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A completely incredible prospect, nestled in the Shark Bay World Heritage Park, Useless Loop is a closed town and a solar salt mine run by Shark Bay Resources that exists and thrives on the pristine environment that is the World Heritage Area. It is at the meeting point of three major climatic and bio-regions. A closed town with construction common to mining camps; impermanence, lightweight construction and transportable all with a type two cyclone classification. The hot and windy nature of the place is excellent for this low tech salt production (evaporation) but means that the community hall is engineered like a train bridge as the summer winds hurl up the WA coast. A quality of salt which is sought after globally.
Knowing the entire footprint of a place provides context to then better understand how inhabitation is influenced and what by. We are then considerate of the broader scape a building exists within.
What ‘layers’ does this comprise?
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Exploring the layers of a place, this zine is packed full of everything architecture needs to consider in its broader context. CLICK ON THE IMAGE for the full zine
• Traditional country of three Indigenous language groups - Malgana, Nhanda and Yingkarta
• Classed semi-arid to arid, Yalgoo Biogeographic region
• month avg temps; feb max - 31.9 | jul min - 12.7
• Mean annual rainfall: 223.2mm
• Population 200(ish)
• Elevation 2m
• Sea water salinity at useless loop is about 50% more than open sea
• 70 km2 of operational crystallisation ponds
• The Shark Bay World Heritage area is home to 12 species of sea grass
• Dugongs love seagrass; 12.5% of the world’s Dugongs live in the area (all 10,000 of them)
• A new three brm build inc. services costs approximately $350k, yet a full renovation only costs $85k - Maintenance is sexy.
This map the sun fun sheet we made for working with the Useless Loop primary school so we could start thinking about sun and architecture in a small lesson we ran.
The desert meets the sea and so does the red dirt of the centre…
Amazingly there are beaches near Useless Loop made entirely from these tiny shells.
Said to one of the most pure salts in the world. Used for making plastics and in manufacturing rather than on your table.
The high salt content of the area means some things are preserved in crystalline form
This is a mountain of salt, drying out before being loaded onto a ship for export.
Cameron here took us around the Useless Loop mine site. Such a basic but amazing process. The quality of the slat is a reflection of the quality of the environment, they even wash the salt with sea water to clean it.
This is the fundamental of pure salt production. the world heritage areas of Shark Bay provide some amazing conditions to produce salt.
Salt is made by evaporating water from sea water, tidal power is used to move the water around and increase it’s salinity before putting it into special ponds for it to ‘grow’ salt. Here is one of the gates used to regulate the tidal waters around.
This transports the water 30kms from the tidal ponds to the ponds where they grow salt. Once they pump it to the top of the flume it flows to the other ponds. Low tech brilliance.
We were put up by Shark Bay Resources in some Donga’s. This was a wonderful treat to be able to live for a week in the buildings we had seen so much across the country. The size allows you to feel at home quite quickly although they did get a bit hot in the afternoons
This reno’d house costs a fraction of what a new build does. We were lucky enough to be taken around one day by Phil who was a master of maintenance and would rattle off statistics and costings which we furiously tried to scribble down. Phil was a big advocate for maintenance over replacing and in a coastal environment like Useless Loop that is probably a good way to be.
Local Legend Dave drove us out to steep point via some gnarly 4WD tracks. Dave worked at the mine and told us stories of what the day to day of mine life way like. He said that mostly the people that work at Useless Loop are there because of the environment and the ease of camping, fishing and the like.
We did a lesson on architecture with the local school. They had to build a cubby house that they could sit inside of at 2pm using sun angles to figure out how much protection they would need
These kids decided that if they only had a tiny opening no sun would get in…fair play
We presented in the community hall before retiring to the bar for further discussion. It was by far the most grandiose space we had presented in.
Note the kids play equipment as chairs
We hitched a ride on the mail plane over to Denham from where we would continue riding
The arid landscape is dotted with shallow lakes and low shrubs that make it look like a painting.
The cockle shells that make up Shell Beach were also quarried. They dissolve in the high salinity of the water and the calcium carbonate binds them together. This is then quarried into blocks and used for construction.
Sunsets over the water
These are the oldest living things on the planet! Up to 4.3 Billion years old! BILLION!!! LOOK AT THEM!
By this stage in the trip Bobbie had developed an amazing ability to nap wherever we stopped. This nap was whilst Owen was talking to a friend on the east coast to organise bidding for a conference.