Journey to the Heart of the Sunsphere


That’s over 266 feet (approx. 81 meters) worth of architectural achievement up there. Of course we had to visit it.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: earlier in October Anne and I drove down through Kentucky and down to Knoxville, Tennessee, to meet a few fabulous folks at Fanboy Expo’s Totally Awesome Weekend, a convention we’d never done before. After we’d had another round of geek fun, we capped off our weekend with quite a bit of sightseeing (including but not limited to a giant dragon).

Knoxville’s most prominent landmark is the Sunsphere, one of two surviving major remnants from the 1982 World’s Fair, but this remnant enjoyed a spot of fame in an episode of The Simpsons. We showed you the iconic exterior from a distance, which for us raised an obvious question: what about the inside?

Officially the Sunsphere has eight floors. The first three are at or slightly above ground level, connecting to the outer walkways surrounding the Knoxville Convention Center. Their center only has two exhibit halls, but its multiple floors confuse rather easily if you don’t know where you’re headed inside. Access to Sunsphere levels 5 through 8 is granted only for the businesses on those levels and their permitted patrons via a restricted elevator. On the opposite side is an elevator allowing free rides up to the fourth-floor observation deck in the Sun’s bottom half, where all the Knoxville panorama viewing magic is.

On the outside it’s layered in 24K gold dust. On the inside is a 360-degree greenish-tinted view of all your surroundings from downtown Knoxville to the surrounding Appalachian Mountains, which are naturally verdant without the extra tinting.

Knoxville view!

From the city to the mountains and everything in between. The glass is regrettably flawed in a few spots and in dire need of cleaning. I can’t begin to imagine how that task would work.

Convention Center curvature!

Below to the southeast you can see how the Convention Center, built in 2001, was designed to accommodate the Sunsphere rod.

Tennessee Amphitheater!

To the southwest is the Tennessee Amphitheater, the other 1982 fixture still standing in World’s Fair Park.

sphere architecture!

As we pull back you can see the interior design of steel trusses and a bit of the museum-style displays.

Women's Basketball!

One barely visible Easter egg viewable in LET’S ENHANCE mode: the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, an upstanding institution in the area since 1999. It’s hard to discern from this distance and through that glass, but the World’s Largest Basketball is thirty feet tall and weighs ten tons.

Around the inner walls, more decorations educate and welcome guests to the Marble City.

Mayor's Welcome!

A special message from Mayor Madeline Rogero. If you read it all the way through, you’re legally committed to visiting Knoxville someday or else.

World's Fair notes!

Precious few American cities have had the honor of hosting a World’s Fair. Knoxville has full bragging rights in perpetuity and is justifiably proud of it.


Where the text pieces end, murals illuminate and invoke more hometown pride.


…and this mural guest stars Smokey the Bear!

Sunsphere finale!

One last parting Sunsphere shot from Anne. More Knoxville pics to come in the near future…

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