Taking Cover in a Former Nuclear Missile Silo

Taking Cover in a Former Nuclear Missile Silo

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Taking Cover in a Former Nuclear Missile Silo

In the early 1960s, faced with the imagined scenario of total nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a dozen intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos were constructed in the Adirondacks in upstate New York near the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base. The crisis lasted less than two weeks, and because the silos didn’t work very well anyway and had a lifespan of around three years, most were decommissioned by 1964.

The military didn’t know what to do with the silos, which were vast, cavernous underground structures that went 185 feet down and housed Air Force squadrons. They donated the silos to different counties, who didn’t know what to do with them either. So they remained abandoned for more than 50 years.


Eventually, people like Australian architect Alexander Michael came along. He snatched one up near the Plattsburgh base in 1996 for $160,000 and has spent the years ever since plunking down more than $300,000 and restoring his silo to its original glory, while making it a part-time home along the way. He’s got a full kitchen, sleeping quarters and even the original launch control console to tinker with.

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BluePrince Architectural
That is so cool!
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Chad
I love it! Wow this is very inspiring to me about reusing and reclaiming a space that one wouldn't think could ever be used again. I really want to see it in person someday.
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Karen Egly-Thompson
Very interesting project!
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smoore
So cool! I want one!
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tiamay
Cue the suspense music while I take the tour!
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DSC DesignWorks
What a transformation!
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Todd
Very cool. I'm having flashbacks to LOST. Does the owner have to enter 4 8 15 16 23 42 into the key pad every 108 minutes?
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lmrh53
Maybe I missed it, but a picture of the remodeled kitchen would be nice....
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Sigrid
It would be interesting to see when the place actually has some daylight.

I guess if Michael ever breaks his leg, he's got to live on a friend's sofa.

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Rodney Thornton
This has been the best article in a long time. I love this.
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Rodney Thornton
Question though. Is he going to get that 90 ton door operational again?
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Sharon Bouchard
My oh my, my hubby plays war games - but if we had this, our whole life would be a game! No thanks!
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Neryl Hollingsworth
Horrific! Why would anyone want a memory of the cold war?
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lk_designs
Ah yes, we Aussies are very creative !!
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grizzly
I find the space extreamly off-putting. An abandoned prison would be more appealing.
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Patricia Pelgrims
As interesting as this project is, a home it is not. Well, in my opinion, of course.
It's a "home" that only a man could love. ;-)
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cloudpants
Very 'Lost In Space'!
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mouzzer
The fact that this home is dust-free puts it on my dream home list.
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brittalovely
I love it! I have spent many hours working in Nuclear auxiliary and reactor buildings so it reminds me of "home".
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Eric Coons
This is my dream come true!
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Jean Clermont
Cool! That's all I can say!
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Alexander Michael & Assoc
Hi Rodney. Thanks for your comment, and yes, one of the doors is operational now... though still with a few glitches.
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Amy R
I love it! So cool and so interesting.
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designBpm
Extraordinary. What an amazing contrast of homes.
I was delighted to read about the junk yard finds.
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vemccormick
Having grown up in Plattsburgh during the building of these silos I find this article very interesting. The silos were off limits and very secretive so to finally seeing the inside is amazing. Thank you A. Michael for reclaiming a part of history. For those nay sayers:: remember, those who deny history tend to repeat it.
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gswach1
The so-called "Eames" chair is a bad knock-off, not the genuine thing.
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Stamford marble and tile
If there is a zombie apocalypse, I'm on my way to bunker with you!
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frankert
I wood like to say cool but I really mean creepy. I can't imagine anyone getting a good night sleep in there. But to each his own.
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jpp221
I, too, find it creepy, although that might be alleviated a bit when light can enter. However...it's not my house, and if it makes him happy, who am I to argue. I do find the entire project fascinating, and appreciate this article for that reason, if nothing else.

