Category Archives: gardening

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).

The real post-modernism

We’ll confess we’d like to be corrupted and this post is a straight out attempt at getting some payola. Admittedly the subject, the Dutch designers Meesters & Van Der Park, deserve all the praise we can give them but unfortunately they have just announced the split up of their partnership.

So we’re saying nothing but the nicest things in the hope we will be rewarded with one of these for free, surely they’ll find a surplus one as they work out their property settlement?*

We’d been saving up the link to them so we could write a post where we talked about the sheer beauty of their design which, like much recent Dutch design,

combines a nostalgia for the old with a surface of the contemporary,

an aesthetic of adaptive reuse, eg this carpet made of blankets

or this sand blasted and perforated cupboard.

They have adapted the aesthetic of archaeological repair (with added windmills and big Mac signs).

And they’re even into social knitting, having designed new products for Eindhoven Red Cross volunteer knitters. In other words they are the very model of the modern cool young designers. And we’re not just saying that because we’d love to have ……

No, the real reason is because we wanted to write about them as a perfect illustration of the developing post-hydrocarbon aesthetic, as defined in this very interesting essay by Richard Heinberg in Energy Bulletin

At first thought, aesthetics might seem utterly incidental, given the survival challenges imposed by Peak Oil, climate chaos, mass extinctions, and so on. However, art is part of the necessary process of cultural adaptation. People inevitably find ways not just to endure, but to enjoy — to find happiness in the midst of change. We are, after all, environment shapers. As birds build nests, we build campsites, fashion clothing, and (if we are civilized humans) build cities. But as we shape our environments, those environments in turn mold our perceptions, our judgments, our expectations, our very consciousness.

After analysing the aesthetics of the industrial revolution and the Arts and Crafts movement followed by “the tragic interlude of cheap abundance” and “hydro-carbon: big, fast and ugly” he goes on to list a number of likely characteristics. Now if there is one thing you can say about art history it is that it can take extraordinary and unpredictable turns, but his predictions are very convincing. The work of Meesters & Van Der Park and many other contemporary designers undoubtedly display some of the characteristics of the transitional era he describes (forgive the long quote)

8. Because the transitional era (i.e., the coming century) will be one in which species will continue to vanish, and because people will find themselves having to adapt to weather and other natural conditions (since they will no longer be able to insulate themselves from these with high-energy buildings and machines), workers will probably be inspired to incorporate themes from nature into their products.
9. In their efforts to identify aesthetic themes appropriate to hand labor and natural materials, workers will likely end up drawing upon vernacular design traditions.
10. Because people living in the transitional era will be witnessing the passing of the fossil-fueled machine culture of their youth, they will probably be inspired to incorporate occasional ironic or nostalgic comments on that passing into their artistic output.
11. Beauty may to a certain extent be in the eye of the beholder, but there are universal principles of harmony and proportion that perennially reappear; and, given that workers will be required to invent much of their aesthetic vocabulary from scratch, they will no doubt fall back upon these principles frequently.
12. Since we are entering an era of declining availability of raw materials, the new aesthetic will by necessity emphasize leanness and simplicity, and will eschew superfluous decoration. The Zen architecture of Japan may serve as an inspiration in this regard.

Now go and read the whole essay, it’s worth it.

*We should explain that the reason we haven’t posted much in the last few weeks is because we’ve had the excavator in ripping up our garden, again, for about the tenth time now in the last three years. It’s all because we have about an acre of land that has in its time been everything from a general store to a car wreckers yard and a bus depot so it is now more than a metre deep in buried car wrecks, road fill, kerosene shale, endless contaminants etc.

We took on the project of fixing it up and turning it into a contemporary garden, ie one that combined remediation with food production. It’s been great fun but the excavator is now a machine burned indelibly into our subconscious.

There’s only one Silver Bullet

The Silver Bullet Cafe at Alice Springs in outback Australia is like a pattern book of adaptive reuse and recycling projects.

In fact it has more than 90% recycled materials. Consisting of several 4.2m x 15m Silver Bullet caravans once used as remote area schoolrooms it also incorporates the remains of a WWII ordnance depot.

It’s all set within an arid zone garden furnished with buses, trucks, recycled oil drums,

clothes hoists, road sign tables and more. They’ve even got a tyre swan – bliss! Is this the Mad Max future as heaven rather than hell?

We love it because it looks a mess and where we live “tidiness” is regularly used as an excuse to destroy heritage sites. We think messiness is next to genius – as Einstein once remarked “If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

All photos by jogaroopy

The gardener on the roof

There can be no doubt that urban agriculture is going to get more of our attention in the future but we draw the line at the adaptive reuse of entire city buildings for intensive urban farming, a dubious idea that seems to be yet another attempt to extend corporate control of food production, an issue that is already reaching crisis point.

