If you gave Dr. Seuss and M.C. Escher free reign over an old shoe factory and told them to build the world’s craziest jungle gym, you’d get the City Museum in St. Louis Missouri.
This isn’t your typical museum. Very little is “for display only,” in fact touching is highly encouraged. The environment you interact with itself is the museum. You climb, crawl, scoot, slide, and ride all the exhibits.
“The point is not to learn every fact, but to say, ‘Wow, that’s wonderful.’ and if it’s wonderful, it’s worth preserving” —Bob Cassilly
The museum was created by an artist named Bob Cassilly. Together with his wife and a group of hand picked artisans they started building this crazy place in an old shoe factory. Every year there is a building season in the middle of winter where the place grows little by little. Even though Cassilly passed away a couple years ago, the workers, who call themselves “The Cassilly Crew,” work hard to keep the dream alive and keep the museum growing.
When it isn’t raining, this area is usually packed with people. Everything you see here, as rigged as it may seem, is perfectly structurally sound. People crawl and climb through passageways all over the place. If you look at the pictures below you’ll see airplanes, old fire trucks, industrial cranes, and scrap metal from all sorts of places. This is all welded together in ways that look incredibly dangerous, but basically carry similar risks to what you’d find on any playground. At least, that’s what a member of the crew told me.
Inside the building
Inside you’ll find that every surface is covered with some kind of art work or reclaimed material. As local factories get demolished or rebuilt, the old equipment and material ends up at the city museum. Twinkie tins become wall decorations, scrap steel becomes giant climbing structures, tile becomes mosaics.
In a way, it is similar to a regular museum. These things attached to the walls are the processes of manufacturing from days past. As new technology comes in, the old stuff gets displaced and finds a home here at the city museum. —A Cassilly Crew Member
This place is extremely hands-on. You can touch everything and climb nearly everywhere. Yep, people get stuck in the narrow passageways and welded wire tunnels. It’s no big deal though, you just back up and go the other way.
There are a few employees wandering around, making sure no one is doing something insanely stupid, like dangling off of things too high up, but generally you’re left to your own judgement. It works surprisingly well.
An architecture museum
There is one area of the museum that isn’t quite as crazy and loud. This is the architecture display. The crew locates beautiful pieces of architecture that are destined for destruction and saves them. They’re put out for you to see, and yes, touch.