looking for gold. 2011-2012

research book

Diploma Thesis. “Looking for Gold. Mapping the Johannesburg Mine Dumps into the Contemporary City.” Supervised by Prof. Lilli Licka (BOKU) and advised by Ass. Prof. Jeremy Foster (Cornell University).

The scars left by the post-industrial age on the urban surface are amongst the most complex tasks for Landscape Architects today. Literally every city is dealing with an often toxic industrial legacy, revolving around its specific structural conditions.Harboring the world’s largest gold deposit, Johannesburg evolved in only 125 years from a gold mining camp into a megalopolis of 9M inhabitants. It is the only megacity in the world not lying on a major river or seashore, because the urban constitution and layout of Johannesburg was dictated by a different reality: It was dictated by a vein of gold.
The remnants of this L’age d’Or, giant mine dumps dispersed across the densely populated areas of the city, shape the city’s territories and image. The current procedure is to erase these golden pyramids from the cityscape to extract tiny amounts of gold, contributing to a mitigation of environmental problems, whereas critical notions against their elimination distinguish their contested societal background and spatial history intrinsic to Johannesburg’s urban fabric. Although the mine dumps of Johannesburg serve as the single most identifiable symbol of the city, they remain outside of well-known categories of landscape and constitute the ground of an urban landscape in radical transition.
Caught in a cycle of valued waste and passive entity, this thesis explores the mine dumps and their perspectives in the context of radical urban transformation. It is a endeavor to explore the relationship between the city and its mine dumps. It challenges normative strategies of wasteland remediation and offers an in-depth debate through complex description research. Employing literature review and on-site exploration, these ‘urban voids’ are mapped to establish new perspectives. The notion ‘urban wasteland’ is investigated through theory and case studies of projects confronting similar post-industrial sites, questioning their ability to deal with site-specific components, history and materiality.
The industrially abandoned, interstitial places in the city challenge our understanding of landscape in and by itself. They challenge conceptualities of open and public space in Johannesburg. They make us ask how meanings of landscapes are not just determined by an aesthetic appearance, but also by resources they offer, are applied to them, or lack thereof. I argue that places falling into disuse after industrial decline offer a world of opportunities for activities, which cannot be accommodated elsewhere in the city. And so, these places represent places of desire and may also provide activities and opportunities at both ends of the economic scale. A historic grounding and curatorial approach can create new ways of reading them, engage citizens with the contaminated landscapes in their midst, place them within the contemporary city, and support the navigation between diverging stakeholder interests.

looking for gold. 1, 2, 3


1 - Retrieved hot air balloon at Germiston minedumps. Caption on the back: 'the furthest ever! It went 20km from Parkhurst to Germiston. With Hammer and Sickle “to cause shit”'. [1966. Courtesy of Ray Eckstein]

2 - Bikes on Mairaisburg Minedumps. [1964. Courtesy of Ray Eckstein]

3 - Joburg Central Business District in foreground, mine dumps of the southeast. Soweto in background. Highrise buildings are Carlton Centre and Carlton Hotel, and freeway is M2. The former is still the tallest building in Africa and was built by the mining company Anglo American. [1976. Courtesy of Ray Eckstein]

4 - Map showing mine dumps of the Central Rand [2012. Nicole Th. King ]

5 - Operations move back towards the city-center as mine-dumps are being re-worked. [2012. Nicole Th. King]