Columbus, Indiana, has been getting attention in the press lately, and the design community has taken notice. At one high-level design dinner, a prominent design figure jokingly referred to Columbus as “The New Detroit.” While the metaphor is wildly inaccurate based on economics and demographics, there is a kernel of truth there, as the small Midwestern town is becoming a hot design destination. Luckily the buildings are in better shape.
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If I had to guess, I would say that it has been forty years since Columbus, Indiana, was the hot topic of cocktail conversations at design-related get-togethers in New York City. In those days, it was the supercharged patronage of industrialist J. Irwin Miller and his relationships with designers like Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard that spurred a wave of innovative and provocative architecture in the small Midwestern town. Columbus, with a population of 45,000, has a Robert Venturi fire station, a John Johansen school, a park by Michael Van Valkenburgh, and several buildings by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, including the younger’s iconic Miller House.
However, Columbus is once again in the spotlight. Exhibit Columbus is an ongoing initiative that launched September 29 with a symposium that will set the stage for a large public design exhibition in 2017. Exhibit organizer Richard McCoy, with the assistance of local patrons and leaders such as president of the Wallace Foundation Will Miller, designer Jonathan Nesci, architect Louis Joyner, educator T. Kelly Wilson, and archivist Tricia Gilson, has built a local movement and amassed a group of world-class designers—Aranda/Lasch, Baumgartner + Uriu, Rachel Hayes, Höweler+Yoon, IKD, Ball-Nogues Studio, Johnston Marklee, Jonathan Olivares Design Research, Oyler Wu Collaborative, Plan B Architecture & Urbanism, and studio:indigenous—that are competing for the inaugural Miller Prize, an unusual head-to-head competition where ten teams will make site-specific installations for five sites in Columbus. Five will win the battle and build their proposals fall 2017.
All of this attention has once again launched Columbus into the design consciousness. Many people are excited to see what the 2017 exhibition will bring.
In parallel, there is another incredible opportunity in Columbus that could build on this momentum.
With renewed interest in the town, which thrives off of architectural tourism, the hospitality industry is booming. Notably, however, there are few Airbnb properties. A cursory search for a weekend in October returns only three listings, none of which are downtown where all of the action is. This matters because young tourists are looking for more exciting lodging options than a regular hotel. What would alternative lodging look like in Columbus today? There is a venue that would be perfect. The Cummins Occupational Health Association (COHA) was one of the most innovative buildings in Columbus, but it is now under threat because its owner, Cummins Inc., has no use for it. Originally completed in 1973 by Hugh Hardy of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, this late modernist, high-tech building is one of Columbus’s best-kept secrets. Its colorful, highly expressive exposed building systems celebrate building technology with mannerist exuberance. The spacious open plan is choreographed by a ramp that animates the space and was a revolutionary new way of building healthcare facilities in the 1970s. However, this ramp may render it inflexible for healthcare-related adaptive reuse in today’s world.
So what is the appropriate new life for COHA? One possibility would be lofts or student housing. While the town may not have the market for this typology, there might be another solution. If Airbnb bought the building, it could turn it into a cluster of rentals (like a hotel) that would be rentable on Airbnb and could piggyback off of its collaboration with Japanese architect Go Hasegawa in the Japanese village Yoshino. This project, Sugi No Ie (Yoshino Cedar House), acts as both a rental unit and community center for visitors and is owned by local community groups, thus giving back to the town and offering a community-based experience for travelers.
In this model, the town would own the space, and rent it out on Airbnb. Proceeds could benefit the Heritage Fund, which is invested in the preservation of the architecture through Landmark Columbus. Airbnb would be helping to preserve modern design.
The COHA building is perfect for this model. It needs a patron, and there is no cut-and-dry reuse for it. How cool would it be to stay or live in a radical, 1970s doctor’s office? Artists or designers could get long-term rentals, while visitors could stay for the night. It would take a visionary company like Airbnb that values design to revitalize this space into one of the world’s best design destination hotels. The company would be a hero. Let’s hope it can make this dream a reality.
Bloomington-based Upland Brewing Co. has transformed the 113-year-old Columbus, Indiana, city water pump house into its newest brewpub. The pump house, which provided water and electricity to the city until 1953, will now provide beer and food as the Upland Columbus Pump House. Overlooking the White River in Columbus’s Downtown, the brick structure was originally designed by architect Harrison Albright. Upland worked with local architect William Burd to reimagine the space, which was falling into disrepair since it was last occupied in 2011. The Upland staff and Indiana Landmarks were both consulted on the project in order to produce a historically sensitive and well-functioning brewpub. Notably, the basement of the pump house was once used by famed Swiss artist Jean Tinguely to produce his 30-foot-tall epic kinetic sculpture “Chaos No 1.” The Upland Columbus Pump House has maintained much of the building’s industrial aesthetic while providing everything one would expect from a contemporary craft-beer pub.
Upland Columbus Pump House 148 Lindsey St. Columbus, IN Tel: 812-799-3587 Architect: William Burd
A low-key man largely defined in public life by his Christian faith, Mr. Pence, 57, is seen as a cautious choice of running mate — a political partner who is unlikely to embarrass Mr. Trump, and who may help him shore up support among conservative voters still wary of his candidacy.
His staunch conservative views on certain social issues, like gay rights and abortion, may inject a new set of concerns into the general election debate that have been largely overlooked with Mr. Trump at the top of the Republican ticket.
For Mr. Trump, selecting Mr. Pence would be a sharp departure from habit, and the surest sign yet that he intends to submit to at least some standard political pressures in the general election.
The Architect's Newspaper will have more on this developing story and what it might mean for the town that has until now avoided this kind of attention.