MIRNY. The Prison of Time
Speculative architecture is sometimes used by speculative architects to enhance our awareness of dystopian elements that thread their way through societies, even when a society is striving for utopian ideals. This contradiction exists because a dystopia to one person may be viewed as a utopia to another – and dystopian conditions can sometimes become so commonplace that they are no longer viewed as out of the ordinary. The site for this design research investigation is Mirny, Yakutia, Siberia, located 450 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle – a city of almost one million people with no access by road, set in permafrost year-round. The city developed around the open pit Mirny diamond mine that once brought wealth to the community; but while the diamonds are now mostly gone, the mine remains – one of the largest, toxic open holes in the world. With the depletion of diamonds, the city became largely forgotten, but the population remained. Yakutia is defined by the enormous pit and its decades-old, never-changing, Soviet-era architecture – lost in time. The utopian ideal from which the city was born is now shrouded in dystopian conditions. But the people, those born in the city who have lived there all their lives, have known nothing else; they remain unaware of the utopian/dystopian contradiction. This thesis looks at how transformations within our evolving built environments can result in contradiction. It challenges speculative architecture to enhance our ability to recognise such contradictions, distinguishing between utopian and dystopian urban conditions when they simultaneously define a city.