It is no secret that towns and cities in Indiana and throughout the Midwest have struggled to remain vibrant and relevant in the face of numerous contemporary economic and social challenges. Columbus, though certainly not immune to the macro forces acting on our region, has fared differently.
The history is well known: In the second half of the 20th century, business leaders like J. Irwin Miller saw the benefit of investing in the arts, design and architecture—giving the city an exceptional sense of place and making it one of the most architecturally important cities in the United States.
Its collection of modern architecture includes works by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Harry Weese, I.M. Pei, Richard Meier, Robert Venturi and Deborah Berke. This small city of 45,000 has more than 80 modernist works of architecture, design, art and landscape, and was nicknamed “The Athens of the Prairie” by Lady Bird Johnson.
What should cities like Columbus become in the 21st century and how can new approaches and partnerships bring them renewed and continuing vibrancy and innovation?
Over the past couple of years, the community of Columbus and Indiana University in Bloomington have partnered to implement a new vision for architectural education that will build upon the rich history of modernism and leverage it as a living laboratory for design discovery and invention. We have created a master of architecture program—called M.Arch—through the School of Art, Architecture and Design, that will prove to be a significant economic driver for Columbus and the entire region. We see this as an opportunity to reimagine the links between art, architecture and the city, and to encourage students to become civic-minded, innovative and imaginative world thinkers.
We have considered how the city’s assets can be fully integrated into the educational program:
• Students should become members of the community, not just periodic visitors. M.Arch is primarily housed in Columbus, allowing for an in-depth experience.
• Columbus is a scalable modernist mecca and a wonderful experiential environment for direct observation and study.
• The city is known for its strength in fabrication technology, and this has been embedded into the curriculum. The program offers simultaneous studies in architectural design and art without ignoring the importance of technology and fabrication.
• Columbus has a Stakeholder Engagement Process used to build coalitions to tackle complex problems. This process will be taught to the students by community experts.
• We have prioritized collaborations with industry. M.Arch will incorporate projects and workshops that put students and business leaders side-by-side to solve the complex problems.
The program will provide an experience for students and community members that is about living and learning in a city—seeing it each day in a different light and building a personal, curated inventory of its most memorable experiences. This comprehensive education will meld the design of the built environment with underlying issues of culture, creativity and a unique world view.
Columbus is already known for its public/private partnerships. Enhancing that history by building a deep relationship with a robust educational partner around the city’s legacy of architectural excellence will result in significant evolution for both Columbus and Indiana University. We fully expect that this will not only meet the challenges of the 21st century, but define the future as well.