More pics, to give a better sense of layout, how he lives, and scale would be appreciated.
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jeannettebl
It is not for me, but I love that it IS for him! :-)
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hortonp
Excellent job! You could sell tours of that place. I would consider getting some posters of Slim Pickens from the last scene of the movie "Dr. Strangelove", riding the bomb down. Just to take the edge off of the mood a little bit. The glowing white spheres are an excellent addition, and I think the battleship gray paint was the perfect choice! Way to go Mate! I'm totally jealous.
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Cheryl Miller-Penner
I'm speechless.
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coleridge208
I know where I'm going when the zombies come.
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bke520
There are several of these near where I live and I have always wanted one. Rich mans playground for sure! It would be so much fun to have one of these for a weekend home and as somewhat of a museum. Always wanted to go down in one.
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Stuart Cohen & Julie Hacker Architects LLC
What irony. Most mid century modern houses were built as slab on grade. Frank Lloyd Wright's hatred of basements had prevailed. As much as I love the industrial, "steam punk" look, I think I have to vote for "crazy Australian living in a hole."
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itsmyowndesign
ummm, that does not look like an original Eames chair. but at $150, it's the least of Michael's worries at his 'money pit'.
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nomadgtr
Brilliant!
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krishoel
Anyone read The Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey? I don't think I could live underground after these fantastic books! http://thelitpub.com/featured-books/the-wool-omnibus/
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kateskouros
no thank you.
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arteshouse
Wow, what an interesting project.
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Rachelle Borbely
Love it!
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chrisgobba
Hey, we have three of those silos right here where I live, in fact just two or three miles away. As I understand it salvage companies began disassembling them in the late sixties. Not sure of their status right now.
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cktown
What I love is the incredible passion that has gone into this home-project. How incredibly fulfilling it must be to put in all that BS&T, to have to make hard choices (e.g. to focus time and money here rather than somewhere else; to have to give up properties such as the Sydney apartment and military vehicle; to maintain v. alter, etc.) and to see the results of it all - WOW! This isn't just "I chose to paint my living room black and I did it myself" kind of work. LOVE the idea of a concert garden - bringing peaceful pursuits into place associated with war - and what a gorgeous setting. You rock!
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Kristina Brown
Really cool project. Keep up the awesome work.
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jcvabeach
It is reminiscent of ship's quarters underground. I know that sort of purpose-built architecture.

Questions: How much surface area land came with the property? Other than the missile silo itself and stairs, access ways and such, how many square feet below ground? Of that, how many square feet have you converted to living space so far? Do you plan to divide the silo into different decks? Do you have plans for using any sort of light pipes to bring natural light to any of the lower levels?

I am imagining that, since the site was 'hardened' against a nuclear blast, conduits to the surface are limited and the options to create new conduits for anything into the structure rather costly?

If you have published these details somewhere else already, would you point me to them?

Are you aware of anyone else working on a similar project?

Thanks for indulging my curiosity.

Jonathan
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sagahill
Does anyone else besides me find it a bit disturbing that the man sitting at the launch control console appears to be drinking a beer? Let's hope that photo was taken long after the decommission!
   
