Discovery Will Develop
By: By GLENDA H. CAUDLE – Special Features Editor
“This will be almost like an embryo,” Douglas Cardinal said as he physically defined a small space with his hands and then began to enlarge it.
He was explaining the design and construction process associated with the Discovery center, which the Canadian architect and his team are charged with building in Obion County over the next 2 1/2 years.
“It will develop like a series of cells — almost like a living being. We’ll be working from the inside out, so we need to know how it will function on the inside,” he said.
It is to determine that “operating” procedure that Cardinal, his son and fellow architect Bret Cardinal and architect and senior project manager Mark Conley have returned to Union City three weeks after their local introduction to the Discovery Visioning Team.
Cardinal, whose architectural visions soar, has made clear his commitment to buildings that defy convention — both in terms of design and construction process — and that contribute in a substantive way to “telling the story” that is important to the community that will nurture the project.
Union Citians Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland, whose foundation will underwrite and a large portion of the $100 million Discovery undertaking, have been thinking about a concept that would rest on three “legs” — education, entertainment and tourist magnetism — for some time. As they realized their dreams could, indeed, become reality, they approached others in their hometown — including members of the Obion County Museum board of directors — and benefited from their interest and contacts in blocking out some basic plans for the project.
Beyond the lodestar structure to house objects and encourage visions, the Discovery venture will also include a new 800-1,000 seat civic center to be underwritten by the City of Union City, an arboretum and possibly a greenhouse and a “working” pioneer village.
Initial contact with local and state officials has resulted in discussion of placing a tourism or “welcome” center on, or in proximity, to the Discovery property. Both Rep. Phillip Pinion, who represents this district in the Tennessee House of Representatives and is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and this district’s state Senator Roy Herron have expressed their admiration of the vision and their support of the project. Joining them have been Gov. Phil Bredesen, U.S. Congressman John Tanner and several state tourism and industry officials. A delegation from Union City will be returning to Nashville this week to address the welcome center issue in more depth.
A tourism center would be a standard feature for the I-69 superhighway from Canada to Mexico that will run through this area. The 50-acre Discovery complex will occupy a site between that new highway and Everett Boulevard, across that highway from Union City Second Baptist Church and just south of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. facility. Kirkland and city officials hope the welcome center can be a complementary feature to Discovery rather than being placed at the state line, where such structures are often situated.
What has been done
Cardinal and his team were brought on board after the Kirklands and board members considered architects for a project they wanted to have “Wow” potential.
During their first community visit, the Canadians spent three days with members of the Visioning Team put together by the foundation to consider basic concepts and ideas for the project.
Following those sessions and a wrap-up meeting to which all local citizens with an interest in the proposal were invited, the project founders set about organizing the “applications” from those who had heard about Discovery and wanted to develop the vision. Chairmen were named for the 13 “theme” committees that emerged from sessions with the architectural team — alternative energy (Jimmy Cagle), art gallery (Polly Putman), botanical gardens/arboretum (Betty Smith), enlightenment (Bart White), exploration room (Nancy Baldridge), military displays/history (Newell Graham), Native American (Bill Lawrence), natural history (Dr. Mike Gibson), pioneer village (Charlie Grooms), regional history (Terry Huffstetler and co-chair Allen Nohsey), science/technology/medical (Don Hutson), temporary exhibits (Tracey Batey) and transportation history (Lee Fry).
Additional committees were named and charged with helping to create, promote and sustain the project. These include the board of directors (Kirkland is chairman), the convention center committee (city councilman Johnny Bacon is chairman), the endowment/grants/foundations fundraising committee (Art Sparks is chairman), the finance committee (Al Creswell is chairman), marketing committee (Mary Nita Bondurant is chairman), the tourism center committee (a probable state appointment for chairman), the Discovery Center board of directors (Larry Mink is the present chairman), the activities committee (Kristen Miles is chairman), the audio-visual committee (Mark Lowrance is chairman) and the gift shop committee (Jill Emmons is chairman).
Those committees met in a joint session Thursday and got their marching orders from Kirkland and board of directors president Jim Rippy. (See a related photo slide show at www.nwtntoday.com.)
“Whether or not this is a success depends on the committees,” Kirkland told those who gathered at the Hampton Centré in Union City.
The committees’ responsibilities include:
• inventorying present Obion County Museum artifacts;
• establishing a “vision” of the theme associated with the committee;
• listing artifacts needed to fulfill the vision;
• contacting those who have access to such artifacts and attempting to secure them for the Discovery project;
• conceptualizing exhibits that will appeal to each of the five senses;
• supervising the transportation and installation of the artifacts;
• presenting funding needs to the appropriate committees;
• assisting with funding efforts for each committee’s area of interest;
• acknowledging all “gifts” from donors or lenders;
• determining goals “for today, tomorrow and 50 years into the future.”
Since that session, most of the groups (in particular, the theme committees) have managed to stage additional brainstorming sessions and have tried to meet goals Cardinal asked them to consider at his earlier visit. These included verbalizing each committee’s vision for their Discovery area of influence; listing a proposal of exhibit content; developing a story line for each theme; estimating the size space required to bring that theme to life; considering equipment that might be needed to make the project workable; envisioning space relationships, organizational flow, traffic and usage and possible timetables; and thinking in terms of “a day in the life of your room.”
Monday night, the architects met the public once again at the Obion County Public Library and answered questions that emerged from those committee sessions. They also showed sketches of some preliminary layouts for the complex.
On Tuesday, the team began 90-minute sessions with the individual committees who are reporting on their work to them.
These will continue through Thursday morning.
From these encounters, Cardinal says he will gain a deeper understanding of the proposal that will allow him to begin to work in a more directed fashion with the embryonic concepts he gained at the first public meetings.
While the innovative architect has presented some exterior sketches to those who have attended the sessions staged over the past three weeks, he stresses that these will not represent a final draft. His contract requires that he ultimately present three proposals for the project for review and selection by the board.
The information he is gaining this week will determine the interior layout of the project and those dimensions will, in turn, shape the structure that will rise from the plot of land that Union City’s founder, Gen. George Gibbs, selected as his homestead in the mid-19th century.
Gibbs broke new ground physically — a pioneer with a vision.
Cardinal, the Kirklands and the community have the opportunity to break new ground, as well — the opportunity to become pioneers themselves, “Discovering” endless possibilities for the future.
Published in The Messenger 11.07.07