A Monument to Mining

Published in Scenario 05: Extraction
Fall 2015

“Coal is good for humanity, coal is good for prosperity, coal is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia, and right around the world.”
– Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott [1]

 

This is a proposal for an urban intervention in Melbourne, Australia: a monument to mining that questions Australia’s relationship with coal and addresses the dualistic spatial relationship between the city and its regional territory.

 

Context

Coal is the primary source of electricity generation globally and continues to grow in dominance [2]. Many countries, both developed and undeveloped, rely almost entirely on coal to power their cities and towns. Australia is the fourth largest producer of coal [3] and is a key distributor to some of the world’s largest economies [4]. The industry accounts for 20% of Australia’s export revenue [5] and generates the vast majority of its major cities’ electricity [6]. This makes Australia thoroughly dependent on coal both economically and for energy consumption, and suggests that a transition to alternative sources of energy in the near future is a great challenge. Paradoxically, Australia is one of the countries most endowed with alternative sources of energy, [7] but its historic and systemic reliance on coal, coupled with a pro-fossil fuel right wing government, will see the Australian economy and its cities inextricably linked to coal mining for the foreseeable future.

WORLD

Australia’s position as leading exporter of coal in the global coal industry.

 

Invisible territories

Coal deposits are found throughout the Melbourne metropolitan area, [8] but mining of these deposits is relegated to the city’s regional fringe. The four active mines and power stations are located roughly 100 miles from the city center. Because these mines and power plants are visually unappealing and politically volatile, [9] great efforts are taken to screen and hide these landscapes and their associated infrastructure from public view [10].

Essential to Melbourne’s urban life as these mining landscapes are, shouldn’t they be designed to be more visible? And contentious as they are, shouldn’t they be part of a greater democratic debate? How can citizens engage with these remote mining landscapes in a collective and conscientious manner within the city?

02_Victorian Map_Breedon

Melbourne’s metropolitan area and surrounding regional context. Although the whole region is abundant in coal, most mines and power plants are located in the regional periphery.

 

Proposal

Melbourne’s dependency on coal, as well as how the city’s growth drives landscape change is not well understood by the general public. It is essential that an understanding of the two-way relationship between the city and its surrounding mining landscapes informs the public debate on coal dependency, energy transition and the future development of Melbourne. Furthermore a common understanding that ‘the city’ does not end at the metropolitan boundary but also encompasses the city’s hinterland may generate new scenarios for a more holistic regional development. This proposal intends to engage citizens in the processes of urbanization and resource extraction in the city’s hinterland.

The proposal suggests that a deep section of Hazelwood mine — the region’s largest — be taken in the form of an obelisk, and placed in Federation Square, one of Melbourne’s most significant public spaces and a regular site for organized protests. A full-size slice of the geology of the entire depth of the mine, at 100ft (30m) high, is to be excavated. The monument would be as tall as the 9-story buildings immediately surrounding Federation Square. The proposal intends to open a dialog between the city and the surrounding mining landscapes by creating an urban condition where people are confronted with the reality of a city powered by coal.

A city’s civic spaces and the monuments they contain are a product of society’s shared, civic beliefs. A city’s monuments may be the result of a struggle between conflicting interest groups, [11] or a socio-spatial manifestation of collective self-representation [12]. Ritual and continual engagement with these urban elements over time develops a shared citizenship and a sustained urban democracy [13]. If these spaces are a reflection of shared citizenship, then symbolic urban elements can act iconographically, eliciting strong emotional responses and perhaps opening up a space for negotiation, opposition and confrontation around local as well as global issues [14].

Collapsing the distance between the city and its coal mining landscapes through the use of a provocative public monument may stimulate public conversation on Melbourne’s coal mining landscapes. The monument may engage citizens in issues beyond their immediate surroundings and foster debate on how Melbourne’s energy needs produce radically altered landscapes. Through public dialog and civic engagement, the city’s citizens may begin to collectively tackle how Melbourne might transition from a singular dependency on coal to new urban energy scenarios.

