Today marks our arrival to the Bakken. We saw our first oil action just outside of Newtown, and from there it escalated quickly. Pump jacks and derricks dotted the landscape, and numerous flares were visible from the road. The industry’s presence is very apparent, and it began in Fargo. BNSF trains with oil tanks stretched seemingly for miles, and we spotted them throughout the state. Upon arriving to the oil fields, the truck traffic significantly picked up. The action we were expecting was clearly there.
It was recommended to us by an oil worker to see Newtown at night. “It’s like the Fourth of July,” he explained. Newtown sits along Lake Sakakawea , and the landscape surrounding it was quite stunning. It was far mar rugged than expected, and as the sun set over the frozen lake, the scenery slowly transformed into the oil workers premonition –as the sky grew darker oil fields were visible for miles, lighting up the landscape into a field of scattered flickers. The impact on the land was profound. The flares themselves are ominous, and even sinister up close, but from afar, the flickers of light almost seemed beautiful.
Immediately upon entering Newtown and eventually Williston, the unique and varied housing conditions were evident. Some settlements seemed ad hoc as trailers ganged together in open lots, and in Williston in particular, new homes exemplified the materialism of suburban America –large single family homes with three car garages and massive backyards.
Our evening concluded with dinner and beers at the Williston Brewing Company. A building in the center of town that seemed quite frankly like a dive from the outside. Inside was a surprise in my opinion. The décor mimicked that of a typical new suburban franchised tavern. A huge mahogany bar, moose heads hanging from fireplace mantels, and sports playing on TVs that reached floor to ceiling. The food was good. This is exactly what people here would want, we though. A place to make it feel that Williston is no different than any other developed city in the US. This notion sparked a discussion about our project. How can we ever meet the desires of people here? Do we know them well enough? How will we ever know what they want? We continued to ask how we as architectural academics could aid the condition. How could we advocate the value of architecture and design? Would we ever be able to design a different ‘version’ of something that is done in an extremely profitable manner right now? Like housing for instance: how could we ever propose a design that is constructed faster or more efficiently than the current solution? We could propose higher quality by designing assembly processes I suppose, but Is that what people here would want?
Our conversation ended with the consideration that we would never be successful making a ‘better version’ of anything existing, or solving a problem we see, or trying to help people we don’t fully understand. We could however find success in expressing what makes this area so spectacular. The flares over the lake in Newtown for instance, provided us with a perspective of the condition that rendered it more poetically than ever imagined from reading articles about it. These moments of excitement seemed to paint a clearer picture for our project’s future success.