The Wager

Joseph Justus (website)
Columbia University GSAPP
Advanced Studio
Faculty: Mark Wasiuta


Amidst Greece’s current debt situation and rising concerns of foreign acquisition of valuable resources and precious artifacts, this proposal asks the following question:

At what point does value outweigh risk?

The project stages a series of subterranean wagers that attempt to excavate underground assets through processes of archaeological digging and full-scale mining within a dense urban fabric. The first site of excavation is the Parliament building at Syntagma Square, the political center of Athens. Here, artifacts extracted from the ground will be stored in a series of secured subterranean vaults.

Athens’ stratigraphy is a collection of complex urban archaeology and natural material. Traditionally, the extraction of geological material and the recovery and analysis of material culture in the form of artifacts are mutually exclusive processes. By hybridizing them, a new process of collection will result. Historically, Athens’s most extensive excavation project was the construction for the NEW METRO SYSTEM in 1992. Archaeological and large scale boring techniques were partnered for the first time. The excavations led to the discovery of an extensive collection of ancient artifacts.

The parliament becomes a new symbol of national collection: a public building that protects the city and its artifacts from foreign nations, cultural institutions, and private collectors.

The wager begins with the initial testing of the soil and rock. Boring holes are drilled to a depth of 500 meters, probing the earth for the presence artifacts and precious metals. This system is deployed in a ring beneath the foundation of the parliament. After soil and rock are removed, the bored holes are filled with concrete, becoming structural piles for the parliament. The initial testing shows a high probability of archaeological artifacts in the first 10 percent of the strata. Initial tests also show a percentage increase in precious metals as depth increases.

Digging continues to a depth of 15 meters where the probability of extracting archaeological artifacts is highest. An elevator shaft is designed for the removal of soil and stone directly through the parliament building. The removal shaft will later become a public access point for viewing of the archaeological excavation. Due to the weight of the parliament, excavation proceeds where structure needs to be implemented. The site is segmented off in percentages of allowable structural stability. As value is extracted, the wager increases.

The site of collection becomes a site of public viewing as the artifacts found beneath the parliament are excavated but left in their original location. The underground museum displays the collection in its historical section. Underneath the museum will house the new assembly hall due to the reprogramming of the parliament building above.

Digging transitions to full scale mining as subterranean chambers are bored out of the stone. The strategic process of stoping is deployed to remove iron ore, stone, and precious metal deposits, leaving behind open space for the system of vaults. Artifacts are brought to the site from other city wide digs and stored in the subterranean vaults. Stone is extracted at 15 meters depth per year.

The wager becomes a civic act of deviance, a collective sacrifice to uncover and protect history. The parliament becomes a symbol to the people of future national identity.

The probability of finding precious metals increases as depth increases. The Old assembly hall reaches full capacity. As the wager increases, compression forces acting on the system also increase. Due to the increase threat of structural collapse the stope is systematically back filled with concrete for added support.

The government employs a number of robust security systems for the collection of artifacts. The vaults are secured with heavy steel doors, with locks requiring varying levels of security clearance. Depth of excavation determines level of security and value of artifact.

Thousands of cubic tons of stone are continually extracted and piled at exit hole and air shafts within the immediate area of the parliament. Mining machinery is used for the extraction and crushing of rock. Due to the immense excess of geological material, a plan is implemented to use mined stone to increase territory near the coast and in select areas of the city. New land will be sold off to finance digging. The plan responds to the tightness of the city as well as its constraining geomorphology.

Drilling and prospective pits at scattered locations around the city are tested. Remaining pits with high percentage of valuable stone and artifacts are invested in further. Proposed new excavation sites are determined by test pits. Mining excavations and soil displacement occur at the larger scale of the city. New territory results as well as topographical additions and the potential construction of new islands occur.

The wager threatens the very infrastructure of the city. But it is a strategy for the future, and act of collective desperation. To dig up and collect the past, is to store up for the future. While the popular press has emphasized the selling and investment of artifacts and geological resources, it is in the best interest of the country to protect against foreign acquisition of precious assets.

The mission is to dig up the city.

Leave a Reply