Stored Potential

[The 62-interlocked concrete silos as seen from I-80, Omaha, Nebraska. Courtesy flickr user bnmelvin.]

It is a typical North American scene: the hulking iconic residue of 20th-century industrial farming sitting there mocking any would-be re-user. Demolition costs are considerable enough that across North America, these monoliths have sat there vacant, unused, and on very few occassions adapted and appropriated. And here is an opportunity for just such an occasion. Emerging Terrain, an organization founded by landscape architect Anne Trumble, is taking on just such a case. At the intersection of I-80 and I-480, a series of 62 sequential interlocked concrete silos forms a massive wall (gate?) at the east end of Omaha. At 180 feet tall, the assembly has undeniable presence, and forms a wall to the some 76,000 cars on I-80 daily.

[New silo skins as represented by Min|Day Architects.]

The Stored Potential competition is seeking proposals for gimongous 20 foot by 80 foot images to reclad the silos rippled surface. The potential for this to trigger development, reuse, and launch a new life for this massive form is potent. Proposals are due May 15. Images will be selected through an open call for submissions, printed to the scale of the enormous structure, hung to wrap the concrete cylinders, and celebrated with a giant dinner on-site at a table for the length of the elevator. If your image is selected, "after residing on the Omaha elevator for 3-4 months, the banners will travel to three other prominent vacant elevators throughout the state." Not a bad way to provoke visionary development and reuse. Get the competition brief PDF here [900k].

I am reminded here of Reyner Banhams homage to these hyper-functional (though mono-functional) masterpieces in his 1989 book A Concrete Atlantis. Banham argues the inherent comparisons between  North American industrial building and the classic modernist architecture of the International Style in Europe. (MIT Press generously offers a sample PDF here. [5.15 MB]) What would you do with curving skin of a silo? How can your idea be both 2D and 3D? How will the massive scale of the image perform and communicate and to whom? How do you look backward to the history of these efficient farming monuments and yet forward to their inevitable new future use? Will they ever represent anything other than nostalgia? Looking forward to seeing the entries in May!

[NL Architects, proposed reuse of the silos on Zeeburgereiland, Netherlands. via Bustler.]

[NL Architects, Zeeburg silos interior void is used as a faceted climbing tower. via Bustler.]

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