Editorial: Airport tower design another landmark in making

Mike Wolanin | The Republic A rendering shows the new Columbus Regional Airport control tower during an unveiling ceremony at Columbus Regional Airport on June 25.

Aviation and architecture are important to Columbus, and a development announced recently will further both legacies for generations to come.

Airport and city officials recently gathered for the unveiling of a new airport tower design that embraces elements of style expected for a landmark public structure here while also meeting current and future needs at the burgeoning airport.

A new control tower for the airport has been needed for years, and after securing funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Cummins Foundation Architecture Program awarded a grant for the design by Fayetteville, Arkansas-based firm Marlon Blackwell Architects.

What the firm designed for Columbus is a structure that captures the spirit of flight and promises to be a sight to behold. As The Republic’s Brad Davis reported, the tower’s designers describe their intent to create a functional building that also reflects a “kaleidoscope of light.”

“The northern and southern sides of the tower will be made of low-luster stainless steel to pick up on the temperature of the light, so depending on the sun, its color will change.

“’If you catch the sunrise, you have a kind of pinkish light, if you catch the sunset, it has much more orange-purples and other types of spectrum of light,’” architect Blackwell said.

This inventive design also stands to be something of a legacy piece for Blackwell, who said he has been coming to Columbus for more than three decades, bringing his students from the University of Arkansas on field trips to get a taste of our city’s architectural flavor.

Davis reported that Blackwell said the top priority in designing the tower “was to ensure the controllers and airport staff who will spend countless hours there have ‘a dignified and functional work environment.’

“The design is really inspired by the spirit of flight and aviation,” Blackwell said of his firm’s creation.

From its origins as an Army air base in the 1940s, the current Columbus Municipal Airport has only grown over time. By 2022, the airport reported more than 55,000 total operations — up from 36,000 a dozen years earlier — making Columbus the fourth busiest towered airport in Indiana. And airport Director Brian Payne said the facility is on pace this year to top more than 60,000 operations for the first time.

The soaring use of the airport adds urgency to a long-sought replacement of a tower that dates to the Eisenhauer administration and is far behind current FAA standards.

Mayor Mary Ferdon noted Columbus’ heritage “has been to create and design structures, which are not only functional, but make us think and dream and enhance our lives in ways that we don’t expect” and thanked Marlon Blackwell Architects for their efforts.

We can’t wait to see the finished work in 2027.