Athens of the Prairie: How Columbus, Indiana Got Great Architecture

Columbus, Indiana is a city of around 40,000 people located an hour south of Indianapolis. Columbus is exactly the kind of city you'd expect to find in the Midwest, except for one curious thing. The American Institute of Architects has ranked Columbus 6th in the nation for architectural innovation and design, right behind New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, DC.

The architectural richness of Columbus isn't the result of some visionary planning board. Nor are the zoning laws in Columbus different than those in most other Indiana cities. Columbus has fascinating architecture because in the 1950s industrialist and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller (of the Cummins Engine Company) decided that he wanted to live in a more visually interesting city. To this end, Miller offered to pay the architect's bill for any new public building in Columbus. Today, Columbus boasts more than 70 buildings designed by internationally celebrated architects like I.M. Pei, Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen, Richard Meier and Harry Weese.

One man's philanthropy sparked, as Bradley Brooks of the Indianapolis Museum of Art puts it, "an idea that is moving a community forward."

Approximately 4 minutes. Produced by Paul Feine and Alex Manning.

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