by MUN Qin Jie Ian
In 1993, the American Natural Soda Ash Corporation fabricated a rumour that soda ash produced by Botswana Ash (Botash) in the Sowa mining district was impure due to the pink colouration of its salt brines. Subsequent predatory pricing tactics and soda ash dumping in the Republic of South Africa further threatened the soda ash market. These factors negatively impacted the economy of Botswana and the ecology of the Sua salt pans. Following the decline of the Botswana salt market, Botswana ash was forced to intensively mine to increase its yield and sustain its workers’ livelihood.
The thesis is built around a speculative ecological landscape which celebrates the denigrated shade of pink. It is created in an environment of salt, sorghum, algae and flamingoes – ecological agents which now sustain the pink archipelago within which this proposal emerges. The Ethereal City revives native Batswana myths, fables and folklores in its practices. It capitalises on the shades of pink in the seasonal variations of dry and wet so that these natural and ecological constructs become embedded into an architectural narrative and experience. The pink city regards tourism not just as an alternative source of revenue but projects a global image about colour in the larger context of Africa.
The proposed infrastructure — the Pink Suns, the Rainmakers, and the Pink Springs — draw upon the mix of traditional myths and contemporary science to cultivate pink in the brines, sky, and salt plains. Together with the Botswana choir, the Pink Suns — the foci of algae farms — harness energy as the choir sings in celebration of a coloured identity. Algae growth is scientifically proven to be enhanced by song. Planted in the sorghum fields, the totem-like Rainmakers, each with a rainwater reservoir, sustain the crops. In return, the sorghum stems adorn the rainmaker to filter rain collected for the next season. With the coming of rain, the Batswana locals recreate the Pink Spring of salt springs and salt huts (with the help of their Rain God). Visitors to the Sua salt pans, experience this ephemeral and fragile landscape in the transient architecture of the salt huts, which slowly dissolve into the earth and are cyclically reconstructed.
Framed against the backdrop of flamingoes — whose feathers are coloured pink when they feed on the brines of the algae — the city bursts to life each season in a different shade, accompanied by specific seasonal events, atmospheres, textures and architectures. Antithetical to the over-determined effects of mass industrialisation, this thesis imagines an architecture, a landscape and a future that returns to culture and landscape, that is both constructed and organic. Pink is a shorthand for a Batswana identity, and its architecture speaks of deference, independence, return and renewal.