Project: Phantom Ecology
Bituminous Sands, Northern Alberta, Canada
In parts of the Athabasca bituminous sands region bitumen is found close enough to the surface to be mined. Mining requires the land be stripped of vegetation, drained of water, and then cleared of overburden. Although this top surface of the earth has negligible economic value compared to the buried bitumen sands, taken together the vegetation, hydrology and soil embody significant historical evolutionary development.
While the surface mineable area (SMA) of the bituminous sands is only a small portion of the total area where bitumen reserves are found, to date it still accounts for approximately 50,000 hectares. This area of disturbance will continue to expand and more land will be cleared of previously untouched forest. Because the bituminous sands are found so far from any urban development in the north of Alberta, the boundary between forest and mine can be very sharp. And although a new extraction method called steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) is beginning to radically transform the contiguous boreal forest, it remains possible in some locations to walk across a boundary from industrial land use to boreal forest.
Proposed in the following pages is an elevated platform set just shy of the average height of the region's dominant vegetation, the black spruce. Guests begin by walking out to the platform through undisturbed boreal forest. The dense vegetation immerses the visitor in a cool, dark, quiet and still environment. At the end of the procession the elevated platform casts a solid shadow down on the visitor holding them in darkness. Upon ascending a ladder to the top, guests are thrown into the light; given expansive views of the sky; and placed just above the reaches of the spruce trees as they stretch towards the sun.