Dig, dig, dig

(Photo by busymonster)

This blog developed from our search for adaptively reused quarries and when we relaunched it back in April last year our first post was about the adaptive reuse of a cement works near Vancouver, now the Butchart Gardens, one of the most visited tourist attractions in Canada. We were trying to prove that the abandoned cement works at Portland, a few kilometres from where we live, was a great asset that could one day be revived in a new role.

It should’nt be a hard point to argue. Throughout the civilised world (ie countries not controlled by extremist right wing economic ideologues) quarries are often highly sought after redevelopment sites. Even fairly isolated sites have “infinite potential” (as real estate agents say) in the hands of people of imagination.

(Photo by dulcie)

We thought we would revisit the subject but we’ve been a bit slow posting lately due to a combination of home and garden renovations, upgrading to the latest WordPress version (problems!) and installing new (pre Vista) computers that all have to be set up to dual boot Linux and Windows XP (ah if only Linux really was perfect, but it isn’t, it’s just better than becoming a slave to Microsoft) and since we began slowly writing this post a few weeks ago two bizarre quarry stories have appeared.

The first was a story in The Guardian about Monsanto in the 1970s using a Welsh quarry to secretly dispose of toxic waste. We have some doubts about the safety of genetically modified food but we are much more concerned about GM as a tactic being used by Monsanto to control the world’s food supply. If you still need evidence that Monsanto has indulged in deceitful and criminal behaviour, just read this story, then consider whether you still believe the rosy stories they now tell about GM food.

The second is this post in the admirable BLDGBLOG about a different sort of toxic quarry. The Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana is an abandoned open cut copper mine whose polluted waters have become home to a range of “novel forms of fungi and bacteria”, many with unexpected medicinal potential. So humanity is creating mass extinction on one hand and on the other creating unlikely environments that demonstrate the extraordinary resilience and adaptive ability of life. It makes you wish you could live a few centuries just to watch the amazing events that are about to unfold.

That’s one of the things about quarries and similar abandoned industrial sites, even the most contaminated can become havens for wildlife, often because their polluted state protects them from destructive redevelopment. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be adaptively reused, however, if only as wildlife refuges. The Brick Pit Ring aerial walkway on the Sydney Olympics site is a spectacular example.

The long disused brick pit, with the massively contaminated but partly remediated Homebush Bay on one side and the various Olympic stadiums on the other,

(Photo by yewenyi. Check out his Homebush Bay set including interpretive signage by Wendy)

is at the geographic centre of Sydney. It was found to contain colonies of the now endangered Green and Golden Bell Frog ruling out any reuse that might injure the frog’s habitat. Even its use as a study centre for the frogs had to be handled with extreme sensitivity. The resultant structure by Durbach Block is not just sensitive, it’s beautiful. (Wendy was part of the Australian Museum consortium that were the runners up for the job so we’ve watched its development with wonder.)

But frogs aren’t the only thing swimming around in quarries, there are frogmen and frogwomen as well and they’re studying rather than being studied.

One of the most successful diver training centres in Europe is the Stoney Cove Diving Centre in a flooded granite quarry in Leicestershire, UK.

During the quarry’s working life, the spring water was a constant problem. Pumps were used to prevent the quarry from flooding. When all quarrying ceased in 1958, spring water was allowed to flood the quarry workings. Five years later, the flooded quarry had already become popular with local pioneers of diving and waterskiing.
The discovery of North Sea oil was important to the development of Stoney Cove. During the 1960s and 1970s, the flooded quarry was used to train commercial divers en route for the North Sea.

Stoney Cove is very popular with around 100,00 dives a year

(Photo by flibber)

(unlike another flooded UK quarry used for diving, the suicidally deep and cold Dorothea Quarry in North Wales, probably best avoided.)

There are also other sorts of study centres in adaptively reused quarries.

The most obvious example must be the Eden Project, a sort of botanical theme park built in a former clay pit near St Austell, Cornwall, UK.

(Photo by Emil Klemens)

Wikipedia as usual gives an excellent overview

At the bottom are the two covered biomes. The larger, the Humid Tropics Biome, is for tropical plants, such as fruiting banana trees, coffee, rubber and giant bamboo, and is kept at a tropical temperature. The smaller of the two, the Warm Temperate Biome, houses familiar warm temperate and arid plants such as olives and grape vines and various pieces of sculpture. The Outdoor Biome represents the temperate regions of the world with plants such as tea, lavender, hops and hemp. A third covered biome representing the dry tropics is planned for the future.

It’s now one of the most visited tourist attractions in the UK, proving yet again, again, again,

(Photo by Emil Klemens)

that the average person is more aware of environmental issues than are the pygmy politicians manufactured and sold to them by the corporate media. Perhaps they are all sizing the place up for adaptive reuse as their future home, a wise move given the way things are going (again thanks to BLDGBLOG for the link).


