As the Supreme Court made a treacherous ruling this week to limit the U.S. government’s ability to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a simple bench—placed 3,645 miles away—demonstrated the grave idiocy of this decision.
Architect Andre Kong installed a bench of his own design on London’s River Thames. Half of it is a typical bench, sitting 16 inches off the ground. The other half towers a full 9.8 feet in the air. Why so high? Because according to a climate model of the year 2030, the Thames will flood 9.8 feet above sea level during storms. And if you want to stay dry, you’d better grab a ladder. (Just watch out for lightning up there.)
Dubbed “A Cautionary Benchmark,” Kong’s installation realizes the threat of rising oceans as our earth warms. It’s a rare project that demonstrates exactly what we’re in for if our environmental policies stay on their current track.
“Often people see graphs and read numbers but struggle to realize the scale of some of these issues; the bench seeks to physically map it out in a way you can gain a sense of magnitude and urgency,” Kong says. “You’re invited to sit on the lower bench, look out onto the water, and look up to reflect on the everyday actions contributing to this forecast scenario.”
In other words, the bench is a real-world data visualization, built from physical materials rather than ink and pixels, so that you can experience the effects of climate change firsthand. A warning coat of red paint highlights the drastic difference between the seating we have today and the floods to expect tomorrow, painted with a tapered edge that evokes a high-water mark fading beneath waves. Constructed of reclaimed galvanized steel tubes and clamps, the entire bench can be disassembled once the installation ends, and its parts can be reused for a third time.
“It was crucial that the project didn’t use new materials, to minimize its carbon footprint and not add to the problem it portrays,” Kong explains.
As for what it actually feels like to sit on a bench that’s perched 9.8 feet into the air, Kong declines to say.
“For health and safety reasons you can’t sit on top, unless you wait for a storm in 2030, ” he says. “Although I imagine some climate activists might take the risk.”