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Grain Elevators
Grain Elevators

Some photos of concrete grain elevators taken from the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER) in the Library of Congress.

Grain Elevators

There's something about grain elevators that lend themselves easily to adaptive re-use. If we were to hear that some of them have been turned into urban lofts and business offices, or even into a Midwestern palatial homestead for a Hollywood mogul who has grown tired of Montana ranches, we wouldn't be surprised.

If we see them converted into megachurches, we wouldn't be surprised as well. For anyone who has ever driven by a rural town, grain elevators appear like cathedrals, rising above the Great Plains, imposing and majestic.

Hearing that one has been recycled into a cultural center, we'd say that it's probably symptomatic of the current vogue in the industrial sublime. We would then wait for someone to fill the gutted, cavernous interior of a silo-turned-museum with another, though smaller, grain elevator as an art installation.

Grain Elevators

Grain Elevators

Grain Elevators

Grain Elevators

Grain Elevators

Another peculiar thing about these buildings is how they can play multiple symbolic roles. They are industrial objects, for sure, but they are also intimately connected to the land and to its seasonal cycles. Able to evoke the romantic rural life as well the gritty realities of contemporary urban living, they wouldn't look out of place in a John Ford or an Elia Kazan movie.

For anonymous government bureaucrats, they must seem like potent propaganda tools, a uniquely American object signifying economic vitality and national progress. To see one is to see a future full of promise. It would not surprise us to see them in a New Deal-era documentary or in any one of the political ads presently proliferating exponentially before next month's U.S. mid-term elections.

On the hands of an auteur, however, they will be used to set the mood for a nice Kubrickian dystopian epic. Or maybe Gattaca II.

Grain Elevators

Grain Elevators

Grain Elevators

Grain Elevators

Grain Elevators

Finally, they may be pure, simple, strikingly graceful on the outside, but these interior shots tell a different story.

Grain Elevators

Grain Elevators

Grain Elevators

Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER)

Grain Elevators by Lisa Mahar-Keplinger
  • treekiller
  • October 12, 2006 at 10:43:00 AM CDT
  • a concrete atlantis indeed!

  • CP
  • October 12, 2006 at 3:44:00 PM CDT
  • The one in Akron, OH has been converted in to a very nice hotel. All the rooms are round, with the bathroom being a pie-shaped quarter. The rooms are quite large and unique. Very cool!

  • Anonymous
  • October 12, 2006 at 5:27:00 PM CDT
  • Worked at Granary Associates in Philadelphia, based in an old grain silo. It was a goof 50 foot break in between floors 2 and 3 but using the old grain elevator when the regular elevator failed make the trip through the center quite an experience.

    Image available at

  • Anonymous
  • October 12, 2006 at 9:12:00 PM CDT
  • In Bloomington, IL they have converted an elevator into a year-round, indoor rock-climbing structure.
    Le Corbusier was quite disturbed by the complete functionality of these structures. It must be taken into context that most of these were constructed by folks who lived through the great depression...


  • Anonymous
  • October 12, 2006 at 9:53:00 PM CDT
  • My grandfather was a foreman on a couple grain elevator projects. He loved the slip formed concrete rings. He even drew up a plan for a family home in a single one of the concrete rings.

  • Alexander Trevi
  • October 13, 2006 at 5:17:00 PM CDT
  • Hey Mark: I was under the impression that Le Corbusier was completely fascinated by them, by their simplicity, honest use of material, and the fact that they were mostly conceived through function. In fact, according to Lisa Mahar-Keplinger in her slim volume on grain elevators (see link in post), he and along with Erich Mendelsohn and Walter Gropius had "no difficulty adopting it, both formally and symbolically, as a model for their international vision of architecture."

    Meanwhile, is this the rock-climbing silo in Bloomington that you speak of?

    And Anonymous: For one our very first design projects in college, we had to design our dream homes and gardens. To improve our mad formZ skillz, as it were. My dream garden were vast fields of corn, wheat, and soybean. A working landscape. As for the house -- yup, you guessed it -- a converted concrete silo with four circular bins. Painted yellow. So if anything, I may know where your grandfather was coming from when he wanted to live in a silo.

