The small town of Columbus in southern Indiana packs a big punch in the world of modern architecture.
Since the 1940s, many of the world’s most prominent and influential architects have left their stamp here. With a population of just 46,000, Columbus ranks an astounding sixth in the nation for architectural innovation and design by the American Institute of Architects. That falls just behind the much larger cities of Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, D.C.
In addition, Columbus is home to seven National Historic Landmark buildings – an astonishing number given its size. Most of its downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Altogether, Columbus has more than 70 buildings designed by such internationally renowned architects as I.M. Pei, Richard Meier, César Pelli, and Harry Weese.
No wonder it attracts 50,000 annual visitors.
Architecture highlights bus tour
One of the best ways to explore this living museum of modern architecture is on a two-hour, drive-by bus tour offered by the Columbus Area Visitors Center. The tour passes some 40 significant structures, public art, and open spaces – all one-of-a-kind masterworks.
Bookending the ride are stops to enter the interiors of two churches, one each designed by father and son architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen.
Along the way, the guide shares history and insights, painting a colorful commentary and giving visitors a great appreciation for the scenes outside the bus windows.
Surprisingly, the Columbus of today owes its storied existence to the vision and financial means of one man – the late J. Irwin Miller of Cummins Engine Co. (now Cummins Inc.). He believed in the transformative power of architecture, and his leadership helped define this community.
As its Visitors Center proclaims, Columbus is “unexpected and unforgettable.”
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- An exploration of significant modern architecture from the 1940s forward, including structures, public art, bridges, and parks
- Modern architecture, still popular today, might be familiar to those who remember the style from its mid-20th-century heyday.
- The architecture highlights tour is a drive-by bus tour, with the first and last stops inside two churches to explore their sanctuaries (depending on availability).
- Not an architecture buff? Still inspiring and informative is the tale of a small Midwestern city that saw the power of architecture to create a beautiful and livable community.
- The tour is predominantly by bus, which makes it easy for participants who prefer limited walking. However, stops at two churches at the beginning and end of the tour (when scheduling permits) require brief walking and standing.
- Tours often sell out well in advance, so book early online.
- Dress appropriately for the weather and comfort.
Be sure to get the whole scoop on the modern architecture in Columbus, Indiana, on The Roads Traveled.
All photo credits: Mary Gilbert (except lede photo).
Disclosure: The author’s visit was hosted by the Columbus Area Visitors Center but any opinions expressed in this post are her own.
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