Grey Room

“Terrestrial Not by Nature and Essence”: The Acclimatization Chamber as Surface Technology in South Africa, ca. 1958

Megan Eardley

African mine workers completing stepping exercises inside a surface acclimatization chamber, ca. 1966. Courtesy Mine Ventilation Society of South Africa.


This article examines the experimental design, corporate distribution, and routine use of the surface acclimatization chamber, or “climatic room,” as a tool of management in apartheid South Africa. I propose to consider the room as an architectural model of sorts, one that was elaborated and refined by the extractive industry in the middle of the twentieth century to test and remake the relationship between the body and the earth. Its significance lies not only in the treatment of mine workers but in its function as a testing site to develop management methods that have far-reaching consequences for “the human” in environments that are hostile to biological life.