“Fueled initially by the thought-less energy of the purely quantitative, Bigness has been, for nearly a century, a condition almost without thinkers, a revolution without program…Because there is no theory of Bigness, we don’t know what to do with it, we don’t know where to put it, we don’t know when to use it, we don’t know how to plan it”
– Rem Koolhaas, from Bigness or the Problem of Large
The Morenci Mine (above) is considered the largest and most productive open-pit copper mine in the United States. Located in southeastern Arizona, the sprawling complex of pits, stock piles and tailing ponds stretch for over 10 miles from north to south. The history and facts about the mine read like a fictional landscape scenario (or architectural fiction); like a distorted gravitational field surrounding an insatiable void…
Similar to the Santa Rita Mine, the Morenci mine retains the name of the speculative urbanism it generated, completely engulfed, and then rebuilt somewhere else:
Above: The original town of Morenci, which was significantly larger than Santa Rita (interesting telling of its history here)
Above: Morenci used to exist in the middle distance in the area to the right of the mining structures (click for larger view). This area of the excavation is now being back filled with earth moved from other active pits within the complex, thus re-approaching the original grade of the town after having lowered it by 500-1000 feet.
The reincarnation of the town of Morenci (1960’s – present) is astutely sited just to the right of the mine’s tailing ponds, seen in the image below.
Morenci is an active company town, meaning most of its residents are employees of the mine and the town is wholly owned by the corporation, including the utilities, the infrastructure, the land, and the houses: essentially everything you see except the cars.
Other field distortions:
The operation can easily mine over 720,000 tons of material a day. Similar to container shipping ports, all of this material is meticulously tracked and monitored as it is transported and processed via GPS technology.
In 2006, The Morenci Mine was the fourth largest consumer of electricity in the state of Arizona, with an average monthly electric bill of $6 million. The electricity comes from as far away as California.
Route 91 (formerly Route 666 or the Devil’s highway) which weaves through the mountains next to the mine (shown above – a very unique drive), has been re-routed four times as mining operations have expanded.
Time scales seem accelerated in these landscapes, both in terms of the construction, demolition and rebuilding of urban situations, as well as the wholesale reorganization of the geology, vegetation, topography and hydrology.
Both as speculative metaphor and material reality, copper mines occupy the tangled interface of our everyday physical and ‘virtual’ networks — a connection that isn’t always made when looking at the mined landscape. The physical product (99.9% pure copper) and its method of extraction (mined from rock typically containing less than 1% copper) is the very material that enables the virtual….i.e. the infrastructure of one’s computer, I Phone and architectural wiring. The more virtual we get the more physical copper we require. The science fiction of a fully virtual realm is at present still a myth, as the infrastructure is grounded in landscape.
As extractive enterprises, mines operate both as super-sized condensers and distributors of landscape, the effects of which extend far beyond their delineated boundaries. Their massive on-site distortions are the obvious clue to their interconnection and servitude to distant urbanisms sustained by the coordinated efforts of ubiquitous corporate networks.
Aerials from Google Earth. Source of historic image of Morenci unknown. Even though the Morenci mine changed corporate hands since I was there in 2006, I believe they still do public tours for a nominal fee, lasting about 2.5 hours.