Courtesy Agency Agency

Though the toxic waste that Cold War–era nuclear programs left behind is already decades old, it will take thousands—and maybe even millions—of years to decay fully. But how can society ensure that future generations respect nuclear waste repository sites where millions of barrels of radioactive waste are buried deep below the Earth’s surface?

According to the winner of architectural research initiative Arch Out Loud’s international nuclear isolation site competition, creating a "climate engineering experimentation site"—instead of a stagnant monument—could be the best course of action. The winning submission, called Testbed, suggests “an open-ended assemblage of processes that generate an entangled scientific earthwork comprised of agitated hybrid formations, neither natural nor human-made,” according to the project proposal.

Designed by Brooklyn, N.Y.–based studio Agency Agency, Testbed envisions installing multiple carbon dioxide sequestration technologies along with mineral extraction resources to “[take] advantage of the site’s already compromised condition.” Over time, these processes would create new geological forms that would become markers for the site.

The Nuclear: Landmarker for a Waste Isolation Site competition called for designers to create a marker or system of markers to "deter inadvertent human intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant" (WIPP) located in in Carlsbad, N.M., that could exist for 10,000 or more years, according to a press release. The Arch Out Loud team will present the findings from the competition submissions at the annual Waste Management Symposia in Phoenix in March.

Read more about the winning proposal and the runners-up below.

Courtesy Agency Agency

Winner: Testbed
Participants: Agency, Agency; Tei Carpenter, Arianna Deane, Ashley Kuo
Location: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Project Description: Testbed transforms the WIPP area into a climate engineering experiment site to be initially managed by the Department of Energy. Rather than communicating a warning through monument or obstacle, the project manipulates the geology of the site itself by setting in motion an open-ended assemblage of processes that generate an entangled scientific earthwork comprised of agitated hybrid formations, neither natural nor human-made.

The project deploys an array of carbon dioxide capturing strategies across the WIPP site, including ex situ mineral sequestration, in situ geologic storage, and direct air capture farms, to generate an active marker system that passively stores one type of energetic byproduct—carbon dioxide—in the surface above another: the transuranic waste secured below. By using climate engineering to create a new geology, Testbed takes advantage of the site’s already compromised condition to encumber it through experimentation, doubling down on disturbance to ensure the site will remain undisturbed. Through their continued growth and transformation over time, these new geological forms mark the site as something deeply strange and unfamiliar, communicating its otherness by intervening in fundamental processes.

Courtesy Noah Green, Ryan Rideout, and Gilberto Villalobos

Runner-Up: Lodestar
Participants: Noah Green, Ryan Rideout, Gilberto Villalobos
Location: Seattle
Project Description: For millennia, cultures across the world have attached deep significance to celestial movements and cycles. Ancient civilizations derived meaning from constellations and planets and wove astrology into mythology and religion. In the second millennium, sailors used the stars to navigate an unknown world. Among these stars, the North Star has held the greatest importance as a means of wayfinding. Lodestar relies on simple architectural gestures to communicate the danger buried deep within the site. Tied to greater celestial movements, the landmark is not dependent on language or a site steward to communicate the passing of 10,000 years.

Courtesy Jiahui Guo and Bin Yan

Runner-Up: A Crystalline Funeral
Participants: Jiahui Guo, Bin Yan
Location: St. Louis
Project Description: How can an isolated landmark reveal itself as a coffin to seal the radioactive nuclear wastes, and how can the crystalline funeral, reveal and warn the considerable influence of human power to the future generation throughout the 10,000 duration of decay of nuclear substance, and probably, the human being as well?

Courtesy Steven Schimamoto

Runner-Up: A Storm Is Blowing From Paradise
Participants: Steven Schimamoto
Location: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Project Description: A contrast between monument and terrain signifies a tension between geological resources and human affliction. This monument symbolizes a parasitic operation that reaches deep into the darkest side of humanity. It is a memorial for the exploitation of Mother Earth, the Native American mining communities, the genius of scientists, 130,000 individual lives, and the endless generations to come that are affected by these operations. Volcanic basalt stone wraps the perimeter of the 16 mile site. Within this, large boulders fill the interior. These boulders would erode and slip out of the open corners of the monument, eventually to become cemented into the geological strata; a physical recording of anthropocentric presence and perhaps, absence.