Disruptive Voids


Graduate Thesis research conducted by Nimet Anwar at Rice University. Travel funded through the H. Russell Pitman Graduate Fellowship in Architecture.

Advisor: Neyran Turan

Inverting the Monument

Mines in Relative Location to the City

Periphery of the Big Hole Mine in South Africa

Temporary Modes, Permanent Traces

Beyond the notions of the natural and the urban, there has been limited speculation about the landscapes that are in between. These sites, ranging from dams, canals, open-pit mines or any other resource production landscapes, are vital components that enable our cities. These colossal resource extractions on the earth’s surface define a new kind of sublime of the artificial. It constructs a new type of curiosity, in which the public actively explores these voids, instead of solely seeking the traditional natural landscapes of the sublime. This pursuit of awe and wonder by the artificial has resulted in an increase of tourism within cities, transforming much of the city’s ‘residue’ into preserved landscapes, much like monuments of ancient civilizations, to encourage continued revenue for these sites.

“For a landscape to be properly recovered it must be remade, designed, invented anew; it cannot simply be restored, as an old painting.” 1

The mining industry in particular has transformed the excavation of these permanent forms into a temporary mode of production, therefore exponentially increasing the quantity of mines throughout the world. This research asks the question, once the temporary mode of production is discontinued, what happens to the permanent traces of production in the earth? Also, how does territorial preservation, beyond a sort of naïve nostalgia of these past forms define new futures for the present?

Redefining Urban Events

The urban event, as defined by Aldo Rossi, is the notion of a singular event contributing to the evolution of the city. Although the term is used within an architectural context, the transformation of a typical element within the city into an exceptional one can be relevant to various disciplines. The ambition of this research is not to reverse the urban event, rather to project new futures.2 This study will specifically engage both underground and surface mines, due to the rapid growth of abandoned mines throughout the world. These discarded sites are problematic disruptions (environmentally, economically, spatially and socially) for the cities and landscapes they inhabit that need to be interrupted. This research will not question how or when mining will end, instead it explores how to radically redefine these forgotten landscapes. The investigation will study how these discarded sites can once again become vital components of the landscape through urban events and disruptions in the current trajectory of mining. This disruption cannot solely be a singular intervention or singular means of intervening; rather it should be a series of disruptions that occur over time, through a series of transformations- ecologically, historically, socially, politically, economically, infrastructurally, architecturally, etc.

In order to investigate disrupting the current mining industry, it is vital to examine the relationship between the mine and the city. There are three main relational typologies— the mine within the city, the mine at the periphery of the city, and an isolated mine with no city. Specifically in St. Louis, Missouri there was a rich mining industry that was primarily located at the periphery of the city. Many of these artificial landforms have since been abandoned with little engagement with the city. The past of the city is accessible in varying degrees, some more transparent than others, however there is still a strong relationship between the city and the “voyage of memory.” The notion of collective memory of a city is significant to the urban event that occurred on the proposed site, particularly because it once had an extensive effect on the city.3

The Big Hole Mine is one in a series of abandoned open-pit diamond mines in the city of Kimberley, South Africa. The exceptional quality of this mine is that it is an external element, which is internalized within the city fabric. This displacement defines a contestation of scales, the colossal mine at the territorial scale next to the intimate small scaled city fabric. This research exploits the contrast between the giant and the miniature, to continually distort scalar perception. The university campus is confined to a thickness, which does not act as a transition between the small, medium, and large; rather it produces a delay to redefine “how big is big?”

1     Birksted, J. (1999). Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture by James Corner (ed.), Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

2    Aureli, P. V. (2007). The Difficult Whole. Log, 9, 39–61.

3    Marot, S. (2003). Sub-Urbanism and the Art of Memory (Illustrated edition). AA Publications.