Oh Cummins Engine Company….I’m probably one of the only kids from Columbus who didn’t have a parent that worked for them growing up. However, without Cummins and J. Irwin Miller, it’s highly likely I would not have become an architect. Miller’s foresight and Saarinen’s vision shaped the Columbus we see today – and everyone should go to Exhibit Columbus this fall. I’m super excited about it.
Now to the architecture part – in the early 80’s Cummins built a corporate headquarters designed by Kevin Roche. What makes this building different than the spate of Corporate Campuses that sprouted in the 60s and 70s spearheaded by Roche’s boss (in the 50s/early 60s) Eero Saarinen? Well one, it’s not in a horrible suburb. Two, it’s contextual shaping itself around the historic Cerealine building. Three, it gives a part of itself back to the community through green space. Wait, what? Yeah. Roche knew what he was doing.
The building itself consists of precast concrete and glazing and is very modern in nature. The building’s program, as well as the Cerealine building and the open space given back to Columbus, shape the building by carving into and adding onto a standardized grid allowing for interest on the exterior and optimization of the precast kit of parts. Then, in quite a subversive move for an architect, landscape takes over. Ivy creeps up panels and columns and begins to camouflage the building. This was a great move by Roche and landscape architect Jack Curtis. It begins to tie everything together and helps soften a facade that could have been severe and oppressive if left unadorned.
The beauty of the modular system is that it allows variation to create special moments. The enlarged porte cochere entry with great shadow play from skylights and trellis. The arcade along Jackson Street (an extension of Roche’s US Post Office arcade from a decade earlier). Everyone and their mother in Columbus gets engagement photos under this arcade (my sister did). When program inside the building calls for it, the relationship of precast panel and glazing inverts to allow larger views out to the landscape. Concrete – check. Rationality – check. Special moments – check.
The Cummins Corporate Office Building is a great example of a corporation giving back to the community through architecture, even with all of the architecture in Columbus being an example of Cummins giving back. By the 80s, Cummins had done a lot for Columbus but they continued to do more. While I have issues with their handling of Saarinen’s Irwin Union Bank and it being relatively closed to the public now which negates its design, Cummins continues to give back to Columbus. As the next phase/generation of Columbus architecture begins, I can only hope that Cummins continues to be a patron because I want to be part of it. What architect doesn’t want to build in their hometown and stand next to Saarinen, Pei, Venturi, Weese, and more?