Foundation expanded to include a variety of other public buildings — hospitals, public housing, even fire stations. Eventually, the private sector caught the architectural itch, too, and began hiring architects who understood that, while form should certainly follow function, it needn't be insipid in doing it....

Make sure you clear time for one special stop, the Bartholomew County Veterans Memorial on the courthouse grounds. Twenty-five limestone columns are arranged in a walk-through cube, each etched with the names of fallen vets, and in some cases, their poignant letters home. Allow a little extra time for this one.

It's hard to see everything in a single trip, of course, but even after just a weekend, it's obvious how the city came by its nickname, The Athens of the Prairie. But even Athens doesn't have one of those restrooms with the cool roof.


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