Abandoned mines in eastern China are given new cultural value

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Performance in the quarry Photo: Wang Ziling/DnA_Design and Architecture

A recent exhibition in Berlin featured a rather unusual object: abandoned mines in a village in eastern China. Local government and architects are now trying to turn old mines into echo-friendly spaces that can be used for modern purposes.

For about 1,300 years, the people of Jinyun in eastern China’s Zhejiang province have lived by mining tuff, a type of soft, porous rock made from volcanic ash that can be used for construction. From around 1960 to 1970, the massive exploitation of local stone quarries caused damage to the landscape.

“When you walk through the streets of Jinyun, you can see that many old buildings, bridges and roads under you are actually made of tufa that the locals quarried themselves. In the past, people here also sent tuff across the country, which made it an industry,” a local tour guide in his 30s surnamed Liu told the Global Times on Tuesday. “They call this place rock town.”

Residents said that since Jinyun became a large-scale production base for rock mining, there have been more and more quarries where hundreds of people could be seen mining together. “The scene was really spectacular.” But today, more than 3,000 quarries of various sizes have been abandoned in the outskirts of Jinyun.

Liu said his grandparents told him that in mining at that time “casualties were common. Loud noises could be heard as a large piece of rock suddenly fell, accompanied by a small landslide.

Out of concern for the environment and safety, the Jinyun mines were gradually closed at the end of the last century. Now, the local government has started a process of transforming this “artificial heritage”.

Eco-restoration action
From Buddhist cave statues to large-scale hotels, the local government has found ways to reuse abandoned mines, but many plans have been shelved for various reasons such as the large investment required.

“We received an invitation from the local government to research the mines in April 2021. Eventually, we came up with a practical scheme to keep the original appearance as much as possible and reduce human intervention,” said the architect Xu Tiantian of DNA_Design and Architecture. the Global Times on Sunday.

The primary consideration is safety. In the first nine mines that Xu and his team chose for the project, they asked tunneling companies to conduct geological inspections for reinforcement work. “Later, these reinforced surfaces became the new texture of the caves,” Xu said.

Based on planning by the local government and the team, the project was started as an ecological restoration action. By rebuilding the mines in a safer and more splendid state, their economic and social value can also be restored.

Taking the example of quarry number nine, its porous rock material and 36-meter high walls make it a natural concert hall with good acoustics. It can also be used as a theater.

Other quarries serve a variety of functions, such as former miners demonstrating the mining process or platforms for visitors to get a good view of the sunset.

“Things like careers are art on Earth. We take an approach where we define each of the careers’ public functions based on their characteristics, which not only ensures safety, but also reduces the cost and time required,” Xu said.

Take full advantage
Local government still faces challenges to take full advantage of the sites and ensure sustainable development.

Hu Weijun, a local official, told the Global Times that most residents support the reconstruction of the mines and they have attracted quite a few tourists.

“For local people, the transformation also brings a change in their way of life. In the past, we mainly relied on quarrying for a living, but now we rely on tourism, with a series of side businesses including hotels, homestays and restaurants,” Hu said.

Some artists have come to hold exhibitions in the mines, but more cooperation plans and performance projects are needed.

“These mining areas are located in relatively remote locations, so attracting performance groups is always a challenge,” Hu added.

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