Pritzker Prize laureate Kevin Roche makes an appearance on the Columbus countdown.
Still working at age 96, Kevin Roche is perhaps America's most unassuming practitioner of modernism. During a career spanning several decades, the Irish-born architect has designed an almost dizzying array of work- from glass pyramids to soaring atriums and tiered concrete gardens. Garnering praise for early projects like the Oakland Museum and the Ford Foundation Headquarters before receiving some ridicule for what came next (his role as "the favorite architect of Corporate America"), Roche does not fit a rigid mold. He is an architect perpetually unconcerned with the boundaries of style, an always inventive problem-solver that defies categorization and demonstrates a kind of individual expression (much like his mentor Eero Saarinen) that yields innovation and variety.
Though the 1980's are rarely considered Roche's most successful decade (critics seem to prefer his work of the 60s and 70s), his design for the Cummins Engine Corporation Headquarters remains emblematic of the architect's willingness to merge buildings, landscapes, and communities. Located in the heart of Columbus' downtown, just across the street from the Federal Post Office (also designed by Roche), the Cummins building is a massive corporate complex, its distinctive zigzag form carved into the whole of three city blocks. Completed by 1985, the building serves as the company's world headquarters, housing approximately 1,000 employees within its smooth concrete walls.
Integrated into the surrounding community, the Cummins headquarters feels monumental without feeling overwhelming or theatrical. Instead of an atmosphere of corporate oppression, a quiet fusion of architecture and environment melds into the existing grid. Occupying its entire site, the precast concrete complex is undoubtedly modern- though its arrangement around the historic Cerealine Building (an 1875 mill that housed the earliest Cummins Engine offices) pays homage to the city's history. In a radical move, the older Italianate building becomes the centerpiece of the Late Modernist headquarters, its simple brick form encompassed by a leafy public park (designed by Connecticut-based landscape architect Jack Curtis). Here, the juxtaposition of modern and traditional is surprisingly effective. Covered in ivy, the window-banded concrete form feels like a recently unearthed artifact, its hard surfaces and sharp corners softened by the lush landscape overtaking the space.
Shaped by its corporate program, Roche's design provides a string of communal moments- the corner entrance of the building that cuts away in a welcoming gesture, a shady arcade of columns that continues the rhythm of the street, and an artificial lake that provides a place for play and reflection. All of these moments are carefully choreographed to be experienced by both the Cummins employee and the community member. It is architecture intimately connected to its context with spatial experiences steeped in humanism and environment. Today, this approach to landscape and structure seems startlingly prescient (Apple's new headquarters, anyone?).
Stretching approximately 200,000 square feet, the design's plan employs an open office system with enclosed offices reserved for the company's top executives. Windows and mirrored spandrels offer a feeling of spaciousness, while skylights provide soft natural light to the chain of workspaces. Views of the park are exploited, giving workers a psychological break from office culture. Working to establish a strong public image, the Cummins headquarters is bold, muscular, and ambitious, a corporate cathedral shaping its community as it fills out a succession of city blocks from corner to corner. It is truly a fascinating building in a town full of architectural icons.
Last year, the Cummins Corporation began a $50 million renovation on Roche's Columbus campus with work to be completed in 2019. But even under construction, the complex is still worth experiencing, so add this one to your list.
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