Columbus, Indiana, has cultivated a reputation as a center for modern architecture, thanks to local industrialist J. Irwin Miller’s forward-thinking support of progressive architects. A new series of exhibitions set to take shape on the city’s main commercial corridor this fall seeks to honor Miller’s legacy for community engagement.
During the second Exhibit Columbus, a new biennial design event, five design teams will once again participate in the Washington Street Civic Project, a series of street-level installations and projects that reimagine the Indiana city’s downtown and opens on August 24. The studios picked to participate this year—Borderless Studio, Extrapolation Factory, LA-Más, People for Urban Progress, and PienZa Sostenible—represent a cross-section of mission-driven organizations operating in North America, who will explore the theme of “good design and the community.”
“The Washington Street Civic Projects provide a unique lens through which we hope to examine the notion of civic engagement through exhibition,” said Anne Surak, Exhibit Columbus director of exhibitions.
Exhibit Columbus launched in 2017 to celebrate the city’s rich heritage of architecture and urbanism. Set within the confines of a city of less than 50,000, the event proved to be a close-knit collection of events, installations, and architectural dialogues.
This year’s follow-up aims to elevate the community focus of businessman and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller, who used the financial muscle of local firm Cummins to fund numerous design and architecture projects in and around the company’s hometown. Specifically, this year’s Exhibit Columbus will draw inspiration from “Good Design and the Community: Columbus, Indiana,” a 1986 exhibition at the National Building Museum that lionized the Miller family legacy.
With that vision in mind, the teams participating in the Washington Street project will both celebrate and re-envision parts of the downtown fabric, and add a new spin on the Millers’ mission-driven history.
Chicago’s Borderless Studio will contribute Love Letter to the Crump, a visual “love letter” to an Art Deco theater in the beginning stages of being redeveloped and reopened. Utilizing graphic design inspired by the work of Alexander Girard, who famously created his own design scheme for Columbus in the late ’60s, the project will riff on design features of the building.
New York’s Extrapolation Factory will look to the future with its Futures Kiosk, set to be installed at the busy intersection of Washington and Second streets. Playing off its location at a busy civic crossways near city hall and the county courthouse, the installation will collect citizen suggestions, asking for visuals and short, sentence-long descriptions that will be sent to the Mayor’s office.
Los Angeles-based LA-Más also plans to create a space for community engagement with Thank U, Next, a new configurable meeting space for Washington Street. A playful example of placemaking with a configurable table, the space will have a serious purpose, to gather community members across different classes and host a calendar of diverse events showcasing a “bold spirit of inclusivity.”
Indianapolis’s People for Urban Progress has a more abstract idea. To showcase the idea of addition by subtraction, the firm’s Jungle Subtraction project will line an entire city block with strategically placed reflective panels and surfaces on Washington Street.
Finally, Mexico City’s nonprofit PienZa Sostenible, will offer a more naturalistic take on community space with Las Abejas (the bees). Designed in concert with other leading studios such as Tatiana Bilbao Studio and Rozana Montiel Arquitectos, the initiative will locate a series of custom-built beehouses across the city.