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Entries in geology (50)


Nancy Holt: 1938-2014

Nancy Holt. Sun Tunnels, completed in 1976. Photographed by Mary Kavanagh (image is linked to her site). Four large concrete tubes are arranged in an open X. The 9' diam x 18' long sections of culvert are pierced by holes of varying size that correspond to the pattern of the constellations Draco, Perseus, Columba and Capricorn. The tunnels line up with the rising and setting sun on the summer and winter solstices.

Nancy Holt, who died last week, was one of the original land artists working in New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, along with Dennis Oppenheimer, Michael Heizer, James Turrell, Walter de Maria and Robert Smithson, all of whom had little time for the constricting space and rules of urban galleries and art museums.  They said they were making art for the land, the ultimate expression of 1960s freedom – at the beginnings of the environmental movement and working at the scale of infrastructure, the military and the mining industry.

Land Art had its roots in Minimalism and Conceptual Art, where 'art products' are often ephemeral, unrecognisable or self-destructing.  Looking back on it now it appears as a real struggle to return agency to the artist: Nancy Holt bought the 40 acres of Utah desert for Sun Tunnels, and hired, as she listed: '2 engineers, 1 astrophysicist, 1 astronomer, 1 surveyor and his assistant, 1 road grader, 2 dump truck operators, 1 carpenter, 3 ditch diggers, 1 concrete mixing truck operator, 1 concrete foreman, 10 concrete pipe company workers, 2 core-drillers, 4 truck drivers, 1 crane operator, 1 rigger, 2 cameramen, 2 soundmen, 1 helicopter pilot and 4 photography lab workers' to install it. Plus the culverts.  

The places that Land Artists worked were marginal – in those vast deserts of the American southwest, there were hardly any roads.  When in 1982 Reyner Banham wrote Scenes in America Deserta, a reprise of Charles Doughty's 1888 Travels in Arabia Deserta, Banham was well aware of the elision of desert and deserted.  And in the mid 1990s when I tried to plot a winter route from central Texas to Calgary through all the flat bits, I found one cannot cross Nevada from north to south.  This is a deserta militaria, for most of those deserts are used as test sites, training exercises, speed tests and places to go mad in.

Nancy Holt did not go mad; she married Robert Smithson and continued to work in land art, film and photography from France to Finland and across the United States.  There was an exhibit of her photographs last year at Vancouver's Contemporary Art Gallery, whence this lovely image comes.

Nancy Holt, Concrete Poem, 1968. composite inkjet print on archival rag paper taken from original 126 format black and white negatives, printed 2012


Anselm Kiefer: Alkahest, 2011

Anselm Kiefer. Oh, ihr Stimmen des Geschicks, 2011. Oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, charcoal, lead and iron object on photograph on cardboard 83.5 x 113.5 cm (32.87 x 44.69 in). Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Salzburg

Alkahest is a series of large paintings, paintings on photographs and assemblages that site mountains as places of material transformation where water dissolves, ultimately, stone.  According to the press release statement from the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac that showed this work in 2011, the term Alkahest comes from alchemy and indicates that anything can be dissolved by some solution, in this case, simply water, which through the processes of erosion dilutes whole mountains into mud.

The geologic reality of this is mirrored, for Kiefer, by spiritual battles found in German literature from Hölderlin and Goethe's poetry of the eighteenth century to Heidegger, and in Norse and Christian mythologies with their voluminous and powerful metaphoric imagery.  This image above, O Voices of Destiny (a phrase from Hölderlin's late poem 'Greece'  — O voices of Fate, their paths of the wanderer!), is Thor's Hammer, the weather maker for us mere mortals.    

This wonderful slippage in and out of metaphor and geology grounds the most enormous of world processes in the completely mundane experience of something like being caught in a June sleet storm in the Kananaskis.

Chris Conway. The flank of Mount Hart-McHarg through the cloud and snow showers of an approaching spring storm at Upper Kananaskis Lake. Kananaskis Lakes, Rocky Mountains, April 20, 2013The name Kananaskis isn't even the aboriginal term for the area – it was named by Palliser after a local man who recovered from an axe wound, a story that only dates from 1857.  I'm feeling culturally bereft here: German poetry, Norse myths are not mine, aboriginal structures of meaning are not mine either, the tenets of Christianity are stories rather than belief and the worst of it, given our current preoccupation with resource extraction, is that Kananaskis ranges were only explored in the first place in case they held gold.  They do have the less glamorous coal, and lots of ski trails put in for the 1988 Olympics.  

