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Dominic Monson, Published October 13 2012

Letter: Bakken pyramid? Get real

The Forum covered a proposal from a Georgia-based development/

architect firm for a giant pyramid housing and commercial project near Williston, N.D., presented as a solution to the area’s housing crunch. A Forum opinion writer chimed in his two cents (column, Oct. 7).

Before reading the follow-up opinion, I had initially assumed that Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski would encourage the developer to come down to Earth in light of his impractical (albeit unique) proposal. Instead the writer opted to, in quoting my grandmother, “send the fool further.”

I wish I could share the can-do-anything optimism of the developer and Zaleski. But, my first reaction to the proposal was, “Wow, this is a professional developer, working alongside a licensed architect?” Their proposal appears to be serious, and they apparently view this idea as a feasible solution to the housing crunch. Really? Add to this the fact that neither professional has actually visited Williston, much less the nearby site. That’s a crucial element for the process, and I have to wonder if their entire understanding of the site involved zooming down to it on Google Maps, picking a site east of town that looked relatively flat, and finally saying “Aha! Here is where we’ll put the pyramid.”

Zaleski is entitled to his opinion. However, I think he went too far by insulting architect John Biggs, of Williston’s Lightowler-Johnson office, referring to him as someone with “the imagination of a machine shed builder.” My guess is Biggs wasn’t so much put off by the concept but more so by the daunting logistics necessary to make the project possible. These include – and are not limited to – water, power, vehicle traffic, the reach of fire/police departments and ambulance, and land acquisition. County Commissioner Dan Kalil wasn’t joking about how that isn’t a process to be underestimated.

Yet, the developer is confident he’ll secure the necessary land for the project, and probably believes widening access highways will be just as easy. Heck, maybe he can get Amtrak to access the site, too.

Also, Zaleski apparently saw the project as a remedy for the “less than inspiring” architecture of North Dakota, which isn’t true. A huge part of architecture is an attempt to connect meaningfully to people (even a subtle, barely noticeable connection), as opposed to making a loud, obnoxious statement. The Williston proposal has no connection at all to North Dakota – and comparing this 371-foot behemoth to the 75-foot pyramid near Nekoma doesn’t really change that.

I have no doubt that the developer was thinking, “location, location, location.” Williston and the Bakken seem to be that ideal location. The oil will last “a long time,” supposedly. But in western North Dakota, we can’t help but think of how anti-fracking legislation would shut down Williston overnight, which might be why we look for effective and long-term solutions. It’s doubtful such legislation would ever come into effect, but looking at what just happened in Killdeer, N.D., to their water makes you wonder.


Monson is an NDSU architecture student and a Williston native.