On the Greek island of Spetses, Irish designer Kieran Donnellan and a group of participants from the 2019 international festival Meetings of Design Students (MEDS) have installed a striking charred-wood pavilion that warns of the dangers of sea level rise. Set atop a small hill overlooking the old harbor, the installation — titled the Dark Beacon — is placed close to an existing lighthouse that serves as a counterpoint to the pavilion; whereas the lighthouse warns of immediate dangers, the Dark Beacon warns of future dangers.

tall black wood tower

Inspired by the maritime culture of Spetses, the Dark Beacon takes the shape of a boat flipped on its head. Charred timber was used to clad the structure in a nod to the charring techniques used in traditional boat building and to allude to the overarching theme of global warming. Sea level rise is symbolized by two pools of water, one located on the ground floor and the other on the upper level connected via ladder. The distance between the two pools is approximately the maximum estimated sea level rise by the year 2100.

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rocks in small pool of water
close up of rocks in pool of water

Located at the end of a long tree-lined avenue, the pavilion invites visitors through a triangular doorway that references the motion of boats in a confined shipyard. Inside, visitors walk on a bent ramp with an incline “designed to cause a brief moment of balance adjustment, just like the effect of stepping from land onto a boat,” reads the project statement. 

triangular skylight at the top of a charred wood pavilion
cut-out in a charred wood pavilion revealing views of water and trees

The ramp leads to a visual cue for the sea level rise baseline: a pool of water with large stepping stones. A ladder provides access to the upper level, a viewpoint with seating and a pool at its base. The designer said, “This allows visitors to see just how vulnerable places like Spetses are to the impacts of sea-level rise.”

+ Kieran Donnellan

Images via Kieran Donnellan