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karenkoon
Probably the one place on earth where you wouldn't be bothered by a barking dog.
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Smith & Associates Design
Very impressive and what fun! (Although a tremendous amount of work went into this). I can easily understand the pleasure that is derived from doing this project. A hearty congratulations to a not-at-all-crazy-Australian!
Thanks for sharing your fantastic work.
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jcvabeach
@sagahill Perhaps I can give you some reassurance.. The silo was decommissioned in the '60's. The picture is credited to the owner. The computer monitors and keyboards in the picture didn't exist in the 60's. And the beer is a modern label. Nope, this isn't evidence of dereliction of duty.
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Espaces Viridis
Brilliant transformations.
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madre64
Oh my goodness...I have just recently learned of the existence of these silos throughout the US -- being here in MO, my friend was just pointing some out as we were driving past them...I thought, wow, I'd really like see the inside of one and this article added a whole new dimension of understanding for me…now I want to see this one in person – I’m putting this on my bucket list!!!
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Lee Skidmore Shields
Mitchell Parker: Thank you for this very unusual, original story of restoration. Incredible! And kudos to Michael: Huge respect for your labor, passion and dedication to your project of a home keeping it true to its authenticity! I learned so much from this article- so much I didn't know. My husband is going to love this when I show to him! Great piece, thank you!
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jsmbythebay
Thanks for this: one of the most innovative upcycling stories I have ever seen!
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indivisuality
I could just imagine, you finally made it down to your dwelling and you just rememembered that you forgot to purchase the half and half for your morning coffee. I hope you plan on installing an electric stair lift. You must have some power thighs. Interesting project Reno but I would at least upgrade to HD flat screen monitors and maybe a few floral arrangements to perk up the place.
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scarbowcow
The only thing more impressive than the scope of this project is the man who had the imagination to undertake it. Amazing. I don't have to want to live in such a place (or even be interested in visiting one) to know that this is extraordinary.

@karenkoon - no car alarms going off, either.
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diannewierenga
This made me think of one of my favorite movies - Blast from the Past!
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nobodybutme
Incredible job. I love people who think outside the box! Would love to visit this place!
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Steve .
Apart from my personal taste, surely the most original home I've seen on this website!!...
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pookiesnookie
   
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Sweetshack
Where is Mini Me? Totally awesome space.
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joadymcmanus
My brother had a bunker on his previous property. They used it as a party room. It didnt have power or water. They just ran a power cord. They loved it - I wouldnt go in there!
   
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Kim Martinez Home Organizing
Wow, just wow. He's a visionary!! He's a rock star!! Plus, he's lucky as hell; that Eames chair for $150?! It's very cool. The 16 yr old boy in me just loves it. Thanks for sharing. This post will explode in 3...2...1!
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Alexander Michael & Assoc
@jcvabeach, I'm new at this, so I hope this finds you. I've answered your questions in order.
The usual surface area was eight acres, with a five acre inner security area.
Regarding area, the Launch Control Centre has two levels, each 45 feet diameter, all of which is converted to for living.
The silo itself is just too big a project for me alone, but I am converting the top level (52 feet diam by 40 feet high) into an arts performance space. It has wonderful acoustics.
As I'm not there that often, I really don't miss having natural light. There is however a 40 x 100 feet quonset hut on the surface with plenty of light:)
Using original conduits to the surface is quite easy as they they are quite large.
For more info, you can go to siloboy.com
Thanks for your interest and comments. Always appreciated. Alex
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Alexander Michael & Assoc
Wow, totally awesome response everybody! Many, many thanks. I'm not sure how to respond individually to comments on this site. Can anyone help with that? Re the Eames, yes, it should have read "style", but REALLY?
Please keep in mind, my Blast Doors are always open to those who find the project interesting enough to make the trip to the Adirondacks, as long as it's Spring or Fall:)
For some reason I don't have a good photo of the kitchen.
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twinkle24
Fantastic !!!! I am not a boy or young, am a 68 yr old retired RN and I freakin' LOVE this !!!! My Dad was extended in the Air Force due to the Cuban Missile Crises. How wonderful that this unique structure is being used and appreciated !!!!
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1stchair
This is the second such project I have seen from one of the decommissioned silos in the Adirondacks, and the work done in the one is impressive. These are especially exciting for me as they are in my area (Saratoga Springs resident who lived in Plattsburgh for a short time). You say the blast doors are always open to those willing to make the trek; I would certainly take you up on that if you really mean it!
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Alexander Michael & Assoc
@1stchair, yes I always enjoy sharing the project. I get a huge kick out of it. I'll be there from the 22nd of May to the 10th of June. You can contact me through my website: siloboy.com
@twinkle24, much appreciated:))
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lobatulus
How very different. Love it
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renee111
Love the place! But, has he carried anyone over the threshold? "Dear, this is our new home."
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halleycomet
So good to see this! And right "Down the road" from me!!!! (Well about 2 hour drive but stilll!!!!)

