FL ‘18 | STL


“How can we contain some of the deadliest, most long-lasting substances ever produced? Toxic remnants from the Cold War remain in millions of gallons of highly radioactive sludge, thousands of acres of radioactive land, tens of thousands of unused hot buildings, and some slowly spreading deltas of contaminated groundwater. Governments around the world, desperate to protect future generations, have begun imagining society 10,000 years from now in order to create warning monuments that will speak across time to mark waste repositories.” Thus opens the award winning Containment (documentary), directed by Peter Galison & Rob Moss, 2017.

Yet, as early as 1992, the USA started collecting interdisciplinary teams (well before ‘interdisciplinary’ became a key word), to visualize and design material communication scenarios for a deep nuclear waste repository in New Mexico known as the Waste Isolation Piolet Plant (WIPP). “The Sandia National Laboratories charged a panel of outside experts with the task to design a 10,000-year marking system...”


To date, there are no viable material solutions anywhere in the world.

It is estimated that languages deteriorate at the rate of 95% over the course of 10,000 years. Explicit to the terms of the nuclear marker communication system is that the message does not rely on words for communication. Instead, a continuous durational material system must be designed. It is thought that 27this material system must include an immersive-environment, a social ritual, and a way of evolving a linguistic message that the body can understand through experience. In other words, design, science, art, language, technology must converge into a mesh of interwoven materiality that articulates an intractable ecological, human condition which will exist with certainty in all possible uncertain global futures. During the semester, students will be paired with members of the West Lake, Bridgeton, Missouri community, people whose lives are immediately affected by the burial of nuclear waste. These ethnographic encounters will form the spine along which research and design for each material narrative emerges.

FREAKED LANDSCAPE will be visiting Salt Lake City during travel week, and partnering with Just Moms STL throughout the semester. Just Moms is “a non-profit group formed to unite & organize against a harmful Superfund radioactive waste site from the Manhattan Project in their Community”.

This Options Studio is supported in part by a 2018-2019 St. Louis Project Grant awarded to Eric Ellingsen from the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, Washington University.