Another reason to be cynical about such large scale corporate proposals is a basic management principle – if you have a major fuck up on your hands, get new people to fix it, never ever leave it to the same people who created the problem. Global warming goes with global capitalism and global capital’s “solutions” (eg more nuclear power) will always regard maintaining corporate power as a greater priority than solving the problem – that’s the nature of the globalist meme.


But that doesn’t mean that growing food on the rooftops of city buildings is a bad thing, in fact like all localised and independent forms of production it can be more sustainable and ethical and an important tactic in taking some control back from corporations. And it fits with our belief that adaptively reusing what already exists is always the first step.


Check out this article on rooftop hydroponics in Singapore. The move to food production is the latest step for the burgeoning green rooftop movement (a timeline of the development of green roofs is here).

For many years a building in Sydney’s central business district had a rooftop filled with water and water plants, a sort of rooftop swamp complete with spectacular birdlife. We don’t know if it’s still there but it was the first time we realised that the roof top garden could be more than just an aerial collection of pot plants.


In fact the technology of rooftop gardens has come a long way since then and the benefits of a green roof are now indisputable.

Green roofs conserve energy by moderating temperature on roof and surrounding areas, dramatically reduce storm water runoff, add ecological and aesthetic value by providing wildlife habitat in the urban environment and assist sustainability by protecting and extending the service life of the roof.

As Dr. Manfred Koehler, spokesperson for the new World Green Roof Infrastructure Network (WGRIN), launched this month in Berlin says

Rooftop greening provides an outstanding opportunity to accomplish multiple sustainability objectives and fight climate change.

Until recently the majority of green roofs were on contemporary buildings


such as this commercial building in Kassel, Germany,


the spectacular Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium by nikken sekkei


or the recent coastal research Laboratories of the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute by Lyons Architecture for the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, considered to be Australia’s best green roof design so far (Photos John Gollings),


or the Solaire building, Battery Park, Manhattan, the first ‘green’ residential high-rise in North America. The building’s design incorporates two green roofs: an intensively planted 5,000 square foot terrace green roof on the 19th floor and a 4,800 square foot extensive green roof on the 28th floor. The cleaned run-off water from the roofs is collected in Solaire’s basement cistern along with the building’s grey water and is later used to irrigate nearby parks.


In recent years, however, a new trend has developed, green roofs on heritage buildings such as this roof garden atop Chicago City Hall, 11 stories and 220 feet above street level, or the incorporation of green roofs into adaptive reuse projects, thus further increasing the contribution that these projects make to sustainability. In many instances this now qualifies the buildings under various certification schemes for tax rebates, assisting their financial viability.


One typical example is the Brewers Hill project, a $120 million multi-stage redevelopment of one of Baltimore’s most significant historic brewery complexes into office space, retail shops, residential units and light industrial spaces. Cho Benn Holback + Associates has designed the focal point Natty Boh building, a 10-story brick building complete with planted green roofs and a rainwater collection system.

Some are even arguing that the adoption of green roofs is being accelerated by the bird’s eye view provided by easily available satellite imagery such as Google Earth:

In this degraded age, the roof is emerging as a focus of society’s growing environmental anxiety. Not that green roofs will save the planet — sadly — but in cities from Toronto to Tokyo they are viewed as increasingly necessary if we are to slow global warming. In the Japanese capital, green roofs are a legal requirement for all projects over a minimum size. Even Toronto’s rooftop profile is starting to change, to become greener, thanks in part to a growing awareness of the bird’s eye view.

On the other hand, speaking of the bird’s eye view, how often is a roof top designed for that much despised flying rat, the urban pigeon?


Here is one that is also an example of the sort of art that we really approve of.

It’s by Natalie Jeremijenko at Postmasters Gallery, New York, here’s the press release and here’s an interview and a profile. We first came across her as a mover and shaker at the admirable How Stuff Is Made project then discovered her numerous art projects.

All we can say is that the video here at Seed made our week.

Call the gift therapist


Call that a bottle top? This is a bottle top! Jorre van Aste’s jar tops reminded us of this, the Twist and Spout, been around for a while but we noticed it again on the Core77 gift list.


We also saw this on their list, an elegant hybrid adaptively reusing the design of both the coat hanger and the paper clip (more history here). Beautifully done.

But if you get either of those as a present it’s time to be reconsidering the relationship.

Reindeer droppings

Decorate your tree with adaptively reused circuit boards, then buy presents

like this American Gulag bracelet from richterstudios inc,

or wineglasses from the Eden Project store

or a paper pot maker

or a personal solar panel

or a Rockbox open source mp3 player (photo by Andrew Mason).

or a MAKE warranty voider (go on, you know you want one) or any number of other geeky goodies from The Open Source Gift Guide or good gifts from the Good Gifts Catalogue.

