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Architect’s goal: ‘Wow’ moments for museum visitors

Architect’s goal: ‘Wow’ moments for museum visitors

By: Glenda Caudle

Architect’s goal: ‘Wow’ moments for museum visitors | Museum visitors, Discovery Park of America, Robert Kirkland

Looking over the site with some preliminary architectural drawings in hand were (from left) Larry Mink, Robert Kirkland, Douglas Cardinal, Jean Bell, John Bell, Bret Cardinal, Mark Conley and Polly Putman.
Special Features Editor
“Wow” moments.
That’s what Canadian architects Douglas Cardinal, Bret Cardinal and Mark Conley want to offer people whose “lively” pursuits bring them near Union City.
And that is exactly what Robert and Jenny Kirkland had in mind when they first dreamed of, and then decided actually to build, Discovery Park of America.
The “Wows” have, in fact, already begun — with the breaking of the news that the Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation would be partially funding the $100 million museum and garden and green area and working toward a partnership with local, state and national government to add a conference and convention center and state-of-the-art visitors’ center for those traversing the new I-69 from Canada to Mexico.
More exclamations of delight have emerged from the meetings of the local Visioning Team put together by Kirkland as the local citizens have invested time and creativity in day-long meetings with the visiting museum designers. These began Tuesday at the Obion County Museum and will continue through Thursday as the group considers concepts and ideas and works at creating both a carefully prioritized “wish list” and the best plan for sharing their dreams on an ongoing basis in the future with local citizens and guests from around the world.
Internationally-recognized architect Douglas Cardinal and his team are guiding the committee as they discuss possibilities. Although Cardinal had already presented some initial drawings for the museum, he says these sessions will help him get a better sense of exactly how the building should look and how it can best fulfill its role in showcasing the exhibits.
Working with him as he guides the committee through their deliberations are his son and the vice president of Douglas Cardinal Architect Inc., Bret Cardinal, and senior project manager Mark Conley.
Conley will be a frequent traveler to this area as work progresses on the museum, but all three will be in up-to-the-minute contact with the contractor carrying out the actual work on the ground through the wonders of technology. Cardinal’s use of the computer-aided drafting autoCAD system allows an ongoing hands-on approach for his entire team as the task of birthing the museum progresses.
While the trio of Canadians does not normally take on projects quite this far below the border, Cardinal says Discovery Park of America represents a unique opportunity for him and he relishes the opportunity.
“I have a special feeling and relationship for people of the South because that’s where I received my education,” says this graduate of the University of Texas. “The foundation of my career came from the South and I feel a tremendous connection to it. This is a wonderful opportunity to serve people of the area and this is a really amazing project.”
That “service” project will elicit an ongoing chorus of “Wows” as Cardinal’s vision takes shape on the broad expanse of farm land fronting Everett Boulevard across from Union City Second Baptist Church.
He speaks in terms of a structure that can be seen for miles before curious travelers reach a point where they can exit the busy roadways to check it out.
A structure that will literally beg to be explored.
A structure unlike anything conceived before.
If his initial drawings and the slides of his projects already completed in major cities in the U.S. and Canada are an indication, he can deliver exactly what he proposes.
“I understand that Union City came into being because of the crossing of two railroad lines,” he told the Visioning Committee Tuesday afternoon as they reviewed the museum prospectus that contains starting-point sketches. “I could see a rail line running through the site and I thought it should be the spine or the backbone of the new structure. This ‘spine look’ could reach toward the sky and be connected — in the abstract — to flight, with wings reaching on to the heavens. I wanted to use this idea of connectedness and looking to the future while being firmly anchored in the past — looking up with optimism for our children.”
The prospectus was developed with the goal of enticing state and local government entities to come on board.
At Tuesday night’s council meeting in Union City, the vote to do so as supporters of an adjoining convention and civic center was unanimous.
Chalk up another “Wow.”
Local supporters are encouraged, too, at the initial response from state officials who have been approached about a state-of-the-art visitors center for the new super highway on the 50-acre museum site recently purchased from the Hardy Graham estate.
That site, it happens, is the original property owned by the city’s founder, Gen. George Gibbs. He is the great-great-grandfather of Union Citian John Bell. Bell and his wife, Jean, are among those working with the Visioning Committee.
Cardinal told the group he had also noted the importance of the land and its rich vegetation and the vital role of water in the region. His concepts take such natural gifts into account and incorporate them into both the design and the actual functioning of the buildings he creates.
With numerous awards to his credit — including Canada’s most coveted honor, The Order of Canada,” and the 2001 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts — Cardinal demands a total commitment to excellence. He has been given credit for creating an indigenous Canadian style of architecture that manifests in curvilinear, organic buildings such as the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec. More than a repository of history related to the nation, this building plays host to virtually every visiting head of state and exalted guest of the country because of its dramatic impact.
Cardinal is also the mind behind the design of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
Locally, he envisions an intimate space as the entrance to Discovery Park of America’s museum — something “welcoming” he says.
But then, he wants to break all the rules and create another major “Wow” for the “celebrating” space or grand hall from which visitors will move to the rooms being sketched verbally by the Visioning Team this week.
“Museums are almost like modern cathedrals,” the architect says. “They should be an inspiring space. We should feel uplifted and our spirits should soar. That’s what I feel we can do here — especially for the children. I want children to feel ‘We are amazing. Look what we can do.’ We need to be reminded we are great created beings — we are children of God. I want this space to lift people up and make their day.”
All that and the fun is really just beginning.
Mrs. Caudle may be contacted at Published in The Messenger 10.17.07

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