Ian Mun
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The Ethereal City of Pink

Thesis Supervisor: A/P Dr. Lilian Chee

Teaching Assistant: Wong Zihao
Site: Sua Salt Pans, Sowa District, Botswana, Africa

Context:
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.

Abstract:
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 also to project a global image about the way colour is perceived 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 overdetermined 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.

Keywords: Pink, Architecture, Fable, Salt, Botswana

A Fabled Landscape

The thesis drew its original inspiration from my 2 months spent in Botswana, where my fascination grew in how water, nature and myths are intertwined with their local culture. As the bushman and early explorers traverse the vast salt plains, they would weave tales around the usual landscape and phenomena they came across. These tales, folklore and legends, passed down for generations, engender a great appreciation and care for nature, inculcating the virtues of kindness, love, courage and harmony.

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Maps of Myths and Tales

Pans, rivers, animals, sky, earth and later architecture become bounded by legends woven into their fabric, living in the memories and imaginations of both natives and visiting foreigners. The thesis takes interest in Architecture as a tool for myth-making.

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The Ethereal City

It was rumoured that the city of pink have to be rebuilt each year, as rain recharges the landscape with life. Over the campfire, Oteng shared about the different seasons in the City of Pink, each marked with some form of pink. The mysteries of the city then, is left completely to my own imagination.

The City in Pink

Winter

“The morning dawn paints a burst of pink across the morning sky. Unaffected by the presence of our Mokoro, some flamingoes continued to squabble with each other, while others were intently finding treasures in the midst of the salt pans. Choirs of Setswana vocals danced in the air as we watch hues of pink shift on the sun’s façade. For a brief moment, the city of pink is born. How I wish a moment like that could last for eternity.”

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The Birth of Pink

“As the flood thins into a saturated pink, the Pink Sun has risen. Afar, locals harvest nets of pink algae against the backdrop of the Pink Sun radiated by the sunset glow. No wonder it is called the city of pink.”

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“Pula!” A United Cry for Rain
Rain

“Amidst the aroma of fermenting sorghum beer, we sat by the Rainmaker watching the locals sing and dance. As the dance reaches its fever pitch, pink confetti flew to the skies and gradually, the sky dons a veil of pink. The pink sky heralds the coming of rain - Pula!”

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The Pink Spring
Summer

“As I dipped in the salt springs, the locals tenderly cared for the salt huts in the background. Each year, Rain returns salt to the earth and the huts are are given a new coat of pink. We live in the throwaway society, but oh the beauty that lies in the simple act of repairing what is damaged!”

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The Circle of Life

“…this is the circle of life where man and nature hold an intricate balance. Man’s respect for nature brings out the beauty in nature’s resources. Through rain, the flamingoes, brine, algae, sky and salt turn in to seasons of pink. I sincerely wish for rain to come again, marking the rebirth of the Ethereal City.”

The Circle of Life
A Study in Pink
Salt Studies

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A Fabled Diary - In Memory of the Magical Land