Welcome to Prospectives!
“Half an acre of oblong pond – one that is open as a mirror,
in it, the light of sky and shadow of clouds co-linger.
One asks: how can it be so clear?
For there is a source of living water.”
– Zhu Xi (1130–1200 AD), GUAN SHU YOU GAN (“Two Thoughts from Reading Books at Living Water Pavilion”: PART I)
“Good rain knows the season, when spring is here.
It sneaks into the night wind, moistening things fine and silently.”
– Du Fu (712–770 AD), “Delighting in Rain on a Spring Night”
大學之道，在明明德，在親民，在止於至善。 … 物格而後知至；知至而後意誠；意誠而後心正；心正而後身修；身修而後家齊；家齊而後國治；國治而後天下平。自天子以至於庶人，壹是皆以修身為本。
“The way of great learning consists in manifesting one’s bright virtue, consists in loving the people, consists in stopping in perfect goodness. … When things are investigated, knowledge is extended. When knowledge is extended, the will becomes sincere. When the will is sincere, the mind is correct. When the mind is correct, the self is cultivated. When the self is cultivated, the clan is harmonised. When the clan is harmonised, the country is well governed. When the country is well governed, there will be peace throughout the land. From the king down to the common people, all must regard the cultivation of the self as the most essential thing.”
– The Great Learning, The Book of Rites (770–476/403 BC) (Translated by A. Charles Muller, July 4, 1992)
With this trilogy of excerpts, I sincerely welcome you to another issue of Prospectives: a literary platform that is free and open to all. As a lecturer of History and Theory at the B-pro, I am grateful to say that I have the best of teachers – the consolidation of thousands of years of world history and theory – and I hope that Prospectives’ readers can and will also learn from the best. With The Bartlett’s efforts in promoting equality, diversity and inclusivity (EDI), we always encourage students to embed their own cultural ontology in their study; interculturality and interdisciplinarity are novelty in research, and add to the efforts in spawning shared cultural expressions and mutual respect through reciprocal understanding.
Searching through my own culture, the three excerpts above – respectively from the 12th century AD, the 8th century AD, and the 8th century BC – are chosen because of their timelessness. On the other hand, matters of open-sourcing, education, co-learning and self-cultivation are as timely as ever; traditional institutions are simultaneously challenged and complemented by new ways of learning.
The first excerpt is a metaphorical poem of Chinese landscapes (借景喻理), taking an open pond as an analogy for a clear mind, able to reflect as clearly as a mirror. How can the mind be clear? “For there is a source of living water” – which speaks to me of open sourcing.
At the same time, the clearest mirror of all is history (以史為鏡):
“Taking people as a mirror, you can understand the pros and cons; taking history as a mirror, you can know the ups and downs.”
– (Emperor Taizong of Tang, 598–649 AD)
In more recent history, when Martin Heidegger was interviewed for Der Spiegel in 1966, he said that “academic ‘freedom’ was only too often a negative one: freedom from the effort to surrender oneself to what a scientific study demands in terms of reflection and meditation.” To reverse engineer this, then, a positive freedom demands reflection and meditation. Coming from a philosopher who is famous for his reflections and meditations on a hammer and its relationship to “being”, his thinking testifies that “when things are investigated, knowledge is extended”. What is the value of extending knowledge? Sincerity, correct minds, cultivated self, harmony in governance, and peace: “From the king down to the common people, all must regard the cultivation of the self as the most essential thing.” In other words, investigate things so that we may know how to be in this world. Such is the urgency in our epoch of climate change, which demands collective reflections and meditations – or co-learning.
Lastly, what determines good education? Good education is like fine rain in springtime: it comes at the right season; not early, not late – it teaches according to each individual’s aptitude and tempo (因材施教). It washes and enriches, quiet and non-clamorous – it teaches by example, beyond the verbal (身教重於言教). It is fine and gentle, it cultivates the environment, day and night – so that knowledge and virtues may immerse the ears and imbue the eyes (耳濡目染).
