Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mines || The Last Frontier?

Diavik Mine, Canada, via NPR
It's hard not to look at a photograph of a mine and get inspired. Well, maybe mortified as well, but, yes, somehow strangely inspired. Maybe it is the megastructuralist that lies within...I mean, look at these images of Diavik Mine in Canada, featured in an NPR article today. They look like a land_art-megastructuralists wet dream: a massive earthen superstructure just waiting to be infilled, modulated, and plugged-in. Actually, if you flip through Justus Dahinden's Urban Structures for the Future, many of the projects resemble the mine's not so subtle topographic deformations (both innies and outties). Take Chaneac's Crater City for example. It is basically a series of man-made mines served straight up.
Chaneac's Crater City (1968) via Athens 9

Of course the catastrophic transformation of the earth's surface that occurs as a result of mining's processes are awesome, surreal, and sublime. NPR's article says that to create the Diavik Mine they "had to drain a lake and then build a 2.5-mile dike in order to create an open-pit mine." I am reminded of John McPhee's passage in Assembling California which describes the rapid progression of mining technology in California, from pan handling to hydraulic sluice mining, and how drastically it transformed the landscape:
As the mine tailings travel in floods, they thicken stream beds and fill valleys with hundreds of feet of gravel. In their bleached whiteness these gravels will appear to be lithic glaciers for a length of time on the human scale that might as well last forever. In a year and a half, hydraulic mining washes enough material into the Yuba River to fill the Erie Canal...Broad moonscapes of unvegetate stream-rounded rubble conceal the original land.
The NPR article says that "The Canadian government has stringent environmental controls and required precise details about how the mining will affect the wildlife and the countryside. Diamond companies also have to show how they're going to close their mines safely even before they're open." (emphasis mine) That is an interesting fact for artists and architects interested in intervening on such a large scale. Land Artists such as Robert Smithson come to mind, as well as Landscape Architects such as Alan Berger's Drosscapes and Shlomo Aronson's Negev Phosphate Works. Smithson once said that
the world needs coal and highways, but we do not need the results of stip-mining or highway can become a resource, that mediates between the ecologist and the industrialist.
Mirny Diamond Mine, Serbia, via Reformers and Puritans
How else can we envision the use and renewal of the industrial process of mining? I'm interested in learning more about this, so if you know of any interesting examples please let me know. One thought that comes to mind relates to my earlier comments about megastructures. Since there is actually a lot of mining and quarrying takes place in urban and suburban areas, can we envision the possibility of creating new geographies of domestic occupation?
Herbert Bayer, drawing of Mill Creek Canyon
Herbert Bayers' drawings for his Mill Creek Canyon earthwork offer a poetic vision of the prosaic operation of cut-and-fill tht could offer a solution. How about taking the excavated earth and create new urban topographies? We could vastly increase our inhabitable surface with this technique. Take a look again at the Diavik mine photos--each step in that mine is 100 feet tall, tall enough for a 7-10 story building. Start by constructing a habitable mountain from the refuse as the mine is excavated and then once the mine is tapped, fill it in and create a light-filled subterranean city. In the end maybe it would look something like this.


B. said...

i think that the bayer image isn't from the studies for mill creek canyon, but was rather for the various earthwork studies that he did while at the aspen institute. if you want to see some recent earthworks images, check out the cultural landscape foundation's landslide list this year

Dave Brown said...

B, thanks for the link. I'll do some more research on the image. I understood from the following link that it was specifically related to Mill Creek Canyon but perhaps it is just part of a series of studies on sculptural landscapes in general :