  1. Posted 14 Feb ’07 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    This is one ripper blog. Lost the addy for a while, glad to have found it again. Your link list is amazing too – found many a treat in there – ta!

    SJ xx

  2. Ian Milliss
    Posted 14 Feb ’07 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Why thank you Jane and I’m glad to see your blog is back in action, you know I enjoy it and I was a bit worried for a while that you were giving up. Just remember, walking is the new driving.

  3. Posted 16 Feb ’07 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    A very interesting story. I am glad to see that one of my photos has been put to good use. Thanks!

  4. heligangarden
    Posted 17 Feb ’07 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Ian fantastic blog site, the links are amazing, I could get lost in them for days… good to see Emil’s photos as well.

  5. Posted 17 Feb ’07 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Hey Ian – I spent a brief time at Indiana University and there were all these abandoned limestone quarries down there around Bloomington. They were pretty creepy stark places. You felt like a crime was going to happen there. (Well, sometimes they did actually.) But there was a real attraction to them as well. The bold cuts in the hillsides, the warmth of the big stone expanses. I agree there is something worthy about them. Is there some perfect use besides theme parks?

    Anyway, I stopped by here because I’ve been thinking about another subject. My blog is on hiatus for several months because my house renovation (see blog) is making things a mess, and I have a paying job I’m doing, which is a book about knitting (you know how knitting-mad the world is nowadays). In particular I’m working on a section about recycling yarn… i.e. the sport that some knitters have of going into thrift stores (or even their own troves of finished objects) and finding garments that are made of good yarn but do not satisfy in terms of looks. These are then unraveled to get the yarn and re-knitted into something they desire more.

    So it’s adaptive reuse. Not architecture, of course, which is the focus of your site, but the absolute aplomb with which some of these knitters rip things that they might have spent a hundred hours on a year or two ago — you might find it really interesting. They’re not worshipping the past or trying to “preserve” it in glass… they’re transforming materials in an environmentally sensitive way.

    Their motivations mostly aren’t environmental. Basically, it’s that they’re addicted to knitting and are always on the lookout for high quality material, and this is a cheap and fun/resourceful way to get it. But still it has a positive environmental effect in the sense of not producing any new demand for yarn production. And every time they do it it makes them more aware of their ability to transform things. Which can’t be bad.

    Cheers, bottleman

  6. Ian Milliss
    Posted 17 Feb ’07 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    bottleman, I figured that your building project had put you out of action (we’re having the same problem ourselves right now), but I pop over to your blog regularly in the hope of finding who was your final choice for best environmental blog out of worldchanging and vestal design.

    Re knitting, as you say simply reusing materials is interesting but not really our focus but I got all excited about knitting a few months back because I’d come across mentions of it being used to generate mathematical forms. However boingboing or a few others discovered them too and gave them a run so I thought I didn’t have much to add. But what I found in the process were a heap of fantastic knitting sites (that you have no doubt already discovered) as well as the men’s knitting movement (“Are you man enough to knit?”). I sympathise entirely, having been taught to knit by my grandmother at an early age.

    You’ve probably already heard the story about Niels Bohr (I think, memory unreliable) watching his wife knitting then asking for a pair of needles and some wool, going into another room and coming back some time later to announce he had invented a different way to knit – his wife looked at it then said “yes dear it’s called perl.” Probably apocryphal but it’s one of those stories that should be true even if it isn’t.

    One interesting thing about the web is that I think it’s helping activities like knitting rise in the cultural hierarchy, although for quite a while it has been appearing in modified forms in the conventional art world (have you seen the work of my friend Fiona Hall? ) but I think of knitting as being as much like music as visual art because of the sequential and reiterative pattern construction. Since there is a link between musical and mathematical abilities I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that musicians are great knitters.

    The reuse of wool is a good example of something else I’ve been researching, however, which is manufacturing processes that mimic nature by endlessly rebirthing the same materials – as a product ages it is deconstructed and the materials are reprocessed back into a new version of the original product. This reuse of wool is a simple and homely version of that.

    And I hope you’ve noticed that I’ve taken your advice and I’m using more flickr creative commons photos. And I’ve found some great ones like yewenyi’s very evocative Homebush mangrove photos. Thank you for the suggestion.

    heligangardens, I didn’t tell Emil but I hope he’s pleased.

  7. Posted 17 Mar ’07 at 6:11 pm | Permalink


    Even though the Berkeley Pit in Butte Montana may pose a problem it has some beauty about it. It will be decades to clean it up as well as the rest of Butte. But life in Butte isn’t so bad just go to http://Booksnotsonew.blogspot.com and take a look at some photos of Butte Montana.

    You Have a nice site!


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