Standing in the Center of the Universe
It sounds like one of those jokes that starts with, a rabbi, a priest and a minister walk into a bar.
There I was, standing in the Center of the Universe, gazing at an Artificial Cloud silhouetted by a half-size replica of the World Trade Center Twin Towers.
But it’s not a joke, it’s a real place in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Center of the Universe is a spot on a bridge where an acoustical phenomenon occurs, several feet in front of an extremely tall sculpture called the Artificial Cloud, a commentary on our environmental challenges, that is silhouetted by the BOK Tower designed by the same architect who designed the Twin Towers.
That’s a lot to unpack but let’s give it a shot:
Center of the Universe
No one knows why it’s called the Center of the Universe, it just is. You’ll find it on the pedestrian bridge crossing over railroad tracks near the old Tulsa Union Depot.
The thing about it is, when you stand in the middle and speak, your voice is echoed back to you several times louder. That wouldn’t seem especially odd if there were tall walls on either side of the bridge, helping to bounce back the sounds, but instead the nearby objects are, at best, waist high, and even what is that tall is the bridge railing several feet away and it’s not completely solid.
What’s more, as tales of lore have it, people outside the larger circle around the center can’t hear what you’re saying.
There’s any number of speculations as to what causes it but none have been confirmed. Some believe it has something to do with the way the surrounding concrete slabs and planters are laid out in a circular pattern but, no one knows for sure.
Here’s a fun television news report, complete with echoing sounds, that tells the story:
I made an artificial cloud as a reminder of the death of the earth.
- Bob Haozous
Located just steps away from the Center of the Universe is the Artificial Cloud. The cloud is a narrow, 72.5-feet-tall, steel spire upon which a cloud shape perches on top. Hands, human figures, some missing arms or legs, and planes that appear to be crashing toward the ground are cut out of the lower portions of the sculpture.
Put in place in 1992, early photos of the cloud show a silvery steel monument. It now has the dark reddish brown appearance created by rusting over three decades exposed to the elements.
Bob Haozous, the artist, is Native American. He is the son of Allan Houser, a famous Apache sculptor. Their last names are different because Houser is what white people changed his family’s given name into.
Artificial Cloud is Haozous’ statement on the destruction of our environment by man. No effort was made to preserve the metal. The environment is allowed to have its way and, eventually, the sculpture will rust away.
There are many meanings in that piece, but its primary statement comes from an idea I've been thinking about for a long time. And that is, in the future, we're going to have to make our environments. We're going to pollute the earth and the sky so much that we have to either move underground or into dome-type buildings and pump in purified air so we can breathe. So I've gradually been going into the direction of making artificial nature.*
Haozous asked the sculpture be placed in its current location because it is the symbolic demarcation line between what was once white and black Tulsa. White people living on one side and blacks on the other.
I posted earlier about Greenwood Rising, the new Tulsa museum recounting the tragedy of the terrible 1921 riot that destroyed what was known as Black Wall Street. There are plates embedded in the sidewalk throughout what was Black Wall Street, remembering the businesses that were burned to the ground.
I didn’t realize the connection to the demarcation line until researching about Artificial Cloud for this post, so I was surprised when I was in Tulsa to find one of the plates in the vehicle bridge crossing the railroad tracks, about a block down from the pedestrian bridge where Artificial Cloud is located. I probably shouldn't have been, Black Wall Street is just five blocks from the Cloud and several square blocks were destroyed in the riot.
The plate was for Brown Restaurant, 12 N. Cincinnati Ave.
Haozous talks about his sculpture and his father in this video:
Roughly a block from Artificial Cloud is Tulsa’s tallest building, the BOK Tower. Built in 1976 it stands 667 feet high.
The tower was designed by Minoru Yamasak & Associates, the same architects who designed the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, destroyed in the 9/11 attack, and bear a very similar appearance.
As the story goes, the towers were originally built for the Fortune 500 Oklahoma energy company, Williams Companies. It’s CEO, John Williams, originally wanted four towers that looked something like the Twin Towers. Rather than being 110 stories tall, as were the Twin Towers, he wanted his four towers to be 25 stories.
However, some say due to the cost of the number of elevators required for four separate structures, the decision was made to build just one, taller structure.
So, at 52 stories, it is roughly a half-sized twin tower, both in the number of towers as well as the number of stories within it, as the original Twin Towers.
My guess is it’s no coincidence Artificial Cloud, Haozous’ commentary on nature and man’s building of artificial environments, sits directly in front of the tower and is perfectly silhouetted by it.
**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.