Kiefer's work comes out of a deep sense of his own German culture, which is why he spent years dissecting and reworking the second world war, and has continued working back and forward into mythology, geology and German philosophy: it is within him.  Settler colonies have such shallow roots: hair roots so lightly attached to the soil that it pushes phenomenological experience to the forefront. Interesting, but self-validating, and rarely linked to any sort of deep traditions. For this country, mountains mean mining and sports.  period.


Boyle Family earth casts

Boyle Family. Rock and Scree Series, 1977. British pavilion, Venice Biennale 1978

Part of the Boyle Family Manual for the Journey to the Surface of the Earth: 'The objective of this Journey will be to make multi-sensual presentations of 1000 sites selected at random from the surface of the earth.  Between August 1968 and July 1968 blindfolded members of the public selected these sites' [by throwing darts at ever larger-scaled maps until a 6' square was found].

1. Take the actual surface coating of earth, dust, sand, mud, stone, pebbles, snow, moss, grass or whatever hold it in the shape it was in on the site. Fix it. Make it permanent.

The rest of the instructions, 6' core sample, film pan from the centre and a 100-frame film of the site, and a study of 'the effect of elemental forces' on the site were always less captivating than the casts of the site itself.  This was done with frames and plaster lifting the surface material with it when the cast was removed.  
There were more instructions for dealing with plants, animals, people, filming them, taking samples, but it was the cast that was the enduring gallery material. Accompanying texts found on the Boyle Family website are impenetrable streams of consciousness, a barrage of words working their way into description.  There is a review by J L Locher, which one suspects was written by Mark Boyle himself as it is so similar to all the other writings on this site.  But what of it, this is a body of work that started in the 1960s and continues still, this recording of the world.  

Such a conceptually simple frame produces simple objects: 6' squares of ground and it is these themselves that invite speculation, rather than the process.  They are notes from the earth, unconnected to any discernible narrative.  The squares of ground are not linked by resource-extraction, climate, cost or beauty; nationalism, history, productivity or location.  They are microscopically complex, conceptually reflexive and this is what is so interesting, that this work shared the unemotional approach to process of Sol Lewitt, in Boyle's case with the complicity of the earth, and that makes all the difference.   


Gerhard Marx: Johannesburg, 2012

Gerhard Marx, Garden Carpet: Johannesburg [1], 2013. Plant material, tissue paper with acrylic ground on canvas board, 120 x 180cm Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

Gerhard Marx, a South African artist, seems interested in the underpinnings of the commonplace, in this case the map of Johannesburg which becomes reinscribed with the surface materials of Johannesburg.  Not quite geology, more dirt, as if the gleaming towers and freeways of the modern city are just this: dirt, roots and grass, the map itself scratches on the ground.

Gerhard Marx, Garden Carpet: Johannesburg, detail. Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa


Wang Shu: Geometry and Nature, 2011

Wang Shu's lecture when he was Harvard's GSD Kenzo Tange Professor in 2011.  Almost two hours, it shows the difference between someone who is deeply embedded in a culture with a thousand-year old relationship between landscape and occupation, and our immigrant multiculturalism, dislocated from any sort of visceral understanding of either the past or landscape, and easily captured by ephemera.  

Clearly he is distressed by the last twenty years of extreme development in China; traditionally there were no architects and planners, just builders within a system of landscape and landscape interpretation by poets and scholars.  It explains Wang Shu's practice completely: he is not an architect, he is Chinese. 


that different country

Now, this is a lovely thing: the Paris, Texas music of course, Ry Cooder's take on José López Alavez's 1915 'Cancion Mixteca'.

It is overlaid on an unrelated early film on the Navajo (for which I cannot find any information – on the film, not the Navajo), and shows construction details of hogans along with what always looks like a bucolic, slow, quiet life when looked at across the divide of seventy years or so.  We know it wasn't so, as with the whole continent, sequestration and, confusingly, assimilation was in play.  The kids posing behind the granny spinning wool indicates something of the coming divide: jeans and dresses; the velvet jackets and tiered skirts already marked as folkloric. 

This was part of America's terra nullius, the landscapes of Arizona and New Mexico, and they used it accordingly.


more summer

Looks like Castle Mountain and the highway to Banff before the Trans-Canada was built.  It is paved; even in the 1960s most of the Trans-Canada through the mountains was still gravel.  It certainly reduced speed.  What I do now in a day used to take two at the minimum, three if one was being leisurely.

The station wagon looks roughly like a mid-50s Pontiac, but people kept cars longer then. 


