Another Final Frontier explores architectural habitats at the margins of habitability on earth by producing a site specific work on an artificial island shared between NASA and a wildlife refuge.

Spoil islands are unexplored worlds forgotten in plain sight. The three-thousand mile string of dredged islands from New York City to Brownsville form an exceptional but ignored archipelago on the cusp of changes in climate and land use. Another Final Frontier presents work in territory shared by Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. In the shadow of explorations that abandon the planet, the project explores how nature and technology co-exist on earth.

Another Final Frontier exhibits work that combines artistic production with design and field research.

A frontier between land and water as well as nature and human intervention, the island serves as a test case for alternative habitats on the margins of human habitation, not on far-flung moons or planets, but here on earth, in a place that is essentially hiding in plain sight, just offshore (but harboring mainland truths). Given this context and as a mode of critical reflection, the project appropriates and modifies strategies developed by NASA to explore the lunar surface, turning those instruments and tools back onto the terrestrial and aquatic landscape of the spoil islands.

On one level, the exhibit creates another permutation of the spoil island expedition and camp and invites the public to experience architecture tuned to sites where nature is spoiled but thriving and artificial land is naturalized but constantly changing.

At another level, the exhibit places the evidence gathered—such as taxonomies of spoil island wildlife that update natural histories and emergent topographies that catalogue “artificial histories”—in the context of broader questions of architecture’s role in conservation, exploration, and development. At a third level, with a speaker series and ready relocation to other critical sites in the archipelago, the exhibit speculates about the future of existing waste sites where techno-ecological hybrids make up another frontier of research and habitation.

Sample writing from the exhib publication:

The first thing to be said about spoil islands is that we don’t know much about them. There is less information about this spoil island and the thousands like it that necklace the coast, then there is about the surface of the moon. Which is to say that the spoil island where we camp, where all the early indications of its submersion, along with much of the rest of the coastline, are already evident, and where you may someday visit (because it is only five hundred feet from shore), is another final frontier.
We do know that this island—the one we have named “Grey Island”—is four hundred feet in diameter. It has a ring of vegetation around its shore, some of which is native, like sabal palms and red mangroves, and some of which is considered exotic, like Brazilian pepper trees. The island’s center—like the middle of a lifesaving ring—is mostly barren. Its mound of rock and shell rises to about five feet above sea level. Over the past couple of years, we have learned other things about this island, which will serve as both tools and evidence in this exhibit and this catalogue of what the island means and what training to live here looks like. 

We also know that this island has been here for about seven decades. Spoil islands, like this one, are waste products from dredging channels. The focus is on the channels, which are measured and maintained, not on the islands, which, you might say, are left to their own devices. They are cast to the side and often overlooked, if not forgotten. This chain of spoil islands through the Mosquito Lagoon was formed in the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was cutting an east coast channel that would become the Intracoastal Waterway. It was a channel with a long history, part of which will be told here. 

Grey Island floats in two overlapping areas—a refuge and a space center, one founded on nature and the other on technology. Both came after the bucket and pipeline dredgers had laced the lagoon and the Indian River with spoil islands. Grey Island makes up two acres of the one hundred forty thousand that NASA acquired in 1962 to expand its exploration of space, specifically its lunar landing program. Look south from the island, between palm trunks and pepper tree limbs, and you can see the Vehicle Assembly Building on the horizon. That is where engineers assembled the rockets for the Apollo missions that sent us to the moon. If there were a large enough crane, the VAB could be lifted and placed over the island like the glass cover of a bell jar.

From this vantage point here on the spoil island, we have embarked on our own mission, exploring what we don’t know and training to live in a place exceedingly far and near, a place that is remarkable and yet also quite ordinary. A place forgotten in plain sight. We have found our own landing site amid the constellation that is this three thousand mile string of islands stretching from New York to Brownsville. It is hot, the mosquitos cloud like moon dust, the ground is hard, and the sea is rising. We have traveled far into space without even leaving earth. “Another Final Frontier” explores architectural habitats at the margins of earth’s habitability.

Artwork by Shona Kitchen + Aly Ogasian

Writing by Charlie Hailey

Publication design by Ji Kim

Photography by Jessina Leonard

Exhibition + Program Photography by Han Seok You

Program film documentation Emily Bright

With thanks to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, NASA, A Day Away Kayak, F Domes