Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Future Cira 1982: Knoxville Sunsphere

A relic from the 1982 World's Fair and a fine example of "1980s gold-everything design." The sphere gained international attention once again in March of 1996 when The Simpsons episode 148, "Bart on the Road" featured Knoxville's Sunsphere as the Wigsphere. It was that Sunday night in the mid-nineties that I vowed to one day experience the sphere for myself.
Sadly I have forgotten about the Sunsphere from April, 1996 until today while crossing the Southeastern US I saw a second bright gold ball in the sky. Upon closer inspection I learned that in the years since the World's Fair I wasn't the only one who forgot about the sphere. Over the nearly three decades of towering over Knoxville's riverfront the sphere's had some ups and downs. Low points being the several years it had been closed to the public during the 1990's and the painting below with an artists depiction of a naked President Obama atop a Sunsphere Unicorn.
The reopened observation room gives a 360° view of downtown Knoxville. Be sure to hit floor 5 because the others are all offices that enjoy the occasional stream of wayward tourists and the uncomfortable heat that goes along with working in a glass ball in the sky.
The Sunsphere comes equipped with an organ that I'm assuming has seen very little use. Not much of a market for weddings located in a room built around an elevator shaft.
Knoxville actually has more going for it than I had previously expected. It's a college town with a riverfront, a very low cost of living and several museums downtown. Cities the size of Knoxville (around 190,000) are an ideal size in some ways. Small enough to avoid the congestion of a large city while large enough not to be that boring. Knoxville's proximity to nothing in particular means it is responsible for creating its own attractions. It's own concerts, museums and awkward local TV news. It makes for an island of decency in the middle of the nothing that is Eastern Tennessee.

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