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Dona Yu via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The “Castle” in the Middle of Death Valley

Dona Yu via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

If you happen to stumble upon the onetime residence of Albert Mussey Johnson while visiting Death Valley, you might briefly wonder if you’re suffering from heatstroke. After all, it’s not every day you see a $2.5 million Spanish Colonial Revival villa smack in the middle of nowhere.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a man named Walter Scott traveled with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and earned quite a reputation as a cowboy. After he quit the show, Scott decided to try his hand at gold prospecting and used his newfound status to convince wealthy businessmen to invest in his Death Valley mine.

The only problem: there was no Death Valley gold mine. Whether he actually even tried to find one or simply spent his time and energy swindling investors is still up for debate. Whatever the case may be, Scott had no qualms about spending the money he had collected on himself.

One such investor was Albert Mussey Johnson, an insurance bigwig from Chicago. Johnson was likely one of Scott’s biggest investors, funneling thousands of dollars into the “mine” without ever seeing any evidence of the precious metal. After several years of this, enough was enough, and Johnson booked a trip to Death Valley to see what was going on. When he arrived, Scott made his investor “tour” the desert for days, hoping that the oppressive heat would deter Johnson from hanging out for very long.

It didn’t. Johnson loved the dry heat, and, amazingly, loved Walter Scott. The insurance mogul was well aware that he had been duped, but he couldn’t help but like the man who conned him. For the next decade, Johnson and his wife vacationed in Death Valley to visit Scott every winter. Sick of camping in canvas tents, Bessie Johnson convinced her husband to build something they could live in during their frequent visits. Though the Johnsons financed it, Scott told people that he was building a lavish desert mansion with his profits from the gold mine. Incredibly, when reporters asked Johnson about it, he corroborated Scott’s story—and the mansion became “Scotty’s Castle.”

Construction came to a halt in 1931 when the Johnsons discovered a surveying error that meant they were building on federal land, not private. When they died in the 1940s, the Johnsons left the unfinished castle to their charity, the Gospel Foundation. The charity also took care of Scotty, who lived in the castle during his final years. When he died in 1954, Scotty was buried on a hill overlooking the estate that wasn’t actually his, even though it bore his name.

Most of the time, this incredible product of the strange friendship is still open for tours, but sadly, Scotty’s Castle was damaged by recent flash floods—a storm in October resulted in 2.7 inches of rain, more than the area usually gets in 12 months. With more than a foot of mud covering the floor of the visitor’s center, damaging and destroying exhibits, Scotty’s Castle could be closed for up to a year. The good news: there are plenty of other castles around the country ready to receive tourists.

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Courtesy of Fernando Artigas
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Step Inside This Stunning, Nature-Inspired Art Gallery in Tulum, Mexico
Courtesy of Fernando Artigas
Courtesy of Fernando Artigas

Upon closer inspection, this building in Tulum, Mexico, doesn’t seem like a suitable place to house an art exhibit. Everything that makes it so visually striking—its curved walls, uneven floors, and lack of drab, white backgrounds—also makes it a challenge for curators.

But none of these factors deterred Santiago Rumney Guggenheim—the great-grandson of the late famed art collector and heiress Peggy Guggenheim—from christening the space an art gallery. And thus, IK LAB was born.

“We want to trigger the creative minds of artists to create for a completely different environment,” Rumney Guggenheim, the gallery’s director, tells Artsy. “We are challenging the artists to make work for a space that doesn’t have straight walls or floors—we don’t even have walls really, it’s more like shapes coming out of the floor. And the floor is hardly a floor.”

A view inside IK LAB
Courtesy of Fernando Artigas

A view inside IK LAB
Courtesy of Fernando Artigas

A view inside IK LAB
Courtesy of Fernando Artigas

A view inside IK LAB
Courtesy of Fernando Artigas

IK LAB was brought to life by Rumney Guggenheim and Jorge Eduardo Neira Sterkel, the founder of luxury resort Azulik. The two properties, which have a similar style of architecture, share a site near the Caribbean coast. IK LAB may be unconventional, but it certainly makes a statement. Its ceiling is composed of diagonal slats resembling the veins of a leaf, and a wavy wooden texture breaks up the monotony of concrete floors. Entry to the gallery is gained through a 13-foot-high glass door that’s shaped a little like a hobbit hole.

The gallery was also designed to be eco-conscious. The building is propped up on stilts, which not only lets wildlife pass underneath, but also gives guests a view overlooking the forest canopy. Many of the materials have been sourced from local jungles. Gallery organizers say the building is designed to induce a “meditative state,” and visitors are asked to go barefoot to foster a more sensory experience. (Be careful, though—you wouldn't want to trip on the uneven floor.)

The gallery's first exhibition, "Alignments," features the suspended sculptures of Artur Lescher, the perception-challenging works of Margo Trushina, and the geometrical pendulums of Tatiana Trouvé. One piece by Trouvé features 250 pendulums suspended from the gallery's domed ceiling. If you want to see this exhibit, be sure to get there before it ends in September.

[h/t Dezeen]

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Engineers Have Figured Out How the Leaning Tower of Pisa Withstands Earthquakes
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iStock

Builders had barely finished the second floor of the Tower of Pisa when the structure started to tilt. Despite foundational issues, the project was completed, and eight centuries and at least four major earthquakes later, the precarious landmark remains standing. Now, a team of engineers from the University of Bristol and other institutions claims to have finally solved the mystery behind its endurance.

Pisa is located between the Arno and Serchio rivers, and the city's iconic tower was built on soft ground consisting largely of clay, shells, and fine sand. The unstable foundation meant the tower had been sinking little by little until 2008, when construction workers removed 70 metric tons of soil to stabilize the site. Today it leans at a 4-degree angle—about 13 feet past perfectly vertical.

Now researchers say that the dirt responsible for the tower's lean also played a vital role in its survival. Their study, which will be presented at this year's European Conference on Earthquake Engineering in Greece, shows that the combination of the tall, stiff tower with the soft soil produced an effect known as dynamic soil-structure interaction, or DSSI. During an earthquake, the tower doesn't move and shake with the earth the same way it would with a firmer, more stable foundation. According to the engineers, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is the world's best example of the effects of DSSI.

"Ironically, the very same soil that caused the leaning instability and brought the tower to the verge of collapse can be credited for helping it survive these seismic events," study co-author George Mylonakis said in a statement.

The tower's earthquake-proof foundation was an accident, but engineers are interested in intentionally incorporating the principles of DSSI into their structures—as long as they can keep them upright at the same time.

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