The Dead Zone – Designing a Warning for the Future

05 Dec

Since 1991, a team of scientists, anthropologists, writers, designers, and futurists have been working on what may be the most ominous project ever conceived. They are setting out to design a place so evil that no sane human being would be stupid enough to approach it for more than 10,000 years.

The place destined for this fate is the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant), a nuclear waste storage site in New Mexico. Today, the WIPP is a bustling hub of activity, receiving shipments from all across the United States. The workers sink the waste 2,150 feet underground, burying it specially excavated caverns hewn from an ancient salt formation. Once the artificial caverns fill, the site will close down and the caverns will be sealed under thirteen layers of dirt and concrete. In that way, WIPP should offer a safe and effective final solution – if nobody messes with it.

And that’s the heart of the problem. Nuclear waste can stay dangerous for tens of thousands of years, far longer than our current civilization has existed. The vacated WIPP will be covered in warning signs and pictures (they’ve even considered using Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” as a warning sign). Messages in seven different languages (English, Spanish, Russian, French, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and Navajo) will rest on immense granite columns and walls. They are chilling in their brevity.

This place is a message, and part of a system of messages, pay attention to it!

Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.

This place is not a place of honor. No high esteemed deed is commemorated here. Nothing valued is here.

What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning aboug danger.

The danger is in a particular location. It increases toward a center. The center of danger is here, of a particular size and shape, below us.

The danger is still present in your time, as it was in ours.

The danger is to the body, and it can kill.

The form of the danger is an emanation of energy. The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically.

This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.

But over 10,000 years, even that might not be enough. Cultural shifts, political unrest, and climate change may cause those signs to crumble to dust, those languages to die, and the memory of what lay beneath to fade away, leaving the WIPP’s radioactive cargo as an invisible, intangible, but very real threat to future societies. How, then, can we design a warning that will last millenia?

The solution goes beyond anything humanity has ever done. The idea is to alter the landscape altogether, leaving an unmistakable message of danger and warning. The area must be disturbing to the eye, unusable to industry, and inhospitable to life. The team has presented a number of concepts, including the “Landscape of Thorns” pictured above. Some others are provided below and the excerpts from the report can be read at Vanderbilt University’s website (see sources).

Other ideas include menacing earthworks, more spikes (spikes are always good), and something called the “Black Hole”. The final plan will be submitted to the U.S. government sometime around 2030. Of all the things for our civilization to leave behind, the most permanent message may be a warning.

Sources: (Note, my WordPress is having trouble with hyperlinks. I will clean this up as soon as I can),,

1 Comment

Posted by on December 5, 2012 in Modernity


One response to “The Dead Zone – Designing a Warning for the Future

  1. rthepotter

    December 6, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Horrible but interesting … not exactly a ‘like’!


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