Beyond Buildings


Faith in Sprawl: Noah's Ark Theme Park Planned for Kentucky

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Artist conception of proposed theme park. Courtesy:


On my regular drives down to Lexington, Ky., where I teach a class at the University, after I have disentangled myself from almost 20 miles of Cincinnati sprawl, I pass through a zone where the exits are fewer and a sense of what Kentucky once was rolls around you as partially wooded hills. This area was so beautiful that the Native Americans saw it as sacred, and used it only to hunt or to perform rituals, living north of the Ohio River in what is today Ohio. Now this sylvan landscape just above Bluegrass country is about to be home to another religious vision: the Ark Encounter, a recreation of Noah’s rescue vehicle. It will be the centerpiece of a 160-acre theme park that will also contain, according to the Commonwealth’s press release, “a Walled City much like was found in ancient times, live animal shows, a children’s interactive play area, a replica of the Tower of Babel with a exhibits, a 500-seat 5-D special effects theater, an aviary, and a first-century Middle Eastern village.”

Wow. The Tower of Babel? I thought God would strike us down if we ever tried to build that. 5-D theater? Does that mean odor-rama is back? A Walled Town? Do we need to show faith to be allowed in? It doesn’t matter, because we will here be in the particular confluence of faith-based fantasy and place-based entertainment in which the usual laws of physics, taste, or logic will obviously not apply. The theme park is being planned by Answers in Genesis, a literalist sect that has made a success out of the Creation Museum, a diorama to the north of the planned Ark (in suburban Cincinnati) that shows, and thereby “proves,” that humans and dinosaurs cohabited. 


Artist conception of proposed theme park. Courtesy:


Despite the leaps of faith you will have to take to enjoy these exhibits, the planners are depending on some of the standard elements of theme parks, including rides, themed restaurants, and shops, to draw in what they hope will be 1.6 million visitors in the first year. There will even be, if I am reading the renderings correctly, a race track. The Ark will take the place of the Magic Mountain, sitting at the culmination of the composition behind an artificial lake. The Walled City will act as the shopping area. The Tower of Babel will form the secondary focal point. The whole layout seems to use the standard rule books developed in Anaheim, Calif., and Orlando, Fla.. The place will even be designed to co-opt that rural setting so that you will believe you are in the middle of a paradisiacal nature—though one far removed from the realities of the Middle East.

The days of major theme parks seem in general, and in this country, to be over, with Disney and Universal living with and only sprucing up their sprawling nodes in Sprawlland, but the deep and broad vein of religious faith that runs through that sprawl seems to be enough—or so the builders believe—to support this large new venture.  What it will bring to Williamstown, Ky., is exactly that: sprawl. The Commonwealth expects not only those millions of visitors and 900 employees, but also $250 million in economic impact, for which we can read motels, fast-food establishments, housing developments, and perhaps a shopping mall or two. It makes me realize how we prefer fantasy over reality in this country, as we replace nature with manicured lawns surrounding evocations of English or French villages and inward-turned malls where we can buy into any fantasy. This will be a temple to those attitudes. Native American faith preserves, Anglo faith develops and ruins.



Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: gideonfinkshapiro | Time: 9:59 PM Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    O-M-G. This could certainly be read as post-post-something, but more accurately it sounds like High Sprawl.

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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.