American Modern: Architecture, Community – Columbus, Indiana by Matt Shaw - review by Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta

Modernism Comes to Middle America

American Modern: Architecture, Community – Columbus, Indiana


Monacelli 472pp £54.95

Columbus, Indiana, is an unusual spot. Most towns within fifty miles of Indianapolis are internationally known for, well, nothing at all. This one is renowned for a superb collection of modernist buildings, designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, I M Pei, Harry Weese, Kevin Roche, Robert Venturi and many more. Seven of these are US National Historic Landmarks. There’s usually a grandee to thank when modernism ends up in force in a small city – and there is here – but this isn’t the typical tale of a tycoon picking some outré architects to leave the farmers scratching their heads and shaking their pitchforks. 

Columbus has been the subject of a few photographic volumes, and had a prominent turn in Kogonada’s 2017 film named after the place, but it has never had a proper history, a deficit very well remedied by Matt Shaw, a native of the city. He explains how and why a town of fifty thousand grips the imagination. Voluminous photos by Iwan Baan, a Centurion member of the architectural photography jet set, complement the text. 

Columbus, established in 1820 by a general who had fought in the War of 1812, was a rather average town for most of its existence. The founding in 1919 of Cummins Engine Company, which made most of its cash from diesel engine manufacturing (and related pursuits), was a key

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