Digging a Hole

While I watched this video the other day I was reminded of a thought that I have from time to time. In the video, the chief directs two excavators to split and topple massive blocks of marble. Which made me think, as large as they are, they will be split and cut into relatively small pieces for tiles and countertops and then shipped all over the world. And that is how I wound up, yet again with the astonished thought that for everything we build and see in our cities, somewhere in the world there is a hole of equal size in the ground.

city-streets-skyline-buildingspit mine

As architects we often think in negative space, and I suppose that is where my mind goes when I look at a city skyline. If you think of all buildings and roads and cars; all of the rocks for concrete and the iron for steel and imagine the city as negative space in the earth’s crust, you would be standing at the edge of a very large and very deep hole; Columbia Tower, the stadiums, the little brick buildings of Pioneer Square. A single city is a reasonable size to imagine this, because you can stand at the top of a hill or one of the many towers in the city and survey it as a whole, a singular object of sorts. It is harder to imagine the scale of all of the plastic objects in the world, though we now have the ocean garbage patches as a helpful gauge for size.


Or even cars; you can imagine a car lot and all of the space it occupies or a redneck lawn with its collection of rusted car planters, but they are scattered and hard to visualize as a single mass. The city is already there, in its scale and volume, easy to see and comprehend. And from the comprehension of the mass of a single city, you can begin to add the other cities in your state, and the other cities in your country, and alongside this growing mass of material and construction is an ever-growing hole.


As with many of my thoughts, this doesn’t necessarily lead anywhere specific, but I find it somewhat awe inspiring to think about the scale that all of our individual actions and creations amount to. We have decided to reorganize huge ammounts of the material on earth, moving it far from its original location, to a place and shape more suited to our sensibilities. Often, it could be argued, that this relocation of materials serves a greater purpose, that its positive benefit outweighs the potential harm of our actions. In many other cases, our intelligence has proved inadequate in anticipating the consequences of the reorganizations we have created (i.e. invasive species or the continual relocation soil nutrients to our sewers and landfills through our industrialized food system). But in most circumstances, we are relatively unaware that for everything we buy and create and marvel at, there is a hole somewhere in the world that grows a little larger.

upside down city


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