Wrap them with last year’s reused wrapping paper (that always feels so pov but hey, Christmas is a stupid idea anyway), or check out some equally pov ideas from curbly

then set your fruit clock and if you’ve been a good primate all year (I have, I have!)

Santa* just might bring you the Christmas present you dream of……

* the existence of Santa is only a theory and is disputed by many children. However, it hardly needs saying that if Santa doesn’t bring the presents, who does? If there is no Santa why are pictures of him seen everywhere in stores and on cards? Furthermore, without Santa’s commandment to “Be good or you won’t get any presents” everyone would be bad and western civilisation would collapse. The “Christmas Conspiracy” theory, that all parents in the world secretly buy presents for their children on the same day every year, is so clearly paranoid and implausible that only anarchists, communists and other unbalanced secular extremists continue to defend it.

That old eyesore

Three years ago we helped form the Lithgow Branch of the National Trust. One of the things that drove us to it was the pointless demolition of the old gas holder near the centre of town,

“that old eyesore” as it was known. A valiant defence campaign by a resident (who we later discovered was an industrial archeologist) was contemptuously dismissed by the local Council whose elected troglodytes knew better.

The empty littered site sits there still, an untidy sterile monument to the tidy town mentality. The brave campaigner had proposed converting the structure to a sort of winter garden set in a small park in an area of town that is desperate for a bit of green public space.

So when we saw this we almost wept for what could have been.

This a project by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, the conversion of three heritage listed (yes, they heritage list them in civilised cities) gas holders in the Regents Canal area of Kings Cross, London. The adaptively reused structures will contain 144 apartments and a circular courtyard cut through the centre.

All it takes is vision and imagination, things which, like common sense, are not very common in some places.

Spam, spam, spam, spam,

spam, spam, spam, spam…what good is it? Well, believe it or not it can be adaptively reused.

You can make a t-shirt from it,

you can make poetry and pictures with it

or you can make sculpture with it

and plants.

But the site where the images above come from is very annoying because alex dragelescu has made something wonderful but instead of selling the software he just sells images he has made using it. How can we be sure he’s not pulling our leg? Well, that’s the problem with spam isn’t it, what can you believe?

PS I found a great piece of trivia while writing this post. Did you know it’s possible to spell viagra 1,300,925,111,156,286,160,896 ways? Neither did I but I don’t get much spam.

Unnatural gardening

The sad saga of the Thomas Street, Box Hill garden that was posted on Lucazoid’s site got us looking at urban agriculture.

The residents had turned the entire backyard into an organic vegetable garden only to discover their landlord was a lawn lover who considered they had damaged the property. The whole garden had to be ripped out and the lawn replanted – not everyone appreciates the adaptive reuse of their lawn.

There is another great Australian urban gardening site here describing a garden near the centre of Bendigo.

Being a sports hater I particularly liked the argument against sport:

Industrial agriculture triumphs when it comes to eliminating labour costs. I have a simple answer to this: STOP PLAYING SPORT! Middle-class folks now spend five to twenty hours a week at the gym!!! Football players train twice a week and devote at least one day of their weekends to football. Convert this “labour” to gardening – end of labour problem.Three in ten hospital beds are taken up by victims of sports injuries! Sport is pointless, dangerous, mindless and unproductive and most sports, in fact, are nothing but training for warfare and perpetuate a militariastic culture. My panacea for the world’s ills is stop playing sport and take up gardening – then in future efficiency calculations count all labour hours as “recreation”.

Right on!!! And any reader naively thinking that carpet can be adaptively reused as a weed suppressor should check out the reasons his site is named half an acre of carpet.

But lawn-loving landlords notwithstanding, not everyone disapproves of urban farming, in fact some cities actively support it. And increasingly there are more technological versions of urban farming like this project to adapt a trailer as a glass house for hydroponic gardening.


But why stop at small scale efforts, think big! If cities are the problem why can’t they become the solution, that is the key to the adaptive reuse philosophy. Why not use city buildings for farming or even build skyscraper farms?

The Vertical Farm Project has been advocating the development of vertical farming technology and documenting all aspects of the concept, but we have an ingrained suspicion of high tech solutions to problems that are basically caused by human greed and that ultimately require socio-political solutions.

However, problems should also be looked at from all angles and often need more than one solution. Anyway, even combining office and farm in one building would be pretty good….why not adaptively reuse the city?

Sit on a tuffet

A tuffet is a low stool or a clump of grass and you can sit on either. The days of the hedge carpenter and chair bodger may be long gone but you can still grow your own stool

Or you could even turn your lawn into an armchair…

provided you can stop laughing at this website long enough to order the structure.

Mowing could be a bit of a problem but who wouldn’t want something seen on Big Brother?