Isabella Frontado


Future Histories: Disappeared Grounds

Advised by Gary R. Hilderbrand

Private and individual land ownership is rooted in the foundation of the American identity and has played a critical role in shaping and defining the American landscape. Walled, fenced, marked, and measured, land has been commodified. However, in the face of a changing climate and rising seas, the stability of this commodity is tested as private property literally slips away under people’s feet. Traditional methods of defining private land make painfully obvious the fact that not all land can be demarcated or owned in the same way.

Tangier Island, Virginia, a collection of raised, stilted, and perpetually flooding homes, is one of the few remaining inhabited islands in the Chesapeake Bay. However, due to long-term subsidence, sea level rise, and erosion, the island is disappearing. Using chain link, wood, rope, or cinder blocks, Tangier residents work tirelessly to inscribe1 the extents of their ground. Where the ground becomes too soft, residents etch their semi-aqueous property2 by planting, trimming, or mowing the edges. Marking is essential. As these communities disappear, the only formal record of this once-inhabited ground will be the legal record—the property deed—the inherently American document that transforms ground into an object of trade and consumption. This thesis explores how, through landscape means, residents translate and inscribe the legal boundaries of property onto the ever-changing condition of ground, and imagines how we will carry on this boundary-defining landscape practice, redefining and reinscribing notions of property even as the land itself is absorbed by the bay.

1 Tania Murray Li, “What Is Land? Assembling a Resource for Global Investment,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39, no. 4 (2014): 589–602.
2 Andro Linklater, Owning the Earth: The Transforming History of Land Ownership (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013).

Isabella Frontado, MDes. View of a landscape with a chain-link fence and tree superimposed with an image of ocean water.