A Woman, A Plan, A Mine… Panama?

After looking, measuring, drawing, looking again, drawing again, and thinking about palindromes…. I have a drawn up a survey plan that (whilst not accurate enough to build or order materials from) is sufficiently representative of the Ute Ulay site to allow for a masterplan.

Surveys are very important documents, they often document a site immediately before change occurs. The previous landscape quickly passes into history and the survey becomes an historical document, describing the physical site at a particular point in time. They are also the starting point for landscape architectural design.

Surveying is a complex skill, which makes use of some very nifty technology. I am neither a trained surveyor, nor do I have any nifty technology (unless you count computer drawing software). My process is low tech and as accurate as my eyes and brain will allow.

In case you want to try this yourself, the process went something like this:

1. Take satellite images, USGS plans, any other plans you can lay your hands on and combine them in AutoCAD to scale.

2. Try to use on-site observations to re-draw contour lines.

3. Realise that 2. is not going to work because it is extremely difficult to determine contours by eye.

4. Draw sections to scale in AutoCAD.

5. Take printouts of sections to the mine site and re-draw them by eye.

6. Insert 2 dimensional sections (to scale) into Google SketchUp, above the contours you already have.

7. Extrude contours up to their correct height, and alter them according to revised sections.

8. Create 3 dimensional model of the Ute Ulay site in Google SketchUp, and position buildings and other features onto it.

9. Slice through 3 dimensional model at 1 metre intervals (I’m definitely metric), and project slices back onto a plan.

10. Re-draw plan according to new contours in AutoCAD.


Since May 12, 2011, I have been trying to track down a relatively detailed/accurate survey (paper or digital) of the Ute Ulay. I am a resourceful type, but this task has proved beyond my capabilities.

To say it is frustrating, is somewhat of an understatement! But, after many, many weeks of asking politely, researching, cobbling together and ‘making do’, I am approaching something that I am confident will be useful.

A few days ago, I took my latest (6th version) plans and sections up to the site and went back to using hand-brain-eye co-ordination to draw on top of what I had been able to produce through (mostly) desktop research.

The levels on site are very complex, but also important. The narrative of this site is about earth moving. The ground itself is made of hard work. The lumps and bumps, and rocky expanses are as much historical features as any of the buildings, though people tend not to notice. Landscape is the quiet sibling of architecture. But for all that – it has such depths! The information and multiple histories of the landform tell subtle stories, if you take the time to look. Their rich textures, and chemical makeup flow around you – directing your view or supporting your weight.

By contrast, the buildings sit as discrete entities within the landscape. As humans, I think it is natural for us to focus on the object and not on the background. But imagine if that background changed drastically… would not the whole scene be fundamentally different? Proposals for ‘reclamation’ of the site include re-grading some of the oldest parts of the landform, and obliterating them. In mining, the landscape is a systemic entity, and the rock (waste or otherwise) is part of that. Making the site safe for humans, is not incompatible with using the site to tell the story of it’s own past.

My task of recording the landform and conditions currently on site, is my way of paying homage to their importance. I am not opposed to change, but change should be undertaken for positive reasons, and with respect and sensitivity. My own flawed survey will form the basis for my proposals.