Following those reflections on rain, ponds, and water, perhaps there is no better segue to the discussion of Climate F(r)iction – a polysemy of climate friction and fictions (Cli-Fi). According to a journal article published in 2003 by B. Levrard and J. Laskar, “[d]elayed responses in the [ice/water] mass redistribution may introduce a secular term in the obliquity evolution, a phenomenon called ‘climate friction’”. Although this piece of research was investigating the Earth’s major glacial episodes, which took place on a geologic timescale, it nevertheless warns us that the consequences of our actions may lead to immediate effects on a planetary scale, and of a magnitude beyond the imagination of any Cli-Fi.
Curated by our very own Déborah López and Hadin Charbel at the B-pro, “Climate F(r)iction” is an issue that looks at the intersection of ecologies, technologies, and ideologies. López and Charbel, who are architects and founders of the Pareid studio, lead Research Cluster 1 “Monumental Wastelands” at the B-pro, which focuses on cli-migration and autonomous ecologies, using methods of “decoding” and “recoding” through Cli-Fi.
In the production of this issue, an exceptional panel of guests were invited to participate in an open-seminar and roundtable on 27 April 2022 at the Bartlett B-pro. The work and methodologies which they have used to scrutinise, communicate, and respond to our techno-climatic future(s) were incredibly diverse, and yet, their combined contributions reminded me, above all, of a line spoken by Rufus Scrimgeour: “These are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today.” These words may have been spoken in a work of fiction and in an entirely different context, but despite this, the sentiment should not be taken lightly.
I have here tried to curb my own tendency to assemble hopelessly long lists of acknowledgments – Prospectives is blessed to have been indulged by numerous supporters – but as those who have contributed to Prospectives and the B-pro continue to serve relentlessly, please do refer to the acknowledgements in Issue 02.
Nevertheless, I must give thanks once again to those who have strived and delivered within the timeline, especially our authors, curators, advisory board members, copyeditor and proof-reader Dan Wheeler, web-developer Arjun Harrison-Mann, our research assistants, and all the professional services staff. Most important of all, our internal senior advisors – Professor Mario Carpo, Professor Frédéric Migayrou, Roberto Bottazzi, Andrew Porter, Gilles Retsin, and Professor Bob Sheil – without whom Prospectives would not have been possible. Last but not least, our Managing Editor Mollie Claypool, who has made the ground fertile for the germination and growth of ideas.
Prospectives has been generously supported by our subscribers and readers, as well as the Architecture Projects Fund (The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London), which enables authors and readers to publish and access knowledge free of charge. With this, I shall leave you to enjoy the third issue of Prospectives: Climate F(r)ictions.
The effects of climate change have become increasingly apparent, with implications across multiple geographical scales and regions. Read as ecological and environmental transformations, accelerated transitional states are unfolding consequences and prompting responses within social, political, economic, human and non-human spheres alike. For instance, the term “cli-migration” was coined by an Alaskan human rights lawyer in 2008 to describe the permanent forced relocation of communities due to climate change. That same year, Ecuador introduced articles 10 and 71-74 to their constitution that explain the “Rights of Nature” as both a definition and the means to its legal and practical application.
While climate change can be described as a “hyper-object” whose effects are generally conceived to exist at a scale that far surpasses one’s capacity to grasp it, its causes are grounded in the accumulation of various actions that are linked with the extractivist and capitalist logics resulting in a positive feedback loop – more resource extraction leads to more consumption and vice versa. Architecture is indeed one facet among an ecosystem of production- and consumer-based economies that has inextricably linked resources to commodities. Further to this, the use of territorialising technologies and mediums (such as satellite imagery and land surveys) is now coupled with artificial intelligence such as machine learning, optimisation algorithms and sensory devices, increasing the efficiency of all aspects of the supply chain; from prospecting, to extraction, and transport. It would seem that technology’s inevitable end is towards colonisation.
