Appalachia has long been the subject of reductive stereotypes in the American cultural imagination. As the region confronts an uncertain future, communities within and outside the area have found themselves with the opportunity to challenge these notions. Drawing on the local potential of natural and social resources, this design proposal presents architecture as a catalyst through which to reimagine a town’s relationship with the landscape from one of extraction to one of metabolic exchange.

The project is situated in Harlan, Kentucky - once considered the capital of coal country and surrounded by the physical scars of industrial-scale resource extraction - a town whose identity is deeply tied to the river and valley, the forest and mountain. Cultivating site specific values such as innovation, mobility, materiality, and resilience, the proposed observation tower draws upon our innate desire to move up within a landscape and experience a new vantage.

The proposed observation tower and parallel infrastructures act as a new node of mobility and energy production, coexisting with current systems while rejecting a monotypic approach toward public infrastructure. Inhabiting in varying degrees the city, the floodplain, the mountain, and the sky; the tower’s design reflects the materiality of the surrounding landscape. The aim of such a project is to not only provide a public amenity but promote a more resilient and diverse energy agenda as well as civic self-organization and community engagement.