For awhile there the US Govt was about giving these away for the sum of $1. (I suspect that you could have gotten the whole BASE for only a bit more than that at one point---) Now I believe it has been re-purposed.

There are hundreds of these silos scattered about--one of them outside of Tucson AZ is a museum (with I think an elevator!!!)

When I lived in Israel we were delegated to clean what we were told were "Bomb Shelters". Coming from Post-War America=---where we hid under our plywood school desks with our canvas wrapped notebooks over our heads---during Bomb Drills---this didn't seem too--odd. However! We thought these didn't look very "Bomb Shelter-ish" and did some homework and discovered that these were nuke missile silos! Not--"Bomb Shelters" for humans--so much as SHELTERS FOR THE BOMBS TO LIVE IN.

Puts a whole 'nuther spin on things that way.

And just in case you might have wondered as to WHY these silos are WHERE they are---around here the "legend" is that we were worried that CANADA was going to invade.
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Alexander Michael & Assoc
@halleycomet, my friend has a silo literally meters away from the Canadian boarder in Champlain NY. Not sure, but I think the silo you're talking about in Tucson is the Titan Silo Museum. It's tooo fabulous! But I still haven't been:( Atlas where the first, Titan came a little later.
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Frances Pusch Fine Sewing
The ultimate in industrial chic!
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jillybeansisme
I would have to put in a "stair chair" as I would never make it up and down those stairs! Still, it is impressive. What I absolutely love is that you are going to make the silo a performance space. That is so wonderful. Just don't plant daisies over your home because you are more than 6 feet under! OK, bad pun. But it is an impressive job. I understand why you did the concrete gray, but I'd be more apt to do something like artwork/framed articles depicting the history of the space.

Inspiring work. Thank you for sharing how you went junkyard diving to find the hydraulics. It makes me feel good.
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onthecoast1
What a fantastic project!! Awesome job.
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Alexander Michael & Assoc
Thanks @jillybeansisme. Unfortunately the warm summer air carries too much moisture into the entry, which naturally condenses on the cool concrete walls. Not an ideal environment for historic drawings. Although there are no photos of it, I do have construction drawings and photos hanging in the kitchen.
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vistaparade
Go you good thing. Bloody awesome, well done mate.
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Adele Prince
It's cool but I need sunlight to feel alive, I couldn't handle a space that's underground!
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martinanddeborah123
I love this work in progress!
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hawkb
Wow! Spectacular. I'm in awe.
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Natasa Poitevin
I like this space a lot of fans of industrial design are for shore triled. I saw something similar on tv. Home is also made in silo done on contemporary maner i think its in Kanzas
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eamarx
What a fascinating story and what an intriguing piece of history! Having ties to Herman Miller ... what a great find in that Eames chair!!!
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pobai
Although this is interesting, it is hardly a home - not even a houzz. My father took the cold war very seriously, and built a large bomb shelter for us - a family of nine. Not quite the same, I realize, but it was furnished with bunks for all, some plastic chairs and lots and lots of cans (soon rusty) of food. I had regular nightmares all through the 60s. This brings it all back! Open it to the public so they can admire the functionality!
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Alexander Michael & Assoc
@pobai, I do open it to the public, I do opening to any individuals and groups interested in the architecture, engineering and the cold war, and it is indeed a house and my home, just not one you're interested in. Remember, diversity is what sustains life and humanity.
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2roasty
Wow! What an undertaking, and, so far, done so well, great color choices! The silo space is huge, the pistons for the roof doors look tiny in the space! Hope your energy holds up! Excellent work!!! Good luck!!!
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Alexander Michael & Assoc
Thanks @2roasty
Much appreciated:))
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jcvabeach
The bomb shelter cum underground computerized house that they gave to the sheriff on the SciFi series Eureka just came to mind. Of course, to elevate a renovation like this to that level would take at least a seven to eight figure budget.... But, then, the renovation in that TV show was funded by the DOD.

