The town of Picher, Oklahoma, offers a range of spatial conditions that support speculative design projects.
On the most basic level, the town is “at risk of cave-ins” due to the “abandoned mines beneath the city”; this means that “trucks traveling along the highway are diverted around Picher for fear that the hollowed-out mines under the town would cause the streets to collapse under the weight of big rigs.”
Further, the now-defunct lead mines generated so much waste that the town is now surrounded by massive artificial mountain ranges of carcinogenic material called “chat,” as the creation of voids beneath the streets generated surreal landforms on the city’s edge. Third, a great deal of the town was destroyed in a tornado in 2008—and that’s all in addition to the fact that the town is under voluntary buy-out for the U.S. government, as it is considered too dangerous to live there.
[Images: Photos of Picher’s artificial landforms, courtesy of the USGS].
In any case, Brandon Mosley, a recent graduate from Louisiana Tech University, explored some possible future architectures for the town of Picher.
Mosley specifically proposes a kind of museum of abandoned mines, inserted directly into one of the old entry shafts.
The local history of the region can thus be physically re-experienced, as well as visually represented, with museum visitors descending into the old mineworks along a spiraling ramp that has been inserted into the earth.
It functions like a giant periscope in reverse, peering down into the planet, as the ramp leads visitors into the darkness of an open cavern where, standing atop a glass floor, they can gaze out into the artificially generated terrestrial void that surrounds them.
There is even a camera obscura there, for projecting images of Picher’s current, semi-ruined state on the walls of the underground space, powerfully placing blame on these subterranean excavations for serving as the engine of the town’s ill health and eventual demise. This is the landscape your creation destroyed, the project would seem to say.
As an idea for spatially explaining to visitors a region’s economic and environmental history, this is a powerful and intriguing idea; and, as an architectural form—a more interesting version of the so-called groundscraper in Mexico City that’s been making the rounds online recently—Mosley’s project has much to recommend it. A museum of the earth, drilled into the earth.
(Earlier on BLDGBLOG: Tar Creek Supergrid).