Tulsa Tornado Tower: Playful, Provocative or Just Poor Taste?

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One part adaptive reuse project, one part tourist magnet and one part educational and research facility, the Tulsa Tornado Tower would also include a revolving restaurant at its apex. (Renderings: Kinslow Keith & Todd).

For the March issue of local entertainment and lifestyle magazine TulsaPeople, a trio of Tulsa-based architecture firms were invited, carte blanche, to redevelop, redesign and bring a bit of old-fashioned razzle-dazzle to neglected properties in the downtown core of Oklahoma’s second largest city.

As part of the so-called “Reimagining Downtown” assignment, one firm envisioned transforming an old auto supply store on E. 2nd Street into a performing arts hub complete with live/work spaces reserved for local artists. Another firm proposed turning a body shop-turned-indoor parking lot in the nightlife-heavy Blue Dome District into a theme restaurant centered on Tulsa's history as a former oil hotspot. The third architecture firm, Kinslow Keith & Todd (KKT), were tasked with (conceptually) breathing new life into a 28,000-square-foot 1920s-era warehouse at 202 S. Guthrie Avenue that is currently used as a parking garage.

The redevelopment plan pitched by KKT has managed to garner a huge amount of buzz over the past several days. The proposal has been called tone-deaf, insensitive, potentially iconic, absolutely amazing and a true fate-tempter. Dennis Mersereau of Gawker Media weather sub-blog The Vane immediately declared: “I want to go there.”

The proposal itself calls for a mixed-use high-rise building to be built atop the existing structure, which would serve as the “tower base.” The primary tenant would be the Oklahoma Weather Museum and Research Center, a nonexistent institution that’s not to be confused with the very real National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma. And since the 30-story tower, topped off with a revolving restaurant a la Seattle's Space Needle, would be largely dedicated to the atmospheric sciences, it only makes sense that it take the form of a tornado towering above downtown Tulsa.

Yes, a twister-shaped building in a region smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley and in a vulnerable city that was devastated by a ferocious storm system that barreled through the area on June 8, 1974.

In total, 76 tornadoes have directly hit Tulsa County since 1950.

Tulsa Tornado Tower

It’s an audacious instance of programmatic architecture, for sure, one designed to be “easily identifiable and locally relevant.”

Explains Whit Todd of KTT to TulsaPeople: “We tried to have fun with the design. We really want people — when they see this building for the first time or 10th time — to smile.”

Smile — or turn the other way and flee in terror. In addition to its alarming funnel-esque profile, the tower — the Tulsa Tornado Tower as it’s being called — is designed so that, from a distance, it appears to be actually spinning above Tulsa’s art deco-heavy skyline. (Clever/traumatizing LED lighting would aid in the spinning illusion). And, as mentioned, the tower’s restaurant is spinning, albeit at a very slow pace in a counter-clockwise rotation — the same direction as real cyclones that form in the Northern Hemisphere.

While some Tulsa residents are no doubt a touch put off by the notion of a 300-foot-tall building designed to resemble a destructive weather phenomenon, the team at KKT claim that local response has been largely positive, even enthusiastic. The concept has even attracted potential investors along with restauranteurs, local meteorologists and tenants interested in renting commercial space within the tower.

As reported by the Huffington Post, the Tulsa Tornado Tower concept has also piqued the interest of Kerry Joels, an author and museum consultant who has previously worked with the Smithsonian and NASA. And — surprise, surprise — Joels is also keen on developing a weather museum for Oklahoma. “When I saw Andy’s [architect Andy Kinslow of KKT] building I thought, 'Oh my gosh, this is too good.' We got together and started noodling,” Joels tells HuffPo.

As for any accusations of architecture-based insensitivity, Joels remarks: "Oklahomans are survivors. They’re tough, and they look at these things as a matter of life."

They’ve also got an excellent sense of humor, apparently.

Tulsa Tornado Tower

In addition to Joels’ Oklahoma Weather Museum and Research Center and the revolving restaurant, the tower would also be home to classrooms, a severe weather laboratory, meeting space, several outdoor terraces and a rooftop observation deck that would potentially be used for live weather forecasts. It would also, of course, serve as a tourist-snaring landmark that's been repeatedly likened to the Space Needle.

“This would be Tulsa’s Space Needle,” Jim Boulware of KKT tells TulsaPeople. “No one else would have one.”

Sure, both the Space Needle and the Tulsa Tornado Tower are unusual, attention-grabbing tourist magnets both topped with rotating eateries. But has Seattle ever been threatened by a 500-foot-tall golf-tee with a flying saucer perched on top?

Not in recent memory, no.

If the concept receives financial backing, city approval and manages to, err, leave the ground, Tulsa Tornado Tower would have an estimated price tag of $150 million to build.

Any thoughts? Super cool — or does it hit a wee bit too close to home?

Via [Huffington Post], [Gawker], [Dezeen]