Oh.... another question pops into my mind: Are there any remnants of a fire suppression system left in the silo?

I have too much imagination; no financial substance for a project like yours. I think of a central elevator and/or spiral staircase in the silo and workshops and libraries and studies and, and, and... . But all the infrastructure that would have to be added, all the climate control, etc, etc..

All the the hands-on mechanical/technical work and the sweat equity that you have invested in this project. I love the chapter on the hydraulics for the silo hatches. A wrench-turning architect, definitely a man after my own heart.

Just tonight I had to show your website to a couple of guys in my arch. blueprint class.

And your Goat... I thought it looked familiar. This picture I took at an antique auto show here in VA Beach Fall 2013.

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Jochum Architects
Absolutely fascinating! I'd love to see it.
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marsia
If I were to do my fantasy dream house it would be fixing up an old steam powered river boat cruise ship to live on, but it is so interesting to see someone else dream big and go for something completely unusual and splendiferously techniforous! The interior feels like an underground pub I went to in college that was painted all black inside. It was surprisingly cozy and relaxing, though you would never think that from looking at it at first.

This also reminds me of a party I attended at a dairy farm where they cleaned out a bunch of huge stainless steal vats that held milk, and instead there were musicians in them and you could sit next to the musician on pillows in a big vat - great acoustics. Then some were filled with warm soapy water for swimming. They also had painted a car with white house paint and stripped out the engine and floor, and you could steer the car and push it around with your feet on the ground. Also, there were mazes in the rafters with little nest-like places to sit in. And the inventor of the plasma globe brought a bunch of his globes to play with. Best party I ever attended. You could really trick this place out in a steam punk theme and have some really amazing parties!

I especially appreciate the pretty water feature next to the industrial shelter. So fun!
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martinam
Amazing love this although I may not ever be able to live in such a thing love open spaces. Then you read "I found the eames for onefity in a junk shop" and heart stops
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kayzza
I am in awe of what you have done. Such imagination. Go Ausie!
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sjindal25
Hiv oh oh
NAtt
   
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MrsSpooky Brown
I remember the Cuban missile crisis so the thought of missile silos do still creep me out slightly, but this is really cool! I'd love to actually visit. I love what he's done with it!
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pickyvicky
Cool!
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Shelley Brauer
ausssie aussie aussie lol
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The John Doctor Plumbers
I have done some plumbing work here for Alexander. I still talk about it to people. Just amazing. Absolutely eerie going through those 3 ton blast doors and knowing that is the only way out of this cavernous underground structure.

Stephen Parker
The John Doctor Plumbers
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Michael Davidson
Good onya mate.

Hey you've got my life !! I knew I should have been an architect not an electrical engineer :o)
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Bowden Carroll Design
This is one totally wild project. I can remember seeing a sign pointing towards an ICBM site when I was a child and now I know what was at the end of that road!
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Alexander Michael & Assoc
Ah yes, the Gamma Goat, @jcvabeach. I loved that little beauty!
   
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Alexander Michael & Assoc
Hello @The John Doctor Plumbers. You saved my life!
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Kristen Roberts
I can't imagine living there day-in, day-out, but I can't help thinking that it would be an awesome space for a writing retreat...it's got a kind of sensory-deprivation vibe that seems like it would be conducive to the kind of peaceful creative time that I don't get in my (also built in the early '60s) above-ground house.

