Landscapes of Rust

Coal mines are mono-functional landscapes with life cycles dependent on immediate resource exploitation which have no space in a post-industrial, carbon neutral society. In November 2021, Portugal became the 4th European country to conclude its coal exit, complying to agreements signed in 2017’s COP23 – and finalising a long standing tradition which has scarred much of Northern Portugal’s land in the past century.

Historically, mining complexes (and many other industrial cities) have been exogenous to their surroundings, often adopting their own social and political practices. This means that when mining activities cease, the societal impacts resonate beyond unemployment, leaving cultural, architectural, and societal damage to a community heavily reliant on the mining company’s provisions.

This thesis project takes the ruins of the Sao Pedro da Cova Mines, located in northern Portugal, and speculates on how this territory can be re-introduced into the urban and societal fabric of the area. It aims to do so by tackling historical, environmental, and identity challenges faced in a town with an ageing population and a significant lack of urbanity – despite having once been the primary coal provider for the nearby city of Porto.

The project attempts to bridge the gap between past, present and future methods of production by engaging in the unconventional programme of mining e-waste into precious metals for traditional filligree jewellery making. With approximately 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste ending up in landfills per year, the project proposes the use of bio-leaching (a sustainable bio-chemical process) to mine precious metals from computer motherboards, and re-purpose them in a jewellery school which promotes the teaching of filligree jewellery techniques which are northern portugal’s most valuable dying craft.

Architecturally, the project utilises, celebrates and restores the concrete skeleton frame which dictates Sao Pedro da Cova’s skyline, and uses it as the basis for the development of the metallurgy campus. It aims to incorporate adaptive re-use not only through structure and material forms, but through the re-invention of a circular programme which dictates the distribution of buildings through site.

The proposal sees ethical architecture as a way of viewing architectural legacies as potential catalysts to remediate, re-incorporate and celebrate the conciliation of past, present and future.