03_Mining to Urban Context_Breedon

An Obelisk is to be taken from a mining site and placed in Federation Square, one of Melbourne’s most significant urban spaces.

04_Section_Breedon

The Obelisk acts as a deep geological section and didactic tool to understand Melbourne’s mining landscapes.

05_Obelisk_Breedon

The Obelisk in its urban context.


BreedonAlexander Breedon is a landscape architect currently living in Melbourne, Australia. He has worked for internationally recognized landscape architects McGregor Coxall, Australia, and LOLA landscape architects, The Netherlands. He has worked on projects around Europe including the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam with Project Atelier BrabandtStad. Alex is also a member of 1788, an organization that researches the intersection between Australia’s pre- and post-colonial ecology and consequent landscape interpretation.


Notes

[1] “Coal ‘good for humanity’, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says at $3.9b Queensland mine opening,” ABC News, October 13, 2014, accessed November 15, 2014,
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-13/coal-is-good-for-humanity-pm-tony-abbott-says/5810244.
[2] “Coal,” International Energy Organization, 2014, accessed December 2, 2014, http://www.iea.org/topics/coal/.
[3] “Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources,” Geoscience Australia, 2012, accessed December 2, 2014, http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/minerals/mineral-resources/aimr.
[4] “Where did Australia export Coal to in 2012?,” The Harvard Atlas of Economic Complexity, 2012, accessed December 5, 2014, http://atlas.cid.harvard.edu/explore/tree_map/export/aus/show/2701/2012/.
[5] Ibid.
[6] “Generation by fuel type,” RenewEconomy: Tracking the next Industrial Revolution, 2015, accessed December 9, 2014, http://reneweconomy.com.au/nem-watch.
[7] Germany now generates 75% of its energy from solar and is poorly resourced with sunlight in comparison to Australia. Germany’s best irradiation area, in the south of Munich receives <1300 kWh/m2. This is the same as Australia’s worst area for irradiation; southern Tasmania, which receives between 1250-1350 kWh/m2. See: “Global Horizontal Irradiation: Germany,” Geomodel Solar, 2011, accessed December 7, 2014, http://www.mappery.com/map-of/Solar-Radiation-Map-of-Germany; “Global Horizontal Irradiation: Australia,” Geomodel Solar, 2013, accessed December 7, 2014, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ce/SolarGIS-Solar-map-Australia-en.png.
[8] Coal deposits are found well within Melbourne’s metro region. See: “Earth Resources: Lignite / Brown coal,” State Government of Victoria: Energy and Earth Resources, 2015, accessed December 5, 2014, http://www.energyandresources.vic.gov.au/earth-resources/victorias-earth-resources/coal.
[9] “Hazelwood expecting more climate change protests,” ABC News, September 13, 2009, accessed December 9, 2014, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2009-09-14/hazelwood-expecting-more-climate-change-protests/1428318.
[10] Extensive screening planting projects have been planned around the perimeter of the Hazelwood mine. See Figure 3.13 in:
“Fire prevention and mitigation measures adopted at the Hazelwood mine,” Hazelwood Mine Fire Enquiry, 2014, accessed December 9, 2014, http://report.hazelwoodinquiry.vic.gov.au/part-three-fire-risk-management/fire-prevention-mitigation-measures-taken-gdf-suez/fire-prevention-mitigation-measures-adopted-hazelwood-mine.
[11] Yvonne Whelan, “The construction and destruction of a colonial landscape: monuments to British monarchs in Dublin before and after independence,” Journal of Historical Geography 28, no. 4 (2002): 508-533.
[12] Tali Hatuka and Rachel Kallus, “The Architecture of Repeated Rituals,” Journal of Architectural Education 61, no. 4 (2008): 85-94.
[13] Richard Sennett, The Spaces of Democracy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998), 41.
[14] J. Wesley Judd, “The role of public spaces after tragedy,” Pacific Standard, January 9, 2015, accessed October 21, 2015, http://www.psmag.com/politics-and-law/role-public-spaces-tragedy-charlie-hebdo-paris-france-97942.

Header image by Bert Kaufmann