Richard Wentworth: making do

Richard Wentworth Caledonian Road, London, 2007. Lisson Gallery, 2013

Richard Wentworth has been photographing tiny interventions in the inadequate way our urban world works since 1973.  A boot holds a door open, a small dog is tied to a heavy shopping bag: one cannot leave without the other – that sort of thing.  This photo, of intercessionary bricks on a set of stone steps is, of course, completely baffling.  Can it be that it simply pleased someone to do it? It renders the capacious steps dangerous; it makes the bricks beautiful in their variety.  

Kemnay Quarry, 1939Above is a 1939 photograph of Kemnay Quarry on the eastern edge of the Cairngorms.  We are looking at, according to the description, grey muscovite-biotite granite, a 122m deep pit and a pile of tailings at the top.  In the foreground curbstones and setts are tidily stacked. 

We are very used to monolithic surfaces that pour onto our streets and sidewalks, are flattened down and then harden into great impervious sheets of grey, where every street becomes a culvert.  The re-examination of permeable paving for all sorts of reasons, water management and urban forestry being the main ones, could lead us back to the hand units: bricks, setts, cobbles and paving slabs, except that such systems are labour-intensive.  Modern processes increasingly point in the direction of automation: the macro-scale of production and results, something almost guaranteed to increase the number of desperate little solutions to uncongenial habitats.


living by quarries

Alan Bennet wrote about visiting Temple Newsam, a 17th century house just outside Leeds, when he was nine or ten, in the London Review of Books, 8 November 2012 :
Visiting Temple Newsam was always a treat, as it still is more than half a century later.  Back in 1947, though, with the country in the throes of the postwar economic crisis, the push was on for more coal and the whole of the park in front of the house was given over to open-cast mining, the excavations for which came right up to the terrace.  From the state rooms you looked out on a landscape as bleak and blasted as a view of the Somme, an idyll, as it seemed to me then, irretrievably lost, and young though I was I knew this.

This is the Ordnance Survey Map for 1945-1947 that shows Temple Newsam: clearly the house sat on the top of a hill, surrounded by woods and collieries and remarkably close to the sewage works, canals, and railway line of Skelton.   

BT Ordnance Survey Map, 1945-1947, sheet 44Bennett continues:  But of course I was wrong.  It wasn't irretrievable and to look at the grounds today one would have no idea that such a violation had ever occurred.  And it had occurred, too, with even greater devastation at other country houses south of Leeds: Nostell Priory was similarly beleaguered, as was Wentworth Woodhouse, both …, smack in the middle of coal-bearing country…

Yorkshire has lost more large houses than any other English county — 253 and mostly in the 1950s, usually by fire or insufficient wealth.  This is yet another back story, or rather future story, behind Downton and all the lovely dresses.


Cape Breton coal mines

In 1978 when this NFB snapshot was made, Cape Breton coal mining was already being memorialised.  But the song is jolly, full of optimism.

Canada Vignettes: Men of the Deeps, Cape Breton by Sandra Dudley, National Film Board of Canada

By 2009, this performance at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Cape Breton coal mining has become a tragedy.


diamond mines

The Ekati diamond mine is located near Lac de Gras, is about 300 km north east of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. To date 314ha of tundra habitat have been used for construction of the mine and 611ha of the total lease area of 10,960ha has been affected by the operation.

Volcanic pipes are formed by deep volcanoes that rush magma to the surface from deep within the earth's mantle where it solidifies into either kimberlite or lamproite, both heavy with magnesium.  Kimberlite is where diamonds, garnets, spinels and peridots are found, formed by carbon under extreme heat and pressure. 

The volcanic pipe that indicates kimberlite at Ekati was discovered by geologists Charles E Fipke and Dr Stewart E Blusson who have a 10% holding in the mine. BHP Billiton, which held the rest, has recently sold it to Harry Winston Diamond Corp, a partner with Diavik Diamond Mines, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto. 

From The Province in 2010: 'Much of the aboriginal employment at Ekati is a result of impact-benefit agreements signed with four First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities whose traditional territories are located around the mine site.  The confidential IBAs – which were signed before construction began at the mine – includes agreements on preferential hiring, cash payments, scholarship funding, business opportunities and travel to and from the community and Ekati.'

