Sunsphere.

The Sunsphere

Field review by the editors.

Knoxville, Tennessee

Claimed to be one of the first structures designed with the help of a computer, the 26-story Sunsphere was the architectural icon of the Knoxville World's Fair, which opened on May 1, 1982. Its builders were frustrated in their attempt to find a Tennessee company that could create the sphere's 24 karat gold-tinted glass, and eventually had to have it manufactured in New Jersey. Its supporting tower was originally painted blue so that the gold ball on top would appear more sunlike. When it opened, there was a Hardee's fast food restaurant in its base.

Conceived to give visitors "a glimpse into the future," the Sunsphere was abandoned with the close of the Fair. Its interior became a nesting spot for birds. Restored and reopened to the public in 1999, 2007, and 2022, it seemed to yearn for tech trends to complement its forward-looking gleam. It had arcade-era video monitors on the enclosed observation deck until 2014, when they were ripped out. A 246-bell carillon also disappeared at some point.

Obscure in its time, the Sunsphere later achieved pop culture notoriety when it was featured in a 1996 episode of The Simpsons, which claimed that it had become a warehouse for a wig outlet, and then had it knocked over with a car.

Sunsphere.

The theme of the 1982 Knoxville World's Fair, "Energy Turns the World," would suggest that the Sunsphere had something to do with solar power, but it didn't; the Fair, opened by President Ronald Reagan, promoted hydroelectric dams, nuclear plants, and self-service gas pumps.

The Sunsphere

Address:
810 Clinch Ave., Knoxville, TN
Directions:
Downtown. I-40 exit 388. Take Henley St. south, and either follow signs or your eyes. Less than a mile. Double elevators to the observation level face the lake.
Hours:
Tu-F 10-5, Sa 9-5, Su 12-4 Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Admission:
Adults $5.
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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