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ADS7: Transboundary Geo-logics – Politics of the Atmosphere

Agata Nguyen Chuong

Agata Nguyen Chuong is a Polish-Vietnamese architecture graduate, currently based in London. After completing her BSc in Architecture at the University of Bath with first-class honours, she worked at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios until joining the RCA. She has also gained experience at MICA and studios in Poland and Italy.

Her first-year design project in ADS1 explored the idea of public luxury and proposed an alternative typology for tower block transformation. This year, her History & Theory essay explored alternative approaches to the urban landscape through new readings of Agnes Denes' Wheatfield in the context of land reclamation, the Manhattan grid, soil and ecofeminism.

Agata's work has engaged with themes of environmental violence, migrations and landscapes of extraction, culminating in this year's thesis project, formulated with ADS7, around the expulsion of the native Evenki people from diamond mining territories in Siberia. The project has been nominated for the 3DReid Student Prize. Agata hopes to continue exploring her research interests as she further develops her practice.

School of Architecture Prizes 2021 Winner, Model/Animation/Film Prize

Reworlding Mirny speculates on the future of post-industrial landscapes in zones of environmental urgency, imagining a scenario for the transformation of Mirny, Siberia's iconic diamond capital. The project reframes the narratives of rewilding and abandonment, reflecting on the multiple agencies involved in creating novel, hybrid ecosystems - mediating between the remnants of the extractive zone, and the different wild that will inevitably emerge from the vestiges left behind. The project asks how these human-induced ecosystems might engage with kincentric legacies made already absent, while imagining a respectful and active departure of the settler population.

Reworlding Mirny

Through the exploration of several potential futures for Mirny, the project imagines a scenario of managed retreat, wherein the town’s population would leave behind terrestrial interventions to facilitate the encroachment of new – and old – species back into the post-industrial landscape. Mirny is un-worlded and re-worlded again, amplifying the town as a hybrid zone, offering unpredictable generativity of the damaged and the lively in one another’s embrace.




Reworlding Mirny: introduction
Russian Monotowns — The rise of monotowns in the 20th century reflected many of the Soviet ambitions for territorial conquest in Siberia. Populations were relocated to sites of extraction and industry irrespective of their remoteness, technological changes, or exhaustion of resources. After Soviet Union’s collapse, many of the Russian monotowns have faced varying levels of demise. Today, there are 319 monotowns in Russia. Mirny is one of the northernmost, established just within the zone of continuous permafrost.
Raving wildfires, shifting boundaries — The rapidly shifting boundary of continuous permafrost extent, accelerated by the positive feedback loops of increasing temperatures, raving wildfires, deepening active layer and changing water regimes, positions Mirny at an amplified nexus of environmental, socio-economic and political urgencies present in many other places across the Arctic.
The Diamond District

The town of Mirny, named after the word мир, meaning ‘world’, ‘universe’ and ‘peace’, is located in south-western Sakha Republic. Mirny has created a world of its own around a single mineral - diamond. The town’s everyday routine is inextricably linked to the activities of its industrial corporation, Alrosa, one of the world’s largest producers of diamonds. Everything here - the people, infrastructure, energy and time, is centred around the extraction of the mineral from the kimberlite pipes wedged within the permafrost.

The project anticipates the end of diamond industry in Mirny, whose mine is designed to continue operating until 2042. Once the deposits are exhausted, Alrosa will no longer have incentives to look after the settler population. The town, in the face of imminent destabilisation of permafrost, could only persist in perpetual struggle as an isolated outpost, sealed off by the landscape it helped despoil. 

Ecological Succession as a Masterplan of Retreat — With the layering of simple gestures of multiscalar terraformation, the town becomes an experimental ecosystem, where feral alliances between the man-made and nature-willed are proven resilient. Ecological succession is mobilised as a tool for 'masterplanning-in-reverse'.
Matrix of Events — The film represents the consequences of proposed interventions from a future perspective. Though the interventions are ripe with human intention, the project seeks to reckon with non-human agency; the matrix describes events with degrees of certainty, contingency and failure.
Unattended Bioremediation Units - Spore Incubators — These versatile containers will enable a slow release of bioremediating agents over a period of 4-6 months, between fieldwork visits. Empty containers will be refilled by human agents upon each visit.
Building Colonisation — The remaining infrastructure in Mirny is to undergo assisted deconstruction. This stage will rely on the deployment of biological agents. These low-impact actions will assist in the gradual disintegration of the building stock, targeting the superstructure and attenuating the risk of abrupt collapse. Leaving residents set up a simple device for a chosen biological agent to be released onto walls and surfaces. Spore incubators will be deployed alongside makeshift devices utilising common household items.
Road Disruptions — Road infrastructure leading to and within Mirny is to undergo deliberate disruption. Patterns of grooves and cracks will be carved to create microclimates for the encroachment of bryophytes, lichens, grasses and eventually tree seedlings. Physical erosion through ice will aid this process.
Artificial Lichen Dispersal — The assisted lichen dispersal programme targets the spoil heaps around the town. Following the remediation of the loose landfill material, trees felled to establish a grassland community will be processed into a wood chips substrate mix, to aid the establishment of manually placed lichen fragments.
A Lichen Record — Lichens exhibit extreme efficiency in accumulating substances from trace levels in the atmosphere, and can therefore serve as bioindicators. Lichen samples are to be collected manually twice a year to record the levels of background pollution in Mirny and stored in the cryo-storage chamber in the Melnikov Permafrost Institute in Yakutsk.

At the core of the interventions are biological agents introduced to dwell on, and in the cracks, of the remaining infrastructure. A combination of active species reintroduction and nature’s contingency, the intervention reckons with the changing ground, eroded soils and toxic tailings with a series of gestures: new grasslands, transformation of remediated spoil heaps into reindeer lichen pastures, intentional disruption of roads, fungal deconstruction of buildings and annual collection of lichen samples.

Each stage of the phased plan tackles a different element of the town’s built fabric or topography. Pleistocene Park’s ecosystem transformation is to commence the process of reworlding in Mirny, with the lichen dispersal programme following thereafter. The order of interventions is carefully considered to minimise surplus labour, required materials and any resultant externalities the interventions would entail.

Re-worlding Mirny

Re-worlding Mirny comprises the body of research and outlines the proposed interventions of the Mirny-42 campaign. As such, the document borrows from the format of a scientific report, indicating the proposed stages of ecological succession and retreat, detailed procedures, general requirements, timelines and recommendations.