I’ve always been interested in ruins. In the early 1990s, when I was studying landscape architecture at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, I came across J.B. Jackson’s essay The Necessity for Ruins – a passionate argument for their presence in the landscape – specifically their significance in giving meaning to a place. Shortly after reading this, faux reconstructed ruins began to turn up in all my student projects.
In early 2004 and now living in Los Angeles, I began working on a short film about my hometown. Part travelogue, part autobiography, Scenic Highway would introduce the viewer to the city, show off a few of its attractions – notably Huey Long’s art deco State Capitol building – and take side trips to New Orleans and India. Growing up in Baton Rouge, I had heard bits and pieces – rumors really – of a huge, futuristic geodesic dome hidden in the woods, somewhere north of town. This was the Union Tank Car Dome, which upon its completion in October 1958, was the largest clear-span structure in the world. Based on the engineering principles of the visionary design scientist and philosopher Buckminster Fuller, this geodesic dome was – at 384 feet in diameter – the first large scale example of this building type.
During a trip to Baton Rouge in October 2004 I found the dome (which actually was pretty easy), and spent a few minutes filming the facility. I was particularly fascinated with the deteriorating condition of the building – this was supposed to be a world famous piece of architecture – and here it was, a genuine ruin, rusting away in the wilderness. This footage formed the basis for the final chapter of Scenic Highway, in which I made the case that of all the things to see and do in Baton Rouge, the dome was the most special. Buckminster Fuller’s structure was hidden treasure and represented the true meaning of place.
When the dome was torn down in November 2007, I decided to make A Necessary Ruin not only as homage to the structure itself, but also as a tribute to the community that made it possible.