So, OK, maybe calling it the “Singing Silo” is a poetic push – a wishful search for an almost analytical alliteration in the already name-soaked Parklands of Floyd Fork.
But this is a silo of a different sort. Its days as a steady supplier of corn silage on the old Jean family dairy farm on Stout Road have ceased.
Standing high on a grassy hill – and painted the now iconic pale yellow of its Parklands brethren – it’s become the carefully designed welcome piece at the multi-purpose Brown-Forman Silo Center at Turkey Run Park to be opened later this year.
It’s also somewhat unexpected. It draws immediate attention because its rounded dome is curiously detached from its body, floating above it on metal poles. It’s a gap both inviting and a little alien until your understand that park guests will someday soon be allowed to climb up there to enjoy the view.
But can it actually sing? Well, for a silo, it comes pretty close. When the wind is right the dome will hum a bit in several original octaves – even changing tunes as the wind shifts.
Then there are the bouncing, metallic echoes that come with climbing the 106 spiral-staircase steps attached to its inner walls – a reverberating, medium-metal music created with light-gray, galvanized steel.
All gently spoken words – and the occasionally, irrepressible whistle or shout – get magnified in this concrete echo chamber, then fade away toward the daylight at the top – think 20 by 60-foot pipe organ.
Once inside, the silo feels and sounds even bigger than that; maybe more like being inside a drum. Then, at the top, the open, 360-degree view of the rolling Parklands landscape is worth a song – especially with the understanding the silo’s copper-tinted, inner dome will be illuminated at night creating a glow to be seen for miles.
And finally the words you whisper up into one side of the dome are easily heard on the other side – sliding their way along the inner curve of the dome.
So, yeah, there is some music to be made up there.
But what made this day’s journey even more fun was that the silo’s prime designer, Cate Noble, formerly of Bravura Architecture, was climbing those metal steps to the top for the first time.
She had made a preliminary site visit – looking up at a 60-foot cement column with wooden doors while thinking circular stairs and distant vistas.
But it’s one thing to spend a couple days making a make a 3-D model, do research on other similar silo situations around the country and spend months drawing up the elaborate, detailed plans while only hearing bit-by-bit details of its actual construction – all that from a distance.
It’s another to be actually walking up inside the thing you created – having lived with and thought about it for years.
“Cool,” was her first word on the finished product once she finally got to climb the stairs.
Bravura President Jim Walters said the silo had been on one drawing board or another a long time. The first Parklands master plan going back to 2007-08 included the silo as a viewing area – although a 2009 plan to create an exterior climbing wall on it was eventually eliminated.
The gentle genius of the plan was to attach the spiraling stairs to the inner walls of the silo and not to a center pole. This allows climbers to peer down into the bottom as they climb up, albeit well-protected by a 42-inch double railing in the lovely diffuse light.
Each metal step is almost four-feet wide, with only a six-inch rise to the next one, making the climb easy. You can linger a bit on the landings, peering up and down, take in the sound effects, anticipate the view at the top – a place from which you can also look straight down the silo’s center and see the decorative drainage grate 60 feet below.
“A lot of different people had good input into the process,” said Walters, “but Cate took over on the design development stage as the project architect and brought it to the finished product; working out the design details, code compliance, materials, final drawings and construction coordination.”
A Louisville Eastern High School and University of Kentucky graduate in architecture, Noble, 32, found her calling early in life – at an eighth grade job fair for which she did research on professional architecture.
Already involved in painting, drawing and photography, all those skills would all meld together into an architecture career.
“I just knew I wanted to do that,” she said. “I always liked problem solving.”
Her talents were soon recognized and appreciated. She applied for a job with a Chicago architecture firm during her final exams at UK, had an interview, and was immediately offered a job.
“Could you start tomorrow,” she was asked?
“Give me a week,” she answered, “I don’t live here.”
She worked there and at another Chicago firm designing multi-million-dollar estate homes. She came back to Louisville in 2009 when the housing market collapsed, and was immediately hired by Bravura – a company where she had also applied while at UK.
Her first Bravura assignment?
It was to convert a silo into an observation tower with a spiral staircase for The Parklands of Floyds Fork – a long time Bravura client and partner.
The silo will only be part of the Brown-Forman Silo Center, which will also include a renovated tobacco barn to host events and weddings, walking trails, bathroom facilities and sheltered picnic pavilions created from the long troughs where dairy cows once dined on silage from the silo.
Noble was also involved in designing all of that.
“The hardest part,” she said, “was thinking through the details, the trial and error process of things like where to put the columns supporting the stairs.”
Those details included testing the strength of the silo walls; silage had pushed them out; the stairways would pull them inward.
She discovered the only way to get a good 360-degree view of the landscape was to have the final landing from the stairs to bridge right across the center to the top level – a sudden right hand turn if you will.
Safety was a constant concern.
“We will have a light over every landing to provide lighting during the day,” she said.
The concept to copper-tint the underside of the dome to provide the night lighting just showed up one day.
“I saw this really cool light fixture,” she explained, “and I got the idea.”
The very top of the finished silo – with its raised dome roof – is now precisely 78 feet and eight inches above ground level.
Down below, spread out in all directions, are the various welcome center buildings, a flowing landscape of fields and forests, and a few other distant silos.
The neatest thing is the S-Curved loop of the walking path almost directly below this silo – a poetic image in itself.
Photos by John Nation.
To view more photos of the Silo construction, click here.
Former Louisville-Courier columnist Bob Hill is a historian for The Parklands of Floyds Fork. He travels Floyds Fork writing of the people, the places and the history of the stream within the 20-mile park system - all of which is to be preserved in the Filson Historical Society. Some of Hill's stories appear in A Landscape and its Legacy, the commemorative book for The Parklands of Floyds Fork project. Hill has also compiled a Floyds Fork “Places & Faces” presentation that adds imagery to the words.
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