Well then. This was Diefenbaker's dream, that northern development would be the saving of Canada.  And as the north is aboriginal, it is seen as the saving of First Nations, Metis and Inuit – a source of revenue and employment.  However, rarely are any of these mines Canadian-owned.  We are merely the hewers of wood, drawers of water and miners of resources.  The big benefits are exported with the diamonds, or oil, or whatever it is. 


uranium mines

The Rabbit Lake uranium mine, near the Dene/Cree community of Wollaston Lake in northern Saskatchewan.

This image is from the Graham Defence site.  John Graham is from Haines Junction, Yukon and was an activist against uranium mining. He is currently in South Dakota State Pen in Sioux Falls for the 1975 murder of Anna Mae Aquash. There is a tradition of the FBI extraditing First Nations men from Canada, famously Leonard Pelletier, based on evidence aimed at breaking apart the American Indian Movement.  Graham's is a truly terrible story in its details, but ultimately appears as the borderless reach of the FBI into activist social movements.
In May and June 1984 John Graham did a European speaking tour organised by European anti-nuclear and environmental groups, focussed on native rights and the problems of uranium mining in Canada.

Uranium itself is an element, U; unstable isotopes make it slightly radioactive.  It is dense and occurs in small amounts in soil, rock and water.  Uranium 235 is a natural fissile isotope which can transmute to fissile plutonium 239 in a nuclear reactor.  If I understood more of this process I might be able to understand what Iran is, or is not, doing.  Fission is produced with fast neutrons, and slow neutrons can be speeded up and concentrated to sustain nuclear chain reactions, generating heat and material for weapons.  Depleted uranium is used in armour, as in tanks, because of its density.  Depleted uranium dust released when exploded, during war, releases significant doses of radioactivity.

Uranium City, SaskatchewanUranium city was a 1952 company town for  Eldorado Mining and Refining, a crown corporation that opened a number of mines (52) in northern Saskatchewan.  It was based on the plan for Arvida, Québec, a 1927 ALCAN town.

Uranium mining, like almost all surface mines, come with associated toxic effects for water and people from tailings, which in this case have some residual radioactivity. 500,000 tonnes of waste rock, 100,000 tonnes of tailings, 144 tonnes of solid waste and 1343 m3 of liquid waste produces 25 tonnes of uranium fuel, so reports David Thorpe in the Guardian.  Historical evidence places life expectancy at 20 years after becoming a miner in a uranium mine.


potash mines

A potash mine in Rocanville, Saskatchewan. 2007. photographer Troy Fleece for The Canadian Press

What is potash?  The word covers potassium salts, such as potassium chloride, KCl, used in fertiliser.  It was found in Saskatchewan in 1942 while drilling for oil – a massive formation covering most of southern Saskatchewan.  It wasn't successfully mined until the mid 1960s, mostly because there are water layers that make sinking shafts difficult.  The Saskatchewan Mining Association informs us that Sylvite was made Saskatchewan's mineral emblem in 1996, something not obviously part of the living skies campaign.

Potash does well on the market, not that I understand such things, but Saskatchewan is in the throes of a boom the like of which only Alberta and Newfoundland understand.  

Potash is marine in origin, formed by the evaporation of sea water.  In Sask the layer is 1-1.5km below the surface, deposited during the Middle Devonian Prairie Evaporite formation which also extends into Manitoba and North Dakota.  New Brunswick also has a potash industry, of which we hear little, however its capacity is 2 million tonnes; Saskatchewan's is 20 million.  Potash is the third largest mineral product shipped from Canada.

What makes KCl a necessary ingredient in a good fertiliser?  It improves water retention and general yield in food crops.  Because of population growth and the need for more food, more potash is needed, thus the boom, which evidently has abated since 2008 and the global financial crisis.  In 2009 it was $872/tonne, 2011 it was $470.  Saskatchewan, beware.


salt mines

Crews work on a new salt crushing unit, deep in the Sifto Salt -Compass Minerals mine in Goderich, Ont., Thursday, December 18, 2008. The Sifto mine, already the largest salt mine in the world has begun a $70 million expansion as the demand for highway deicing salt increases. photo: Dave Chidley

Sifto Canada: produces road-salt, has enough stored and last year laid off a fifth of its workforce because its salt is transported by boat, and a harsh winter meant shipping was difficult.  Sifto's cellars were filled, mining had to cease for the season.

