Children from post-industrial mining towns of Belgium play on top of waste

Viewing the new instalment from below reinforces a strong perspective upward. Photo Benoit Meeus

BERINGEN – The Belgium town of Beringen has a mining history from the twentieth century which left tonnes of excavated leftovers, yielding the only topographical mounds in the area. Aside from the architecture that remains from the coal-mining boom, there are two hills formed as a result of mining waste that memorialise the long-departed industry. The city wanted to do good by the mass of earth that remains and, by setting up a public-private partnership called Be-Mine, aimed to revitalise the and give locals ownership of it – giving meaning beyond a pure demarcation of time and space. An earlier re-use project transformed the hill north-east of the current site into a hiking trail with trees and views. This recent scheme looks to entertain a different demographic.

In 2015, landscape architecture firms Carve (from Amsterdam) and Omgeving (from Antwerp) were joint winners of a competition to re-interpret a mining slag-heap as a ‘play-scape’. Combining a landscape with a playground, the two firms have created a monumental land form for children to explore. The site was opened at the start of this month and adds to the assortment of other post-mining projects that Be-Mine has repurposed to invigorate the area’s tourism and recreational activity.

In consideration of the historical reality of the project, the design team decided to re-use 1600 timber poles that originally supported kilometres of underground mining shafts. The poles are arranged in a grid form on the northern face of the slag-heap, bedded into the earth from the bottom of the mound to the top. Viewing the new instalment from below reinforces a strong perspective upward – one which the architects think reminds visitors of the dark mining shafts of the past.

The poles are split up the middle, opening space for a folded concrete surface rendered in a dark tone similar to charcoal. The surface changes in gradient, difficulty and activity as a user continues up the mound; at the bottom the faceted concrete is dissolved into the hill and is an easy slope for younger children to climb, with the assistance of older mentors. Ascending up the face are tunnels, rope ladders, climbing holds, hammocks and slides offering movement, exploration and moments of repose. The higher children go, the harder the surfaces are to scale. The designers’ intentions are for collaboration and encouragement amongst peers in managing the slope, to give insight into the working conditions of miners underground.

Upon reaching the 60-m-high summit, the Coal Square reveals itself as a sunken circle. Circumnavigating the space allows outlook to the surrounding landscape, as well as offering seating and information about the area’s industrial past. Entering the centre of the circle, context falls out of sight and brings to attention the sky above – while this move offers shelter from the wind, it could also be a notion toward the experience of being underground and looking up.

Photos courtesy of Carve/Omgeving/Benoit Meeus

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