Canada 150 Time Capsule

A functional artwork to celebrate Canada's sesquicentennial

The Western Canada 150 Time Capsule project was a part of a campus-wide contest at the University of Western Ontario to design a time capsule to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial. The time capsule design contest was initiated by the Canada 150 Celebration Committee to invite students to submit design proposals for a time capsule to be opened fifty years later on Canada’s 200th birthday.

The design problem had a few constraints defined such as how long it was to last, the volume it was to hold, and that it had to be aesthetically pleasing, portable, and easy to use. However, beyond that, the project was open to interpretation. Open projects can be the most fun because the designer is free to create whatever solution comes out of the woodwork.

For this project, it became quickly apparent that there were two separate lines of design that needed to be pursued: the aesthetic design of the time capsule, and the functional design of the time capsule – how it protected the documents contained within it for 50 years.

The aesthetic design of the time capsule required some inspiration. I knew that the design needed to represent both the school and Canada. One of the common themes that I kept encountering was the maple leaf – it was present on the Western coat of arms, on countless trees across campus, and, of course, is the most recognizable symbol of Canada. However, I wanted the design to be subtle in it’s message and clean in it’s execution. I started by sketching a number of different concepts, trying short fat capsules, long skinny capsules, cubical capsules, leaf shaped capsules etc. However, just a plain capsule seemed too visually bland to me, and I needed some sort of way to make the capsule more interesting. At this point, I managed to eliminate some of the concepts for the general shape – any prismatic shape was too large to machine out of one solid piece and if it was made of sheet stock it would have to be fastened, not a clean look, or welded, which could cause darkening of the anodized finish required for a 50 year service life. Forthis reason I focused on cylindrical shapes. I was limited by commercially available tube sizes, so for this reason a long skinny cylinder was more feasible than a short fat cylinder.

However, in the process of developing more visually striking concepts, it became readily apparent that the center of gravity would be too high on a vertical cylinder and a horizontal cylinder looked like a pipe bomb. The tree was an obvious solution to the center of gravity problem and provided a convenient way of including a reference to Canada in the design. From my initial sketches I developed prototypes from paper and cardboard and refined the design both physically and in CAD.

I wanted to increase the visual impact of the time capsule by using colour and surface finish to drawa contrast between the two distinct portions of the time capsule because I knew one consistent colour would appear visually muddled considering the number of leaves cut into the tree and the numberof surfaces reflecting light. So I decided to pickle and clear anodize the tree to give it a diffuse silver finish and polish, bright dip, and two-stage architectural anodize the capsule itself.

Once the aesthetic design had been completed, the next challenge was the functional design of the time capsule: to preserve the documents reliably for fifty years. The research for this part of the project led me to the Charters of Freedom project:NIST’s preservation of the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. However, implementing the technology in this project, namely the nickel alloy seals, would prove to be too expensive, so I designed the vessel with a double nitrile o-ring seal that was calculated to reduce argon permeation to levels acceptable for 50 years of exposure. This would allow the time capsule to be sealed in an argon environment and there be no risk of exposing it’s contents to oxygen.

Manufacturing of the time capsule was carried out by University Machine Services, and the time capsule was filled with letters, relics, and important documents from the year 2017. The time capsule will remain on display in D.B. Weldon Library until 2067, when it will be opened and the contents examined.