Concrete (and steel) mountains

A practical joke that has gained strange traction, the Die Berg Komt Er is a suggested 2km-high artificial mountain set in the flat plains of Holland. Suggested by Dutch journalist Thijs Zonneveld, it is intended to fill a great hole in the national psyche: ‘The Dutch, says Zonneveld, are “obsessed” with mountains. “We spend all of our vacations there. We drive to Germany, France and Switzerland.” They also go to the mountainous Sauerland region of central Germany to learn how to ski, sometimes making the journey for just a day. Given the effort and expense involved to make such a trip, it stands to reason that the Dutch would also pay to use a mountain in their own country.’

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What is the world’s tallest artificial mountain (not counting spoil heaps)? Amusement parks seem to offer the best answer. Disney has 18 artificial peaks, culminating in Expedition Everest in Disneyworld: ‘If the Expedition Everest mountain were real, it would be ranked second on the list of the highest summits in Florida at 200 feet (61 m) above sea level.’ (and also the world’s most expensive rollercoaster, at $100. Like many artificial mountains, Disney’s Everest is a steel frame coated in an ersatz rocky landscape, ‘Imagineered‘ by their in-house team.

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This method has been used for such faux geography ever since proponents of artificial landscape moved on from earth-moving in the quest for more and more drama. Arguably the pyramids were the first artificial mountains, and the classical view of the Tower of Babel represents another hybridisation of land and building. The appeal of jagged peaks comes out of the florid gothic landscape romanticism epitomised by Friedrich, rather than the rolling picturesque artifice of Capability Brown. Imagery like The Sea of Ice is more akin to architectural deconstruction than evocative view.

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Technology finally caught up with ambition in the twentieth century, and it’s skyscraper construction that underpins the Mappin terrace at London Zoo and Disney’s first mountain, the Matterhorn at Disneyland, seen here under construction in the late 50s (more Disney building at Disneyland beginnings – the web is awash with histories of the Mouse – the two photographs at the bottom of the page come from Disney Dreamer, with many more images of Disney’s Mountain Coasters at Coasters and More, a German site).

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Hollow construction is also suggested by Zonneveld, although his tongue cannot be far from his cheek at all times. From the Spiegel piece:

A hollow mountain would save an enormous amount of material. If it consisted of a mass of reinforced concrete, the colossus would weigh an estimated 5.2 trillion kilograms. If it were built out of stone, the mountain would be even heavier, and more expensive. But lighter doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper. Blogger Erik van der Zee has already calculated that building the mountain out of ordinary Lego pieces would be unaffordable, if only because of the astronomical wages it would require. At a rate of one Lego piece per second and worker, the superstructure alone would consume about 729 billion man-years. Put differently, the entire human population could be employed around the clock for the next 104 years.

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The Dutch have form in contour crafting – there is even a company called Dutch Mountains, specialising in artificial ski slopes. We’re also reminded of MVRDV’s abandoned Serpentine Mountain from 2004 (a concept that later surfaced as the near-completed Book Mountain library). There’s also the Nederlandse Berg, a 2315m rendering of such a peak would look like in the flat landscape. A couple of years ago, the architect Jakob Tigges proposed The Berg in Berlin on the site of Tempelhof Airport, another tongue in cheek suggestion for extreme urban renewal. One impetus behind artificial mountain design is of course economic – if you build it, they will come. Yet there’s also an unfulfilled rural romanticism at the heart of all these suggestions, however lighthearted, an idea that beauty and views and splendour are purely the reserve of nature, not the works of mankind.

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Other things / ‘The assumption that ancient artwork represents reality is what I refer to as the Bangles fallacy, after the 1980?s band whose hit song “Walk Like an Egyptian” satirically assumed that real Egyptians walked as they were depicted in tomb walls’. At Orgone Research, via this great MeFi post on the Dogu / we should pay more attention to The Selby’s intense and chaotic interior shoots / new works by Toby Paterson / the Judge Dredd City Cabs.

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The image at the top is from Sons of the Forest, paintings and drawings by John Borowicz / medical illustration by Frank Netter / An Engineer’s Aspect, a weblog full of fascinating stories: Nikola Tesla’s mad-made tidal wave and monolithic dome home floor plans / John Commoner / Mythology of Blue / tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us / the Open Buildings database is steadily growing / e_jectamenta / the geology of Great Britain.

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