EARTHBOX: From Dreaming Into Being
As a world-first artistic installation with no blueprint, it’s hardly surprising that people often ask what sparked the idea for EARTHBOX.
It’s a tough question and one that doesn’t necessarily have a straightforward answer.
If we had to try, however, we’d say: EARTHBOX was born out of a unique partnership between Marina Busse and Brad Baard, two creative individuals who share a penchant for dreaming up physically immersive installations that offer people unique, once-off experiences of whimsy, wonder and awe.
The Dream Commission
Finding an almost uncanny alignment in their deep-seated desire to bring more joy to the world and an unshakable belief that anything is possible, Marina and Brad decided to join forces, pouring heart and soul into a new endeavour they named The Dream Commission.
In many ways, the work they do can be described as the creation of immersive experiences that are truly pioneering and unprecedented.
“I guess what defines The Dream Commission is a willingness to pursue the creation of things that we don’t know the shape or genre of at the outset, but will certainly push and squeeze people and, hopefully, inspire wonder and awe,” says Brad.
A birthing of twin ideas
While melding and moulding their thoughts around the concept of The Dream Commission, Marina and Brad also started brainstorming ideas for their inaugural project.
“So, we came up with this question: what if we could experience the earth from inside the earth? What would that look like?,” recalls Marina. “In my mind, at the time, I imagined something like a hole in the ground in a forest that you could descend into and view the surrounding earth from behind glass.”
Within no time, the idea evolved into something simultaneously more earthy and more grand: a fully immersive, uninterrupted encounter with raw earth while navigating an underground chamber the size of a cathedral.
The only question was how to make this work in the sandy soil that characterised much of the Cape Peninsula and surrounding - Flats.
Calling on the experts
Initial discussions with geologists and geotechnical engineers elicited great curiosity as well as a breakdown of the type of geological formations that would be able to accommodate the subterranean chamber of this nature.
Equipped with this information, a previously farmed stretch of land at Lourensford Estate in Somerset West, largely unused except when serving as a parking lot for the occasional event, was identified as the perfect location for what had come to be known as EARTHBOX.
Once an environmental impact assessment confirmed no ecosystem would be harmed, the digging of a test pit revealed 2.5 metres of loose, previously disturbed alluvial soils, followed by several metres of dense clay that would hold the shape of the chamber optimally, if treated correctly.
In other words, EARTHBOX was a go!
“When we came up with the idea for Earthbox, there was no doubt that we were going to follow through with it no matter what,” says Marina.
“Even if the experts had said ‘no, it’s not possible’, we would have probably found some way or kept speaking to people until we found someone who could help us make it a reality somewhere.”
Turning an idea into reality
What followed was a collaboration of gargantuan proportions, bringing geologists, geotechnical engineers, structural engineers, landscapers and creatives together in ways that no one had anticipated or experienced before.
“No matter how many times we told people that this is not a normal project, we could see it landing at different stages for different people,” laughs Marina. “It was truly fascinating to see how the various experts we were collaborating with had to adapt and apply their knowledge in ways that were very different to their usual workflows.”
The fact that the build took place during the wettest winter the Western Cape has seen in decades, added an extra layer of challenge, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome with meticulous planning and the working of engineering wonders.
An unusual place to start
In reflecting on the unfolding of EARTHBOX, Marina and Brad both agree that despite being their first project, it isn’t what a typical Dream Commission project will look like.
“If you talk about it very simplistically, EARTHBOX is a brown project and The Dream Commission is like a rainbow - just take a look at our website to see what I mean,” says Marina. “So it does feel slightly at odds, but the key piece that connects and sits at the heart of everything is the reawakening of wonder and awe. EARTHBOX is one expression of that.”
Brad adds: “Maybe it’s reshaped for us what the possibilities of The Dream Commission are - perhaps taking us beyond the limits that we didn’t even know we had.”
Visit The Dream Commission website to find out more.