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Opera and Choral Chamber: Exposing the gold mining landscape

Part 2 Project 2014
University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg | South Africa
This dissertation explores the relationship and coexistence between the surface - above and below the ground plane. An uneasy tension emerges by exploring these elements in conjunction that evokes the uncanny.

The focus is to translate this tension into an architectural language. In order to set up an essential argument about the historical establishment of the Witwatersrand, a Choral and Opera Chamber to accommodate vocal performances is proposed within an abandoned gold mining shaft on the East Rand in Boksburg, adjacent to Johannesburg.

The mined landscape was developed and constructed by man with intense toil. The remnants on the surface left a haunting trail of deep, dark memories that recall the discovery of gold (1886) and the extraction of ore, as foundation of urban settlement in this area. The trademark of mines on the Rand are slowly disappearing with little reminiscence. Most of the portals into the complex mined underworld are sealed out of sight, and new commercial establishments are superseding these shafts and tunnels without formal recognition on the surface.

The landscape is scarred with cavities and within the emptiness of the dead landscape lie poetic possibilities that require imagination and expression in depth. By making these two ends coincide where the cultural world of the choral and operatic is sunk into the social soil of an undermined mining network. All this in order to provide a place of remaking that resonates as much with an ordinary visitor, churchgoer or an ex-miner. By bringing together the landscape above with the landscape below, solid with void, an old mine shaft with a state of art performing space, the proposal for a Choral and Opera Chamber seeks to challenge some of our architectural ambitions in unconventional circumstances.

Engaging with a forgotten landscape, now as new terrain for culture to explore the possibilities of an architecture confronted with tunnels, depletion, upheaval, loss and erosion. Through the collapse and exposure of the site’s interior, the process of reconstruction is being utilised to identify the historical presence of all these natural and human traces on the landscape. The Opera Chamber in this thesis is able to act as an articulated architectural tool to identify and expose the presence and current condition of a damaged site.

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