USS Undine Museum
[Battle for the Redoubt]
High on a hill in west Tennessee, earth is shaped in a way that once fortified the position of soldiers during the American Civil War. This redoubt overlooks the Kentucky lake, a body of water where the Civil War gun ship USS Undine has remained in a watery tomb for more than a century. An independent organization by the name of Raise the Gunboats intends to raise the vessel, allowing for it a setting where it may be shared with the public and saved from the decay of time. A proposed museum that situates itself on this site on New Johnsonville, Tennessee means to provide a place of permanence for the vessel while reinforcing existing metaphors deeply embedded within the landscape.
The new program separates itself into two massings – they are defined as resistance and extension. On approach to the museum, the visitor follows a foot path in which he or she is confronted by the first of these two structures. A dormitory for visiting researchers acts an inaccessible information citadel, keeping watchful eyes over traffic approaching the redoubt. The visitor slides beneath its quiet mass and moves up the hill. As the climb continues, the visitor approaches an axis with a structure that is positioned at the far west corner of the redoubt; this is the office of the curator who quietly sees with great vantage all that takes place on the site.
The remaining program houses the museum galleries and boat room and imbeds itself in the slope of the hill as to become the literal extension of the redoubt. The visitor moves from the redoubt onto the roof of the museum, finding a magnificent view of Kentucky Lake before descending to the space where the vessel has been inhumed. The entire space has been opened to the North to allow indirect light to illuminate the hull of the once lost Undine in order to protect it from further structural damage.
The composition of the museum will allow materials to create a dialogue of not just permanence but also transformation – transient volumes of steel are placed within a concrete framework so that they may be reconstructed over the course of time. The exterior of the museum finds symbolism in the vessel that it protects: bells define the footpaths, scuppers shed water from the structure’s many roof gardens, and spotlighting illuminates the site during the night, providing not a beacon but rather the phenomena that the visitor is constantly being watched between the trees.
Critic: Ted Shelton