From where we stand, the curved gray and green surfaces of Henry Moore’s Large Arch seem to enfold architect Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church. The 1942 building, with its starkly upright, rectangular design, appears much more contemporary than it really is.
Saarinen’s church foreshadowed a revolution instigated by local businessman J. Irwin Miller. In the 1950s, he launched a program to subsidize public buildings with the stipulation that they be designed by great architects. He wanted to foster a world-class community, and he helped fund the investment in the town because he believed that, “Mediocrity is expensive.”
The result is a town filled with more than 70 buildings created by famed architects, giving Columbus (a city of 45,000) a skyline that mixes 20th-century masterpieces with 19th-century structures. That means the anchor of any weekend in Columbus (45 miles south of Indianapolis) should be an architecture tour.
Architecture tours Options include a free self-guided tour you can download to your smartphone; a bus tour with volunteer guides; a downtown walking tour and a tour of the Eero Saarinen-designed Miller House and Garden Tour. Get information and tickets through the visitors center. Book guided tours in advance. columbus.in.us
Kidcommons Exhibits give kids a chance to play with design concepts. The perhaps less intellectually stimulating toilet wlide (which flushes as you slide down) draws giggles. kidscommons.org
Mill Race Park Explore the 85-acre riverfront park with trails and a covered bridge. columbus.in.gov
Where to eat
450 North Brewing Company/Simmons Winery Beers like the smooth Pothole porter pair with pizzas cooked in a brick oven at this gem surrounded by vineyards and farmland. (812) 546-0091; 450northbrewing.com
4th Street Bar and Grill Breaded pork tenderloins share the menu with unexpected pub grub like mahimahi tacos and burgers with kimchi. (812) 376-7063; 4thstreetbar.com
The Garage Pub and Grill Enjoy live entertainment with your standout pub food and 14 beers on tap. (812) 418-8918; thegaragepubandgrill.com
Smith’s Row A Columbus-based haven of fine dining. (812) 373-9382; smithsrow.com
Tre Bicchieri The name is Italian for "three glasses," but there's much more to love than the extensive wine list. Don't miss the walnut-encurted goat cheese appetizer. (812) 372-1962; trebicchieri-columbus.com
Zaharakos Enjoy any combo of eight flavors of handmade ice cream while a 1908 self-playing pipe organ plays old tunes under the glow of Tiffany-style lamps at this 116-year-old soda fountain. (812) 378-1900; zaharakos.com
Where to stay
Hotel Indigo Midcentury modern touches show in the lobby's Saarinen-designed womb chairs at this 85-room hotel. Nature-inspired artwork decorates rooms. (812) 375-9100; hotelindigo.com
Inn at Irwin Gardens Built in 1910, the Italianate-style inn features original Edwardian furnishings and sunken gardens designed to resemble the ruins of Pompeii. Breakfast includes fresh-baked rolls, egg dishes and parfaits. (812) 376-3663; irwingardens.com