Sifto is in Goderich, Ontario and provides road salt mostly for the Great Lakes region.  It is a Kansas-owned subsidiary of Compass Minerals International, with salt mines in Cote Blanche, Louisiana and Cheshire, England.  Of course.  Nantwich was the salt producer for Victorian England, and Cote Blanche sits in Holocene coastal marshes full of salt domes.  A salt dome, thank-you wikipedia, is formed 'when a thick bed of evaporite minerals intrudes vertically into surrounding rock strata'.  Evaporite: crystallisation by evaporation, in this case, salt.  Oh, it is interesting, the layer of salt is put under pressure where it begins to flow, being 'more buoyant than the sediment above it'.  Eventually it breaks through the layers of sedimentary rock above it and forms excrescences — salt diapirs — at the surface where it can become a salt glacier.  Gosh.
Salt domes, being impermeable, can trap oil above them — the source of most of the oil reserves along the Gulf of Mexico.      

Nantwich salt was used by the Romans; 'wich' means a brine spring and Nantwich's pre-Roman Celtic name indicated a sacred grove.  Do we want to know how old Nantwich's salt reserves are? yes. They are Triassic, 220 million years ago, formed from salt marshes.

Goderich's salt is Silurian (443 million years ago, since you ask), discovered in 1866 by a petroleum exploration crew, 300 m below the surface.  Today, the mine extends over seven square kilometres 500m below Lake Huron. 


asbestos mines

The Jeffrey mine in Quebec's Eastern Townships had mostly shut down by 2010 but was to be revived with a $58-million loan from the Quebec government. It is looking more and more likely that Canada's last remaining asbestos operation will never resume. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The Jeffrey asbestos mine is next to Asbestos, Québec, east of Trois Rivieres, south of Québec.

The Jeffrey Mine, Asbestos, Québec. ⓒ 2013 Cines/Spot Image, Digital GlobeAsbestos: silicate minerals in long fibrous crystals. Used for its sound absorption, fire resistence and its otherwise inert insulative properties. And it is cheap. And it has been added to concrete, asphalt and other materials to extend structural capacity for building applications. And it is deeply injurious to lung tissue.

Here is a very good essay by John Gray and Stephanie Nolen on the complexity of the asbestos issue:  'Canada's chronic asbestos problem', The Globe and Mail, Nov 21, 2011.  Chillingly they say that although there is still much asbestos in the region it is relatively expensive to mine compared to 'lower-cost and comparatively unconflicted industries in Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, China and Zimbabwe'.  The pits at Thetford Mines have been quietly closed, asbestos has been renamed chrysotile, OECD-G8 Canada insists chrysotile is fine, Québec is cross that the asbestos industry is so maligned, probably given that it is so freely accessed in Zimbabwe.  What is wrong with that sentence?

Here is Asbestos when it was a few houses; a company town. As one can see in the google map aerial above, Asbestos is still a small town glued to the edge of the excavation.  Someday hence, will we wonder what people were thinking of, to throw whole generations into such danger?

Asbestos : V. Dubois, phot.-édit., [1918 et 1928], bibliothèque et archives nationales du québec


copper mines

The Kemess South copper mine. A second mine, dubbed Kemess North, was stopped by the Tse Keh Nay First Nations before Amazay Lake could be turned into a waste dump. J P Laplante, photographer

The Kemess South mine site in northern BC is a large porphyry gold and copper open-pit mine that was scheduled for closure in 2011.  It is near Mckenzie, at Highway 97.

In looking up Highway 97, I find it is so-named because it connects to US Route 97 at the border at Osoyoos.  It ends at Watson Lake, Yukon, 2000 km north.  The last 965 km is part of the Alaska Highway, built during WWII to connect Alaska with the United States.  The rest of the Alaska Highway sets off to the west, through Whitehorse. Another section of Highway 97, just before Highway 16 going west to Prince Rupert, is part of the Highway of Tears.

In the 19 years the mine was worked, 7.5 million tonnes of ore produced 2.4 million grams of gold and 9.7 million kilograms of copper, roughly speaking. BC Ministry of Energy describes it thus: The Kemess South deposit is hosted by the Early Jurassic Maple Leaf intrusion, a gently inclined sheet of quartz monzodiorite. The ore body measures 1700 metres long by 650 metres wide and ranges from 100 metres to over 290 metres thick. A blanket of copper-enriched supergene mineralization, containing native copper, overlies hypogene ore and comprises 20 per cent of the deposit.
There is much more in this line here.  Kemess south includes both argillite and graphitic argillite.  In my childhood there used to be a great trade in argillite carvings, something which seems to have disappeared. 

Mining areas are rough, topographically and socially.  There is money to be made, but it is exported before it hits local ground.


coal mines

The exceptionally provisional sitting lightly on the exceptionally huge.

