RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR SCIENTIFIC FAILURES
A personal fascination with obsolescence as an inherent landscape condition lies at the core of a project, which thematically concerns fundamental scientific inquiry. It stems from the preconceived tensions between progress versus obsolescence and progress versus accident. The project concerns the conception and the architectural design of the Anatoli Bugorski Independent Research Institute for Scientific Failures, which inhabits a postindustrial landscape of the former cement quarries in Trieste that allow for sustaining such an institution—by providing the underground territory for experimentation and the primary structural material for the institute.
The project speculates on intervening in the Trieste System—a network of international organisations and institutes for fundamental research. The addition to this System is ABRI—Anatoli Bugorski Independent Research Institute for Scientific Failures—named after a Russian particle physicist and the only known survivor of a radiation accident inside a particle accelerator. The story of incompetent bureaucracy for the radiation accident victim and the monumental failure of the science boomtowns illustrates geopolitical tensions regarding the infrastructure and architecture of fundamental research.
The institute is situated within the geologically unstable Karstic terrain as it inhabits former surface quarries for cement production, undergoing the contested re-naturalisation process. The institute is conceptualised as a system in which the re-naturalisation process is reversed, and quarrying is continued in an underground mine. No longer for maximum material extraction but as a means to excavate underground spaces for large-scale experiments—effectively enforcing the anthropogenic landscape and counter-acting (our) understanding of obsolescence.
The system employs a multi-level horizontal extraction method called room and pillar mining. The excavation is imposed on geologically critical terrain. Here, the notions of accident and disaster materialise within the postindustrial landscape. The dogmatic geometry of the chequered excavation method is confronted with chemical and physical bedrock instability—enforcing exceptions and adaptations. The system is a continuous process of drill-and-blast operations according to the immediate needs of the institute—excavating new and abandoning obsolete and collapsed rooms—the physical reality of the accident. The Mine retains endless potential for expansion—even when juxtaposed with the physical uncertainty of the postindustrial territory.
The central tunnels determine the spine of the Mine. The extruded escape and ventilation shafts make their linearity readable in the landscape. Along the spine, the chequered pattern is excavated according to the spatial requirements of the experiments. The extracted limestone is then crushed into aggregates and processed into lime-based shotcrete, concrete and limecrete on site within a pre-existing processing plant, providing the core building material for the institute and enclosing the material loop of the system.
The linear typology of the institute dominates the Karst plateau—referencing the Mine’s central spine. It is a singular gesture in the landscape. However, it generates specificity in its interaction with the complex topography of the surface quarries. The volume introduces its own topographical line. The roof then takes on the role of the ground level and serves as the primary means of circulation through the half-kilometre-long structure—connected to the landscape by ramps and drive-thrus suspended above the quarry’s steep slopes.
The macro-scale of the project mimics the micro-regions of concentrated knowledge production—hence the function combines work, housing and socialising for the resident and guest scientists. The program distribution is determined by the structure’s interaction with the changing levels of the terrain. In that, distinct territorial conditions can be identified in the section. First, towering above the steep slopes of the cement quarry, shielded by the exposed stone face from one side. Then crossing the limestone terrain underground to finally open up towards the gentle slopes overlooking the historic centre of Trieste and its industrial port.
Similarly to the checkered logic of the Mine, which allows for exceptions where needed—the structural integrity of the building relies on the adaptability of a grid. Due to the exceptional length, the building comprises integrated dilatations through doubling structural elements, each signalling a program change along the span. The deep foundations become integral to conceptualising an intervention into the critically unstable terrain containing potentially hazardous solution features. An alternative approach was suggested in the appendix of the project. One that relies less on the physical strengthening of the limestone and instead embraces its heterogeneity. In this approach, once the bearing capacity is analysed, the structure is adapted to the best loading capacity—resulting in an irregular form of the institute.
The landscape undergoes a drastic transformation by reversing the ongoing re-naturalisation of the surface quarries. The process of re-naturalisation masks the scars of material extraction as it requires land-fill activities that hide further ecological degradation and render them unstable and unfit for further transformation. Such landscapes appear uncanny—not natural nor anthropogenic. The project speculates an antithesis to re-naturalisation—a large-scale shotcrete application across the quarry’s exposed surface. It is a means to land rehabilitation—erosion control, slope stabilisation, and unique water management—rendering it an uncanny but recognisably anthropogenic landscape. The surface becomes a canvas for documenting the institute’s activities. That is, territorialising the experiment in relief of layered excavated limestone aggregates. The quarry becomes a billboard for scientific progress and its failures.