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AIA Indiana and Kentucky Webinar Introduces The Somewhere Project to Local Architects

by: Jack Quigley
AIA Indiana recently collaborated with AIA Kentucky to host a webinar about The Somewhere Project. The Somewhere Project is an initiative that aims to redevelop abandoned coal mines into areas that promote education and creativity.

Founder and Project Manager, Brook Smith, first introduced professors at the University of Kentucky to The Somewhere Project. Smith came across a sculpture in Belgium called Kreupelhout-Cripplewood, 2012-2013 which to him, perfectly represented the displaced economy of eastern Appalachia caused by the decline of the coal industry. Despite its seemingly wounded and despaired appearance, the 59-foot-long sculpture created from a fallen tree represented the promise of re-emergence to Smith and became the centerpiece for the project’s first rehabilitation effort.

His team then identified an abandoned former coal processing plant that had old mining equipment sprawled across the site and decided Cripplewood would be a perfect symbol of rebirth for that area. They contacted professors Brent Sturlaugson, AIA, and Jeffrey R. Johnson about working on the project with a combination of undergraduate and graduate architecture students.

Studio Structure and Design Process
The design process for this rehabilitation initiative began with two studios made up of undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Kentucky. Each class researched the complexities of the site and heard from local experts to understand the region’s history before designing any new structures.

“Students did an amazing amount of research and development in forming the foundation of the project itself,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he provided students with examples of similar post-industrial rehabilitation projects to give them ideas for this project. Students studied area demographics and cultural patterns that shaped the site’s landscape with the help of community members. Rooms full of 30 to 40 people from surrounding communities provided students with an expertise of the area they were developing and identified potential hurdles they might face during their design process. Through their conversations with these local experts and community members, students decided they wanted to preserve much of the holdover mining infrastructure in the new site design.

Student Projects
Such a massive rehabilitation project required students to divide responsibilities when designing various structures on the site. One of these projects is the visitor center where guests will be greeted as they first arrive on site. Kate Schafer, a student who worked on the design for the visitor center, said she and her classmates wanted to ensure that the site’s existing topography is not manipulated too much by new structures.
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Winding roads formed by the impact of heavy coal mining machinery will still function as pathways from the visitor center to other areas on site. As visitors continue on through the site, they will come across a farm-to-table restaurant that will emphasize the importance of local production. Olivia Braun, an undergraduate student who designed the restaurant space, said she wanted this area to give visitors a chance to interact with their food and learn more about where it comes from.

“There’s a fish farm and greenhouse in the restaurant to show patrons where their food is actually coming from,” Braun said.

Near the farm-to table-restaurant will stand the 11,000-square-foot Cripplewood pavilion where visitors can view the Cripplewood sculpture. Representing death and rebirth, the Cripplewood sculpture will sit in a pavilion that’s form was inspired by the land where the structure stands. When walking into the structure, graduate student Lauren Osborn said visitors can follow a path to the sculpture that slopes slightly downward, creating an atmosphere where viewers cannot see the sculpture until they are in the viewing room. The sculpture will be illuminated by natural light and the rest of the viewing space will be dimly lit per the request of the sculptor, who thought Cripplewood is best presented without artificial lighting.

Another structure planned for the site is called the cultural and media center. Here, cross laminated timber floors and dips in landscape will pay homage to the site’s history while simultaneously creating a stark contrast between existing structures and new buildings.

“Because of the destructive nature of the sites past, I wanted to create new forms that blend in and highlight the natural beauty of the landscape” said Emerson Mudd, a student who designed this portion of the project. “Dialogue between existing and new structures creates an interesting juxtaposition. One is an old rusted metal box with hard edges and little room for ambiguity, where the other is a timber-based fluid form that blurs the line between where landscape ends and building begins.”

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This building will include three main floors that together provide spaces that inspire art and creation. A dedicated sound booth on the third floor can be used for broadcasts and sound production, while an art gallery on the second floor will showcase local artists while providing a bird’s eye view of the valley where old mining equipment resides.

Close to the media center will be an education center museum designed by graduate student Jane Foote and other classmates. Here, people can spectate the original structure of the plant in a more educational setting. This circular structure, called “The Ring,” provides an area where visitors can look at old mining equipment while learning more about the coal mining industry through a collection of artworks and relics from regional artists and donors. Foote said her design of this structure and her classmates’ designs of similar structures on the site collectively aim to shift the historical narrative of the area by allowing visitors to explore the site how it once functioned.

“The plant itself serves as a constant reminder of the coal mining industry, the people it served, the country it powered, and the economic and environmental destruction it caused,” Foote said.

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