Reclaiming the American West By Alan Berger. Princeton Architectural Press, 2002. 224pp. £35
First, some figures. In the American West there are more than 200,000 active or abandoned mines, often vast in extent (the Rosebud coal mine in Montana covers 25,000 acres), writes Andrew Mead.Since the passing of the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977, reclamation of affected land has been a statutory duty, and Alan Berger estimates that 100,000 acres will, in some way, be reclaimed between now and 2050.
'Now that is a big landscape project, 'he rightly says.
Much of his book consists of colour aerial photographs of such sites, showing just how decisively they have shaped the terrain.These images are reminiscent of those in Emmet Gowin's Changing the Earth (AJ 14.11.02), though more straightforwardly descriptive and without their hand-toned distinctiveness.But Berger neatly balances the philosophical and the practical, the aesthetic and the economic, in exploring the issues around reclamation, so his commentary has a relevance outside the US.
The 1977 Act insists that reclaimed sites have much the same contours as they did before mining started.This must inhibit a creative response to particular conditions.Camouflage is not the only answer, as, for example, Duncan Lewis has shown in his projects for quarries in Norway and the Loire (AJ 18.4.02).Shown here are mine pits at Pocatello, Idaho - an unreclaimed landscape at present.But given its resemblance to designs by Isamu Noguchi, might it be valued in its own right?