  • Anonymous
  • October 15, 2006 at 3:49:00 PM CDT
  • Here is one turned into student housing in oslo

  • Pete Gloria
  • October 18, 2006 at 10:28:00 PM CDT
  • Love this. Love how something so pared-down can be evocative - plenty mid-grade (and even some high-grade) modernist architecture attempted it in a cold sweat and just ended up foisting sterile husks on public and living spaces.
    I think of these along with water towers, lighthouses, broadcast antennas, windmills, water dams, etc. Purely functional machine-like buildings that paradoxically have a human dimension which is hard to pin down.
    I imagine returning war veterans travelling on the Greyhound along open plains and seeing these and thinking 'Home' - ike something they'd never actually noticed before gets to the core of what it's all about in a silent way.

    Coupla refs: you mention auteur movies - i always thought it was strange how more directors havent used the claustrophobic interior of a grain silo as a device a la Peter Weir's 'Witness'. The idea of it being filled up with the equivalent of quicksand 'n drowning in a solid - probably just me on that... :)
    Other ref: fascination with these accidental monuments spread thru creative circles around the time pics like these were taken. Charles Sheeler's Ford factory photos spring to mind. And Joseph Stella and Charles Demuth - i could be wrong but I think 'My Egypt' is actually of a grain silo/elevator...

  • Charlie Dunver
  • November 13, 2006 at 7:10:00 PM CST
  • Check out this project at Silo # 5 in Montreal called Silophone.


  • The Brotherhood of Steel Scenario Paintball Team
  • April 18, 2007 at 10:00:00 AM CDT
  • The Concrete Central building in Buffalo NY is now being used to play Paintball. I hope to go to City hall and find who owns this so perhaps we can restore the structure and keep it living for many years to come. It really is a great building...

  • tom
  • July 19, 2007 at 4:42:00 PM CDT
  • thanks for the pictures,

  • Anonymous
  • January 4, 2008 at 4:19:00 PM CST
  • Minneapolis was blessed 25 years ago with conversion of elevators into condos...the current Calhoun Isles. Wonderful buildings.

  • January 30, 2008 at 9:42:00 AM CST

  • Anonymous
  • March 11, 2008 at 8:50:00 AM CDT
  • I also have played paintball at concrete central in Buffalo, NY. As an avid paintball player who's been all over I gotta say, It's the best place I've ever played. It's insane how large the elevators are, but they are also very dangerous. The Buffalo River shores are packed with these dilapitated grain elevators. I think it's nice looking, most would probably dissagree. Buffalo is a Depressing city because of it's economic situation, but it's rich in history that most americans don't even know about.

    By the way. The tall towering rust buckets next to the elevators are called "joe carts" and they are on a double set of railroad rails to let them move along the elevator. These are interesting and possibly the most dangerous part of concrete central. The staircases have been removed so people don't climb them. I climbed them anyways on the edge of the stairway rails and holding the railings. The joe carts are right next to the river so my cousins and I would climb to different levels to the point of insanity and dive into the river. Dangerous Fun. I would be willing to bet that somebody's gonna die out there before the buildings crumble.

    This is Aaron Ormsby, from Buffalo, NY. Peace

  • Anonymous
  • March 11, 2008 at 3:45:00 PM CDT
    -Matthew Key. If you know paintball in buffalo you know me. president of the university at buffalo paintball team. for contact. will be playing at hot shots paintball (genessee st.) this summer as well as concrete. See you on the feild.

  • Anonymous
  • March 22, 2009 at 11:38:00 AM CDT
  • American Colossus: the Grain Elevator, 1843 to 1943

  • nickb
  • October 26, 2009 at 4:48:00 PM CDT
  • always beautiful, and ripe for renovation. here is another rock climbing gym silo, located on the outskirts of dallas, tx:

  • Philippe Savard
  • October 19, 2011 at 12:07:00 PM CDT
  • i think we find the perfect reuse for all these grain elevators and their affiliated silos. Turning these giant concrete structure into modular and high efficiency data center is the sustainable way to rehabilitate them and create a whole new economic activity with it. From grain to octet ... this is our solution by creating a technology and a data center design to make this happen.

    Find out more about Siloctet green solution at

    Philippe S.

  • tonyon
  • February 21, 2016 at 12:28:00 PM CST
  • spatial elevator with carbon nanotubes

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