Coal mine near Fernie, British Columbia, at Coal Creek, 1898. George Dawson, photographer. From the collection of the Geological Survey of Canada.


Union Bay, British Columbia

Demolition of the Union Bay coke ovens, May 1968. ©Cumberland Museum and Archives.

Yesterday I mentioned that we have a patio made from pale cream brick, scavenged from one of the old Union Bay brick kilns that used to sit crumbling beside the Island Highway. It was a devil to lay as each brick is shaped to be part of a beehive kiln, i.e. no face is parallel to any other.  It turns out that the kilns were coke ovens, part of the coal industry of Vancouver Island.  And the bricks came from Scotland complete with Scottish bricklayers, all imported, in 1880 or so, by Robert Dunsmuir, the coal magnate who effectively owned the island. 

Coke.  From wikipedia 'it is the solid carbonaceous material derived from the destructive distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal'.  Coal is fired at high temperature driving off coal gas (hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, CO2 and H2O), coal tar (phenols and aromatic hydrocarbons) and water.  Coal gas and tar are recovered and used in a number of industrial processes, otherwise, coal gas especially, is fairly toxic.  Coke burns at a higher temperature than coal, thus its value.  It didn't stay on the island, it was exported by the shipload

Union Bay was a company town, with a coal mine, a railway line, a wharf, the coke ovens and a coke washer.  Labour was imported: Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Scots.  Anyone who thinks that the present day anti-development, 'let's keep Vancouver Island natural and beautiful' lobby is stemming the tide of industrial exploitation of the land hasn't taken the coal industry seriously.  It was a significant, extensive, disruptive extraction enterprise, connected by water to the rest of the British Empire in all its outlines.


Gabriola Island brick

Stacking brick at the Gabriola Brick and Shale Products, ca 1914. GHMS Archives 1996.040.006

So what are bricks made of.  Easy, I thought, clay. Ha. Not exactly. Gabriola Brick and Shale Products that operated from 1910 - 1954, used Gabriola Island blue and brown shale.  While fireclay, a glacial clay that produces a much harder brick, was found in conjunction with coal seams near Victoria and Comox on Vancouver Island, Gabriola brick used shale, crushed by millstones made from local sandstone, plus diatomaceous earth and sand.  There are perfectly round basins on Gabriola, clearly where the millstones were drilled out.  I leave that purposely vague because I don't know how they could do that.   

Cretaceous shales of ceramic value are from the Pleistocene era, are sedimentary, have a low fusion temperature and a short vitrification range.  All the deposits in British Columbia turn out pink to red building brick.  In the nineteenth century, every city had a brickworks, just as they had a lime kiln. Evidently there is either shale, clay shales, or clay throughout the western provinces, but it is only deposits near cities that were developed – it says something about the cost of transportation in the early to mid-twentieth century: punitive relative to the cost of developing a local brickyard.  China and stoneware clay, rare in BC, were the basis of the large pottery industry in Medicine Hat, Alberta, which, unlike local brick production, was given a national reach facilitated by the Canadian Pacific Railway. 

It seems obvious to say it, but the colour of local brick gives a specific and often unique colour to a city that derives directly from the kind of shale or shale clay the city sits upon.  Today, in Canada, all brick comes from one source of brick manufacture in Ontario.  Even I-X-L of Medicine Hat, the once dominant brick manufacturer in Western Canada, is gone.  According to the 1952 BC Department of Mines bulletin (No. 30): Clay and Shale Deposits of British Columbia, clay and shale are everywhere in abundance – it is impossible that it is mined it out.  There must be some other economic equation in operation that makes one vast centralised brickyard with extreme delivery costs more efficient than a local industry.  Personally I don't get it.


Центросоюз: Tsentrosoyuz Headquarters, 1936

ⓒ Richard Pare. Chromogenic colour print: Centrosoyuz headquarters, Moscow, 1999.

Tsentrosoyuz [Центросоюз] headquarters [Central Union of Consumer Cooperatives], Moscow, 1929-1936. Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Nikolai Kolli.
The astounding architecture of Soviet bureaucracy: offices for 3500, restaurant, lecture halls and theatre.  

The construction is reinforced concrete with 40mm thick blocks of red tuff used as insulation. Tuff is volcanic ash – small pieces of magma < 2mm – blown into the air during a volcanic explosion and consolidated into a porous aerated easily carved material.   The tuff used in the Tsentrosoyuz headquarters is from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, an area rich in limestones, tuff sandstones and clay shales.  This is all starting to sound familiar.