By Design

Over the past half-century the small town of Columbus, Indiana, has turned itself into a showplace of modern architecture

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"Columbus is very much a part of the American spirit of adventure and experimentation," says Robert W. Duffy, architecture critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It represents "the ambition we as a nation had to express optimism in our buildings."

Despite losing some foot traffic to strip malls on its outskirts, Columbus remains vibrant, drawing 100,000 tourists a year. "Columbus has made architecture a bulwark against those forces," says Kamin.

But not everyone in town is in love with high-end architecture. After the school board proposed to spend $115 million in 2000 on schools designed by prominent firms, some residents rejected the plan for several reasons, among them expensive architecture. A scaled-back plan for the schools finally passed late last year, but Columbus' architecture skirmishes are likely to continue. "About every 25 years, people get excited and get on the civic bandwagon," says former mayor Bob Stewart. "Then they get complacent."

Lynn Bigley, a Columbus native who leads tours of the city, remains a supporter. "When I look back I can see we got real value for the architecture," she says. "We have a theme in the community. It ties us together."


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