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Bound By/To/In Earth

Master's Thesis - Interior Architecture, Adaptive Reuse. Rhode Island School of Design. Spring 2018.

Skills Required: Qualitative and Quantitative Research, Grant Writing, Interviews, Oral and Written thesis Defense, AutoCAD, Rhino, Illustrator, Photoshop, Illustrator, Hand Rendering, Digital Fabrication, Model Making, Digital and Printed Publication Design

ABSTRACT

100 million years ago volcanic ash fell over the sandstone of the Colorado Plateau and developed the carnotite ore deposits of the Uravan Mineral Belt. In 1914, Union Carbide capitalized on this unique geological condition and founded the company town of Uravan to process radium, vanadium and ultimately uranium. As a byproduct, the everyday experiences of the town’s residents formed a collective sense of place that is closely linked to the industry’s legacy and will forever define this sliver of the American southwest. The site was redefined by a Superfund cleanup mandate in 1983 that destroyed and buried all evidence of the town’s infrastructure. 

The story of Uravan, however, does not end with its erasure. The 74 years of the town’s existence is only one chapter in the cyclical narrative of industry, individuals and the earth that shapes today’s political, economic and environmental discourse. Visitors to Uravan are active participants in this story’s ongoing development. The site’s physical absence demands an awareness by future generations of the power and repercussions that accompany industrial advancement. A choreographed sequence that draws on the narrative potential of Uravan’s void, illustrating the personal, environmental, and industrial histories entangled in the landscape, becomes an access point to engage visitors in the past, present, and future legacies of land use.

Exhibiting the historical and cultural significance of industrial landscapes has potential to shift the perception, and ultimately the legacy and reuse, of these sites. Rather than ignoring the toxic byproducts of human land use, waste can simultaneously communicate the monumentality of industrial advancement and the scale of its repercussions. Adapting contaminated landscapes for future reuse requires engagement with a narrative beyond environmental control.The proposed intervention allows Uravan’s landscape to become a storyteller. Each design prioritizes the site’s existing material, which is the ground itself.  Through excavation and rammed earth construction methods, positive and negative spaces are created for the natural elements to reactivate. Light, shadow, and wind confront the introduced forms to highlight what used to exist and what will remain for millennia. Each stop in this choreographed sequence is situated in a void space significant to Uravan’s evolution, whether it represent the industrial, environmental or personal histories that shaped this landscape.

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