Five years after an F-5 tornado destroyed the small town of Greensburg, Kansas, the city has re-opened its iconic tourist attraction. The World’s Deepest Hand-Dug Well was designated a National Museum in 1972. It had been a tourist attraction that drew as many as 75,000 visitors a year in its heyday. The historic well is now the centerpiece of the new, 6000-sq-ft Big Well Museum and Visitors Center.
In the aftermath of the tornado, Greensburg chose to rebuild and renew itself. In keeping with the theme of rebirth, the architect chose to symbolize this by using a spiral design for the new museum based on the mathematical Fibonacci sequence. This same spiral form can be seen in the swirl of cyclonic storms and in the Nautilus shell which is a historic symbol of rebirth. Both of which speak to this museum’s purpose.
Visitors coming into the building are drawn into this spiral form which opens up into a continuous curving space with rotating wood beams spiraling overhead. The historic well is located at the center point of the spiral. Visitors can climb the spiral stairway to the crow’s nest above the well for a bird’s eye view of the towns rebuilding efforts or descend into the well via a new steel spiral stairway built adjacent to the well’s original stone wall.
The museum houses three exhibit areas that tell the story of the history of the well, the destruction caused by the tornado and the story of the town’s rebuilding.