Could ugly ex-mining sites be made into elegant cities?

The mining boom generated an enormous amount of wealth for much of Australia, but it also created a few headaches … not least of which was a deeply scarred landscape.

Few grey nomads who have travelled for any length of time could fail to have noticed the inevitable visual ‘hangover’ from digging materials from deep underground. The problem of what to do with this endless collection of exhausted mines and quarries has become a tricky one.

In Lismore in northern NSW, plans to convert Bexhill Quarry into a ‘stunning parkland’ have just taken a vital step forward after a presentation was made to councillors. Nick Alderson, from the Bexhill Quarry Committee outlined a vision for creating a parkland and rail trail that would allow people to ‘cycle to the parklands for a swim and a coffee, enjoying the beautiful landscape along the way’.

Mr Alderson, a landscape architect, showed examples of other sites where similar projects had been undertaken.

“This is what should be done with ex-mining sites,” he said. “They should be repurposed, not left in a degraded state.”

Exciting as the Lismore proposal is, perhaps there is an opportunity for ‘re-purposers’ to be even more ambitious, particularly in more remote parts of Australia.

A few years ago, architect Matthew Fromboluti came up with plans to create an ‘underground skyscraper’ at the abandoned Lavender Pit Mine in the Arizona desert. The ambitious proposals to create a self-sufficient subterranean city never really got ‘under the ground’, but maybe they’re worth another look in an Australian setting … particularly in places where extreme temperatures make life challenging.

The proposed development in Arizona, named ‘Above Below’, suggested covering the old quarry with a roof with a lot of transparent elements for better natural lighting of the inner part of the underground city.

Fromboluti said the stone sides of the quarry would be perfectly fine as walls for residential, office and infrastructure premises in the complex. The 300-metre ‘groundscraper’ would have contained areas for living, working, farming, and even recreation.

The architect said daylight would stream in though skylights to light up the lower parts of the tower, and the entire structure would act as a solar chimney that ushers hot air out through the top of the dome, creating an even year-round temperature.

As there was a lake at the bottom of the quarry, it was thought the city could develop parks and vegetable gardens. This underground complex would receive electricity from solar panels and wind turbines installed up above.

There was even a proposal to build a light rail system to connect the self-sufficient community to nearby towns. Presumably, such a subterranean city would also become a tourist attraction in its own right. However, in the American model, no plans were drawn up to build a lift in order to take RVs down to an underground caravan park.

  • Where would you like to see an underground skyscraper? Email us here to share your thoughts.
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