Memorializing the Present: Designing for a Distant Future

The semester began for landscape architecture students with a design competition to create a memorial for the present for a far future client.

Memorializing the Present: Designing for a Distant Future

On the first day of spring semester, Knowlton School landscape architecture students were given a prompt to design a memorial whose message would still be legible in 10,000 years. The competition brief was to create a memorial marker in the tiny Pacific atoll of Enewetak, where the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission conducted forty-three nuclear tests from the mid-1940s through the early-1960s, including the world’s first thermonuclear test.

The competition, A Cenotaph to the Anthropocene, asked participants to create a eulogy for the human, environmental, and climatic violence committed on Enewetak and within the broader scope of the Anthropocene—the name given to the current geological epoch that began with the rise of significant human impact.

Students look at entries to the Cenotaph to the Anthropocene competition

Designing for a very distant and unknown future is a unique challenge according to Jake Boswell, associate professor of landscape architecture at Knowlton. “Time is the critical medium with which landscape architectures work. In practical terms, we may plant a tree now, and in fifty years it is going to be eighty times its original size. We have to consider what this means for the space now and for later. With the 10,000-year marker in the competition, students have to explore what type of thing will still be around, as well as who may be around to experience it,” said Boswell.

Students had one week to complete their competition deliverables on two 24" x 36" boards that would convey the project narrative, site strategy, details, and proposal dynamics. Given the highly dynamic nature of Enewetak, students were encouraged to design memorials that embraced the time and processes inherent in landscapes.

During the awards program, juror Matthew Kellogg announced “A Ritual in Deep Time” by Meg Bender & Elsie Almodovar-Reyes as “The Best in Show.” The Bender and Almodovar-Reyes memorial design proposed an adaptation of the Marshallese burial custom of placing coral around a grave site. Their design would build out installations across the Enewetak Atoll lagoon every three years. The entry explored three possible future scenarios of life on Earth—evolution, extinction, and expulsion—in response to changes to the planet over the period stipulated in the competition.

Elsie Almodovar-Reyes & Meg Bender stand in front of “A Ritual in Deep Time”


“We were both very interested in the 10,000-year framework of the competition brief, and we wanted a design that could transcend the material limitations of deep time,” commented Bender. “We started with the idea of a pilgrimage to Enewetak, and from there we imagined how repeating this pilgrimage over time could change the landscape and the nature of the process itself.” 

“We wanted to lean into storytelling for our three future scenarios,” said Almodovar-Reyes on the narrative element in the design. “We knew we could not predict what humanity would look like in 10,000 years, so we explored the possibilities of a human future in the Anthropocene.”

“Students sometimes operate under the preconception that there is one way of doing landscape architecture. Focusing several of the award categories on novel drawing and model-making techniques allowed the students to loosen their creative reins and design in a way that was of particular interest to them.” 

Jurors for the competition were Nick Gotthardt, Principal at Surface Design; Kimberly Ware, Designer at Agency Landscape + Planning; Matthew Kellogg, Senior Associate at MKSK; and Kristi Cheramie, Landscape Architecture Section Head at the Knowlton School.

Jurors discuss selections in the Cenotaph to the Anthropocene competition

The following projects received recognition from the jurors.

Best In Show
A Ritual in Deep Time
Meg Bender, Elsie Almodovar-Reyes

Best Use of Time as a Conceptual Driver
Glass Op (Glassbergs)
Jin Shuai Peng

Honorable Mention
Nuclear Cenotaph, Climate Chronograph & Sinking Scales

Best Use of Phenomena as a Conceptual Driver
Aubree Brown

Honorable Mention
Rise Above

Most Novel Drawing
Meddo Reef
Caressa Givens & Kangni Chen

Honorable Mention
Las Vegas Projected

Most Novel Model
Anthropogenic Dirge
Kate Broussard, Catherine Rolnicki

Honorable Mention
Community Canopy