The little town of Columbus, Indiana has earned itself a big reputation when it comes to architecture. Ranked 6th in the nation for architectural innovation and design by the American Institute of Architects, Columbus is often mentioned in the same breath as much larger cities like Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Among other accolades, the Smithsonian Magazine has called Columbus a “veritable museum of modern architecture.”
One of the best ways to see what all the fuss is about is via a guided bus tour of the city’s most notable architectural attractions. All told, this interesting and informative two-hour journey covers nearly 70 buildings and pieces of public art from an impressive roster of renowned architects, designers and artists. I.M. Pei, Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen, Richard Meier, Harry Weese, Dale Chihuly, Henry Moore — the gang’s all here.
The bus tours of Columbus architecture start and end at the recently-renovated downtown Columbus Area Visitors Center (see photo above), where guests can browse a vast inventory of artsy gift items and souvenirs before and after their excursions. A short video kicks off the tours with a little back story on how Columbus became the architectural powerhouse it is today, and offers a quick primer on some of the buildings you might glimpse along the way.
You’re sure to see quite a few distinctive churches on this tour, including the boxy First Christian Church with its imposing clock tower across from the I.M. Pei designed Bartholomew County Public Library (check out the Henry Moore sculpture out front), the circular St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, and the almost-alien soaring spire of North Christian Church. Other structures worth singling out include the handsome Bartholomew County Courthouse, the retro Fire Station No. 1 (see photos, below), the Cummins Inc. headquarters and the former Irwin Union Bank. Several stops offer opportunities to get off the bus, stretch your legs and venture inside buildings for unique vantage points and additional photo ops. Even if you’re not an architecture buff per se, most folks still find the unusual structures and historical aspects of the tour highly interesting.
Be aware, this bus tour is geared more toward adult passengers; kids are likely to get a little bored and antsy during the ride. If you’ve got little ones tagging along, the self-guided walking tour of downtown architectural landmarks might be a better option, followed by a stop at kidscommons children’s museum, some active time on the Luckey Climber at the Commons (photo below), and an ice cream break at Zaharako’s.
The bus tour of Columbus architecture is $20 per person. Reservations are a smart idea, as seats are limited and tend to fill up well in advance. For a schedule of tour dates, times and other information, go to www.columbus.in.us.