Also, I love the cutaway you posted--is that a swimming pool those figures are diving into, or are there just three very clumsy workers tumbling to their demise?
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Alexander Michael & Assoc
Hi @Kristen Roberts. Yes, that's indeed a swimming pool and a fantasy I've maintained over the years.
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Lorraine Marttinen
Not for me.. I wouldn't want to stay below.. Need the sun not the dungeon! :)
   
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terriuskim
It's like the home from Eureka! Same idea. Makes me miss the show.
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Andrew Booton
Nicely done. Great attention to detail mixed with an easy style, not just pastiche.
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mhermis
يايمبنقهوسككيكيمتيوسقلتدظغنبلسعغييمغقغفففذراودرزاىغنفكهتعفغفققققققاولاوىرباتتغتغاغغغغغعغغغغعواىامطميممشىسوريرطتينيىليتبهصخضحسورسلىطىطتىطنطوطوطنذىذىتطهفضخصىعطىننطنذنفمغتوزانالتاردبزىذ
ملعفهبالمالمالنللنايالااتلوت ودك
دووزىرذر
ذ
طرلذوزو. وردودٌ ًً وزدتدزوز
   
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Alexander Michael & Assoc
@mhermis, I wholeheartedly agree... what?
Thanks @Andrew Booton:)
   
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Alexander Michael & Assoc
Again, there is nothing more ordinary than ordinariness.
   
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eamarx
I would love to know what the comment in Arabic says. Anyone?
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Southland Log Homes
Pretty cool. Although, I don't know how long I could actually stay down in there. Too claustrophobic.
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sarapalomino
wow
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Mackenzie Austin Design
While I initially thought I wouldn't even like this feature; I've just spent the last hour reading every word, every comment and thoroughly exploring your website and its links. Personally, I'd find living in the silo depressing (although delightfully private), but I'm sure my boys would think it is super cool!
Keep on dream'n man! :)
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laurielynne
Wow. Alexander Michael from "Down Under" takes on a whole new meaning. :) My claustrophobia is so acute that I was literally hyperventilating while reading this, but at the same time I was also admiring the ingenuity and vision needed to see a living space in a structure with such an austere purpose.
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scubafiend
Love the idea. HATE the colors. Talk about drab!
   
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chetthomas
Please continue to work hard on this project. I lived on a ship for a while while in the Navy and I still think the Gun Metal Gray is a great color especially accented with the black and yellow stripes, and Red railing. Very good job. It would be cool to have a 60's era car on a lower level and build around it leading visitors to think how the heck did it get down here. I'd have it sitting with an old style moving background from the movie biz. You just have so much room to do fantastical things. Very cool. Thank you to Houzz as well for the great article.
   
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fuzzguy7144
Back in the early 60's, I was stationed at Walker AFB. The Atlas silos were being built during that time period. For many years since that time I have thought it would be a phenomenal idea to buy one of these and cod just what you have done. I just went on line to check out their availability and price. Looks like I should have acted on my thoughts a long time back. I do not know how cheap they might have been at some time in the past, but today they are asking $275K for them. I suspect that much of the deterioration that you experienced would be much less in the silos around Roswell, as this is an arid region, so there should much less moisture build up from condensation, or at least that is my intuition.

During the Cuban crises I found myself onRed Alert and ended up at Eielson AFB just outside of Fairbanks Alaska. We went on alert in October, and if I remember correctly, I was in Eielson from October through January or February.

This article had special interest to me not only due to my inherent nature to be interested in such things, but also because of my historical connection.

If my wife and I ever happen to be in you area during the times that you are living there, we will contact you and ask for a visit.


Thanks for sharing,
fuzzguy7144
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davsay
Not my cup of JP4, but you sure wouldn't have to put up with obnoxious neighbors.
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Peg
We had a similar situation here in Alberta several years ago. it's a long time ago but if memory serves, the military sold off some underground bunkers. Then one of the civilian owners put his on the market. The only interested buyers were The Hells Angels. Police really didn't like the idea of their clubhouse being impossible to breach. The government had to step in and outbid them.
   
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PRO
Gloria Jaroff, A.I.A.

HORRIBLE! How did he ever get past the building code requirement for allowable windows and fire exits for all those spaces. Great imagination but too claustrophobic to be livable.


   
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