The White Pyramid of Cornwall - a Landscape in Limbo

Paper presented at the Prague – Heritages Past and Present – Built and Social conference in June 2023. This prestigious international conference marked the twentieth anniversary of the UNESCO Convention, and was discussing the shifts in how we define heritage, with specific attention towards intangible heritage, art and architectural history, communities, design and cultural traditions.

Abstract: The White Pyramid - a Landscape in Limbo

In Cornwall, UK, conical spoil heaps, the waste product from the China Clay mining industry, can be seen for miles. One of the most prominent has become a landmark known to the locals as the White Pyramid. Since 2014, there has been a petition to have it protected by the UNESCO World Heritage status after plans to have it removed to make room for a new eco-town. This paper explores the paradoxes of changing values to waste and beauty. Under the name of heritage, the White Pyramid is juxtaposed between a notion of a prosperous industrial past and the resulting environmental damage from which the landscape is slowly recovering. The choice between preservation, restoration or change is a complex one. The paper argues that an artistic approach might help to negotiate these issues. In contrast to the untouched White Pyramid, the paper includes an example of bioremediation as a form of artistic expression. On a disused mining site in Finland, the artist, Agnes Denes, realised her concept, Tree Mountain - A Living Time Capsule - 11,000 Trees, 11,000 People, 400 Years (1992-96). This paper compares the Cornish White Pyramid to Denes’ Tree Mountain by examining their materiality, form, vegetation and possible futures. This reveals the mining industry’s environmental impact, its complex socio-economic relationship with the Cornish people and their fight to retain the White Pyramid. It also recounts how Tree Mountain has secured protection to a forest, although stewardship issues gives it an uncertain future as a living sculpture.

The presentation is available from the AMPS archive.
The paper is published in the AMPS Proceedings Series 35.2 (Chapter 20Page 190).