2023 Landscape Architecture Thesis Prize: Kevin Robishaw’s Manatees and Margaritas: Toward a Strange New Paradise
by Kevin Robishaw (MLA I ’23) — Recipient of the Landscape Architecture Thesis Prize.
Florida manatees gather in the warm water discharged from power plants, which they rely on during cold winters. The “55 and better” also seek warmth – and a life of leisure – at the state’s booming “active adult” communities. As human populations increase, human waste leaches into the lagoon and seagrass dies. Manatees starve in record numbers and are fed romaine lettuce in a last-ditch effort to keep them alive.
This project probes the strange ecologies of Eden in the Anthropocene – of romaine lettuce and power plants, manatees and margaritas. It finds, in landscapes of paradise, spaces where one can love nature, while killing it at the same time, where the “obscene” realities of the body – waste, aging, death – are concealed outside the figurative garden walls – to deleterious effects. This thesis proposes new visions of paradise for a world where this separation can no longer stand, where no ‘elsewhere’ remains and entanglement is unavoidable. A series of gardens, sited at Latitude Margaritaville 55+ Community, the wastewater treatment plant which receives its sewage, and the community’s beach club and along the shuttle route and waterways that connect them, serve as prototypes for a strange new Florida paradise. Between human composting, the conversion of human waste to heated water, and the replenishment of beach sand using crushed and smoothed glass from beer bottles, the obscene enters – and eventually becomes – the garden. New forms of coexistence – between the retiree and manatee, the human and the nonhuman – emerge.