Post-Mining Sites Regeneration: Kentucky, Rheinisches Revier, & Lille

The regeneration of post-mining sites is one of the hottest topics tackled by urbanists all over the world. In Time Space Existence, three universities have explored the regeneration of post mining territories.

The University of Kentucky, College of Design – USA, RWTH Aachen University, Faculty of Architecture – Germany, and École Nationale supérieure d’Architecture et de Paysage de Lille – France. Each of these three universities have explored different sites through different urban, landscape, and architectural lenses.

Landscapes of Appalachia, Kentucky, United States of America
University of Kentucky College of Design School of Architecture, directed by Jeffrey Johnson investigated the post-industrial landscapes of Appalachia, speculating on the “reclamation” and transformation of a former coal surface mining site into a new landscape and location for a cultural institution. With the decline of the coal mining industry in Eastern Kentucky at the beginning of the 21st century, and the necessary transition of the global economic system towards renewable energy sources, the question becomes how to address the legacy of carbon-based, extractive industries economically, aesthetically, ecologically, and socially.

Project site and former mining area in Kentucky, USA. Photo Credit: University of Kentucky

In recognition of the challenges under existing approaches, University of Kentucky considered new ways of using these sites and proposed a new contemporary arts institution for a former coal surface mining site. Prompted in part by this unusual context, the studio also questioned the museum typologically, in effect asking, what is a cultural “institution” today?

Site strategies also included the reuse of mining infrastructure, including its towers, conveyor belts, washing facilities, storage sheds, equipment, roads, and topographies.

Architectural propositions for the components of the cultural institution were developed alongside an overall site design. In doing so, the studio interrogated the interrelationship and communication between architecture and its larger territory. How will architecture frame and construct an understanding of this regenerated landscape? How is the landscape experienced, both spatially and temporally? How is art experienced within this landscape? Ultimately, the vision for the site will be more than a return to a pre-extractive “natural” condition, but rather a new paradigm environmentally, social, hydrologically, topographically, and aesthetically.

Existing coal processing plant; Existing coal transportation plant. Photo Credits: University of Kentucky

Coal processing structures existing on the site; Education Center & Museum. Diagram by: University of Kentucky

Rheinisches Revier – Aachen University, Germany

The German government’s intention to phase out coal-fired power generation in 2038 will lead to far-reaching changes in the economic and spatial structure of the Rhenish Mining District called Rheinisches Revier which is characterized by brown coal mining. In addition to its economic orientation, the region is facing enormous challenges of transformation as well as great opportunities with tasks such as the subsequent use of the large-scale opencast mining areas and power plant sites.

The area of the Rhenish Mining District is currently still characterized by the three opencast mines “Inden”, “Hambach” and “Garzweiler” whose individual, remarkable size resembles that of a large city like Aachen: Europe’s largest landscape construction site will be transformed into Germany’s largest lakescape in the next few years. In addition to the resettlement discourse and the land issue around the Hambach Forest, this region in the centre of the Rhine Alpine Corridor, has gained Europe-wide awareness – not least for its welcoming culture in the refugee crisis of 2015, in which refugees were allowed to find a temporary home in ghost villages that were not demolished.

Infographic of the carnival culture in the Rheinisches Revier / Rhenish Mining District. Credits: Paul Funk, Mirhat Neziri, Lea-Kathrin Scholz

In order to create a future-oriented living space for the people in this region, which unites the identity shattered by resettlement and also involves a model character for regions in transition, the Zukunftsagentur Rheinisches Revier has set out with seven specialist groups called “Revierknoten” to bundle the expertise for a successful structural change and to reshape the future together.

INTANGIBLE Cultural Heritage – What constitutes the identity of a region? What role does intangible cultural heritage play in this? Interventions in the tangible cultural heritage, such as the demolition of churches or the resettlement of entire villages, have an influence on the communal coexistence of the people in the area.

The question of “relocatability” poses great challenges to communities in the precinct and raises questions about the constitution of new places and the image of a liveable future region. In order to implement the settings of the community, as third places between home and work and thus as the “living room of the Rhenish Revier”, into a new image of the region, students of the RWTH have set out to identify cultural forms in the Rhenish Revier and the “third places” belonging to them.

Postcards of RWTH Aachen exhibited at Palazzo Bembo. Photo Credits: Clelia Cadamuro

The Mining site of the Nord and Pas-de-Calais, France

1.2 million inhabitants spread out along a coal seam that stretches from east to west for 120km between Belgium and England. They came from Poland, Italy, Algeria and many other countries to work in the mine. From 1723 to 1990, their work helped heat France and provide the energy needed to run the prosperous industries of the North.

In 2012, UNESCO recognized this territory as an evolving and living cultural landscape for its built heritage and productive landscapes, but also to salute the human memory and the current inhabitants. The stakes of renovation are immense: the architectural and landscape heritage, both exceptional and very ordinary, is in danger with 70,000 small brick houses, headframes, churches, schools, slag heaps…

Taking the word climate in a meteorological sense, but also in a social, ecological and economic sense, acclimatizing post-mining territories means building processes of coevolution between the inhabitants, human and non-human, and the land to which they belong.

To ensure the profitability of mining, entire sites around the mine shafts were built with thousands of houses and productive buildings.  These heterotopias located in the middle of fertile farmland or forests, were self-sufficient in food, energy and building materials. From this tragic past, great solidarity remains between inhabitants. The memory is still alive and today, children’s miners want to understand how we got there: the economic crisis, soil and water pollution, energy insecurity …

The earth was violated by 100,000 km of galleries dug to a depth of more than a kilometer, the topography has been totally transformed. Little by little, the ground subsided and the water rose, leaving ponds where the fauna and flora regained their rights. The railroads are converted into pathways.

Timeline diagram by ENSAP Lille

The Post-mining Chair is envisioned as an open structure of local interaction, at the crossroads between the regimes of knowledge and action. It believes that only collaborative approaches can restore the confidence of the inhabitants and allow them to fully appropriate the land to which they are attached, by choice or by opportunity. Reterritorializing activities, relocating the economy, revealing resources, this is the program to which the Chair wants to contribute.

Exhibition in Palazzo Bembo. Photo credits: Clelia Cadamuro & Federico Vespignani

Make sure to check all three projects exhibited in ECC Venice Architecture Biennial at Palazzo Bembo on the second floor.

As part of the activities and events held by the European Cultural Centre during its 6 month long exhibition, a seminar led by the ENSAPL in collaboration with the European Cultural Centre will take place on the 4th of September 2021 at Palazzo Michiel, where ENSAPLRWTH Aachen University, and University of Kentucky will be presenting their latest research and in dialogue with a collective of researchers and projects. Make sure to register to the seminar on this link. You can find the schedule of the seminar here.

Post-Mining Sites Regeneration: Kentucky, Rheinisches Revier, & Lille

The regeneration of post-mining sites is one of the hottest topics tackled by urbanists all over the world. In Time Space Existence, three universities have explored the regeneration of post mining territories.

  • Published: 20.08.2021
  • Category: Conversation
  • Subject: Participants
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