Columbus's New World


Mention the city of Columbus and most will assume that you mean the Ohio metropolis, home to one of the largest universities in the US and with a population close to the seven-digit mark – not the Columbus located in the depths of southern Indiana

Monocle Escapist
Summer 2017
Story by: Ed Stocker


photos: (right) Columbus, home of Michael (as he's known here) Pence. (below) Aerial view of downtown Columbus.


Columbus has it oddities.  You can have breakfast on the edge of its municipal air strip at Hangar 5 or head to Exit 76 Antique Mall, a sort of Way-Mart for collectables stewarded by Denise Pence, sister-in-law of the veep.


photo: Gift-shop owner John Pickett at home.

Detail of St. Peter's Lutheran Church, designed by Gunnar Birkerts, 1988.

Cleo Rogers Memorial Library by IM Pei, 1969.

J Irwin Miller has left a stamp on this community and is held in the sort of deferential reverence usually reserved for the British aristocracy. Everyone seems to have an acecdote about "Mr. Miller" -- title obligatory -- and his vision for transforming what had long been a sleepy town.


photos: (above, right, & below) Irwin Miller House, designed by Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard, & Dan Kiley, 1957.


The focus may be turn-of-the-century rather than modernist buildings but the idea is the same. "I firmly believe in Mr. Miller's concept of leaving something of value to future generations," says Moravec. If the architects of Columbus's future are successful, there may be a lot more of that to come.


Exhibit Columbus curator, artist, educator, and historian T Kelly Wilson.

Breakfast at Hangar 5 just off the landing strip of Columbus' Municipal Airport

Teenage ice-cream parlor worker at Zaharakos.

Exhibit Columbus's Richard McCoy

Soccer fields on the outskirts of Columbus's city center.

St. Peter's Lutheran Church, designed by Gunnar Birkerts, 1988.

North Christian Church. designed by Eero Saarinen, 1964.

The first modernist building in Columbus -- and thought to be the first in the US -- was erected before Cummins initiated its architectural program. But the Cummins family privately funded the construction of the First Christian Church because they needed a larger church to attend as the town grew.


photo: First Christian Church by Eliel and Eero Saarinen along with a plaza designed by I.M. Pei and sculpture by Henry Moore.

Gethin Thomas, founder and head chef at Henry Social Club.

Dinner at Henry Social Club

Tea room at The Inn at Irwin Gardens

Aerial View of suburban development

The Midwest, that expansive stretch of plain between the Appalachians and the Rockies, gets a bad rap, derided by coastal sophisticates as a cultural desert. But Columbus, Indiana, amounts to much more than any preconception -- and much more than the sign that proudly marks it out as the hometown to current vice-president Mike Pence. This Columbus has something the others don't: some of the finest examples of modern architecture anywhere in the U.S.


photo: Cummins Corporate Office Building by Kevin Roach, 1983.

Cummins Diesel Engine Sculpture at its Corporate Headquarters

Think about why Cummins introduced the program,” says Richard McCoy of the fund, established to lure talent to Columbus through gleaming schools and fire stations. “They believe that architecture effects the way we live and our aspirations.

Irwin Miller's custom Eames chair

Printing plate from October 1967 Esquire featuring Irwin Miller

Irwin Miller's Office

Architectural model for "Exhibit Columbus"


There is, of course, a danger that Columbus will forever be looking back at its rich architectural legacy, stuck in a sort of historical stasis. From Late August through November 2017, the city will launch an event called "Exhibit Columbus" (there was an initial symposium in 2016), an idea several years in gestation that takes the town's modern buildings as a point of inspiration and introspection and asks designers to create a series of temporary installations that will transform Columbus for three months.  There will be 18 installations across town, six of them from regional universities, including a conical tent-like structure - modeled on the traditional home of Myaamia people, a Native American tribe who once occupied the land - from Wisconsin's Studio Indigenous which will be located next to the First Christian Church. There will also be a series of interventions along Washington Street, including an alley "playhouse" and mini-museum "Stairway to Columbus", which will change contents every week and will be accessed via an external stairway and viewed through an open window.