Tailings reclamation through biomineralization : into the wasteland

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McCrory, Angela
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Electronic thesis
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The proposal represents an architecture which seeks to take advantage of the extreme and unnatural conditions at the mine site. The proposed building site is at the mine tailings pond, an enormous (50 square kilometer) man-made lake, where a transformation of wastes will be made possible through a re-consideration of the material-chemical potential therein. In this way, a literal "wasteland" becomes occupiable and reclaimed with the intended message that it is no longer permissable for humans to lay land to waste.
Through an examination of the environmental impact of mining operations both historical and contemporary, I propose an alternative building process that considers the abundant industry wastes as an opportunity for architecture.
My proposal intends to reconcile a people and an ecology to an existing mine site. The site for the project is the Mina Escondida in northern Chile, the ecology that of the Atacama Desert. While waste cleanup or removal is not fully within the scope of my proposed architectural intervention, I am concerned with both the visibility and accessibility of a previously "hidden" site, as well as the change in perception about industrial by-products from inevitable waste to potential resource owned by and available to Chileans.
Through a study of biomineralization and potential technologies for the harnessing of biomineralization processes, the toxic solution of the Escondida tailings pond ceases to be seen as a liability and instead represents an opportunity. A process of construction is proposed which is specific to the aqueous conditions of the site: the tailings pond will act as both material source and construction site as mineral-specific proteins catalyze the deposition of dissolved silica and iron oxide, as well as free heavy metals, out of solution and onto a fibrous scaffold which will be submerged at the tailing's edge. The structure will grow as long as the tailings pond is in use, finally emerging from solution when mining activity at the Mina Escondida ceases.
May 2013
School of Architecture
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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