1. The Great Pyramid
In 2005 Ingo Niermann and Jens Thiel begin discussing the idea that would eventually become The Great Pyramid, a place where every death, properly registered, could be commemorated. The Great Pyramid could, according to Niermann, “outlast all other above-ground monuments.” Theoretically the pyramid would be built brick by brick, each brick corresponding to an individual upon their death. Past deaths could also be memorialized as a brick. As originally conceived, the pyramid would be built out as necessary, always maintaining its pyramidal form, and would only reach its maximum practical height (300m) at some point in the future, accommodating over 41 million memorials. To account for regional preference, they also proposed satellite pyramids around the world. Their plan became increasingly pragmatic, settling on an economically depressed region in former East Germany, Anhalt-Dessau, near the village of Streetz. By 2006 their plans had earned them 90k Euros from the Federal Cultural Foundation of Germany. Their book, Solution 9 The Great Pyramid (2008), included a section on reactions from around the world. Florian Rötzer called it the “democratization of the final narcissism.” They turned to five preeminent architectural firms for designs, four of which submitted. In early 2008, the jury, including Niermann, Rem Koolhaas and Miuccia Prada, evaluated the four proposals but did not pick a winner. Soon thereafter they had received over 1000 reservations for the pyramid. According to their website, the project faltered but reemerged again in 2009. It appears to have stalled again.
Michael Madsen’s documentary Into Eternity (2010) examines the philosophical and practical implications of Onkalo, a nearly completed underground nuclear waste facility in Finland. Currently Finland’s nuclear waste is stored in relative safety in above-ground water pools, adequately isolating the harmful radiation for the short-term. But there’s really no way of guaranteeing the long-term security of these above-ground nuclear waste repositories. At best, above-ground conditions are adequate for a few decades. This becomes especially problematic when considering that nuclear waste needs to be stored for approximately 100,000 years, a nearly incomprehensible span of time. (For reference, 100,000 years ago the first humans made it to what is now the Middle East.) Due to the length of time required, the only conceivable place is below ground, underneath bedrock, which has existed for over a million years. Onkalo is being built in good faith, believing that precautions taken today will safeguard the highly radioactive material in perpetuum. For good measure, the entrance to the tunnel system will be sealed with concrete and eternally intelligible warnings will be posted.
3. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Humans generate a lot of waste, and have found a nice material in plastic. There’s plastic everywhere. The problem with plastic is that it’s super cheap and useful and the harmful effects of it are in the category of all those great things whereby someone else will think about it or deal with it and you can just throw it away and it’s not your problem. Well, from a number of unknowable geographical sources, a whole bunch of plastic finds its way into different dead zones in the ocean and it just sits there, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic doesn’t break down completely, is not biodegradable, and besides co-existing with an area the size of Texas in the middle of the ocean that’s filled with “plastic soup”, we supply the ocean with colorful plastic particles that are mistaken for food and eaten by fish and birds. It’s a complicated problem, to be sure, but it’s of such a incredible scope that it’s not really an issue. A conservative estimate, based on field studies, is that in the Pacific there are large swaths of ocean where it’s a 6 to 1 ratio of plastic to zooplankton. Aesthetically, it’s very interesting situation to consider.