Fermi follies

Tevatron from the air

A few years ago when traveling back and forth from Chicago to Seattle I was noodling the idea to do a comparative photo project in which images of nuclear sites surrounding Chicago would be paired with images from the Hanford site in eastern Washington.  I haven’t really got enough images of either area to do a fully fledged piece and issues of accessibility to both areas pose significant photographic limitations. However, I was inspired by a recent Pruned  post about Site A (a reactor site) and Plot M (a dump), two of the earliest nuclear landscapes near Chicago and decided to post a few images of the Fermilab. Although not specifically “nuclear or toxic” the Fermilab facility contains the second largest particle accelerator in the world and is located south west of Chicago, with a mission to…

“advance the understanding of the fundamental nature of matter and energy by providing leadership and resources for qualified researchers to conduct basic research at the frontiers of high energy physics and related disciplines.

What really struck me when I visited was the high quality native prairie and oak savannah surrounding the developed areas of the site and the very sculptural quality of the industrial architecture. The contrast between high quality “nature” and an intense expression of culture and technological aspiration is very powerful. Wilson Hall the main headquarters lies at the end of a long reflecting pool in a massive scale that one would experience in Versailles. The quite dramatic contemporary structure was actually inspired by a Gothic Cathedral in France, However, the smaller more industrial “follies” really captured my imagination.  Here are a few….

the master substation

fixed target experimental area

Unknown folded dome structure

There are quite a few more of these follies that I did not photograph and some interesting sculpture as well.  Worth the visit if you’re in the western burbs of Chicago.  If you happen to be in the Loop next month make sure to stop by the always great Museum of Contemporary Photography. The opening reception for Public Works a new exhibition about infrastructure is on April 29th from 5 to 7 and the curator’s tour on May 4. From the website…

“Public Works examines geographically and chronologically diverse examples of built infrastructure captured through the lenses of mid-20th century to contemporary artists. Modern infrastructure shares with photography a peculiar history, as the medium is particularly well suited to documenting the grandeur of large public works. Cumulating from the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s permanent collection and the Midwest Photographers Project, as well as from external loans, Public Works includes works by more than 50 international artists.”

From the teaser images it looks to be an amazing show and as a follow up event Matthew Coolidge from the  Center for Land Use Interpretation will be speaking at the Museum on May 26th. 


About jim gerlach

A seasoned landscape architect living and working on beautiful Vashon Island.
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