This, however, has in turn drawn the attention of some to investigate alternative modes of land and resource management, such as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), which offer perspectives and methods based on indigenous groups’ locally developed practices. Meanwhile, contemporary trends in circular economies have begun questioning and testing the viability of re-utilising materials and rethinking logistical processes. Parallel to this, relatively recent technological trends that are predicated on decentralised protocols such as blockchain inherently possess political ideologies whilst exhibiting practical implications. Although technology tends to be presented as generic, the aforementioned hints at the possibility, and perhaps the inevitability, of interlacing and encoding ethics.
Can technologies be designed and utilised without falling into territorialising tropes? Can AI be used to challenge current production-based economies? What are ways of subverting existing power structures? What decisions would nature make if it could govern itself? What kinds of technologies, protocols and policies can afford such autonomy? How would this affect architectural production, design and habitation, at individual, urban and larger ecological scales?
This issue aims to put in dialogue the works and thoughts of different practitioners and researchers which, while distinct, share proximities when read through the lens of our current climate regime.
Departing from the classical notion of landscape and wilderness, Marantha Dawkins and Bradley Cantrell reframe the Earth’s future through the promise and limitations of data and turn to embracing and actively engaging with uncertainties through Earth’s increasing unpredictability.
On the notion of data, Catherine Griffiths explores the critical notion of “data situatedness”, removing it from its once neutral state of information and instead exploring from how and where we see data, as much as from how and where data sees.
Moving into the ground, Andrew Toland revisits the epistemological underpinnings of “land” and the consequential perceptions of it; weaving a thread through social, legal and design practices, uncovering precedent limitations and strides, hinting that the extent of nature’s rights could be found a little deeper.
Between the digital and the material, Theo Dounas explores the practical and ecological implications of blockchain technology in architecture, reconsidering design not from the perspective of a building, but rather a non-extractive and circular economy.
Turning to the virtual, Damjan Jovanovic questions new modes of imaging through worldmaking, whereby games and simulations offer the possibility of interacting across multiple scales through dynamic and complex systems.
Questioning how our futures might unfold, what might inhabit them, and how they might be experienced, Andrew Witt creates an observatory; a place hosting possible realities from the scale of newly evolved plant and animal life up to the scale of the Earth as a geo-dynamic system.
The remaining contributions extend this constellation, some taking position through theoretical frameworks, and others as projective projects.
Climate F(r)ictions proposes a turn away from dichotomies and binary thinking, and instead straddles the lines of our realities and imaginations, interconnecting technologies, ecologies, law and worlds, giving multi-scalar agency to humans and non-humans alike – it operates in the speculative realms of the plausible and the probable.
Climatic Energy and Ecological Autonomy
There is no way back to the climate that we once knew: “our old world, the one that we have inhabited for the last 12,000 years, has ended”. Accepting this end presents an opportunity to reframe considerations of risk, indeterminacy, and danger as questions of restructuring and rewilding; shifting the discussion of global warming from a matter of a scarcity of resources to an abundance of energy that can kick-start landscape futures.
To engage this future, it is critical to set up some terms for how design will engage with the multitude of potential climates before us. Rather than working preventatively by designing solutions that are predicated on the simplification of the environment by models, we advocate for an experimentalism that is concerned with the proliferation of complexity and autonomy in the context of radical change. Earth systems are moving hundreds to thousands of times faster than they did when humans first documented them. This acceleration is distributed across such vast space and time scales that the consequences are ubiquitous but also unthinkable, which sets present-day Earth out of reach of existing cognitive tools. For example, twenty- to fifty-year decarbonisation plans are expected to solve problems that will unfold over million-year timescales. These efforts are well-intentioned but poorly framed; in the relentless pursuit of a future that looks the same as the past, there is a failure to acknowledge that it is easier to destroy a system than it is to create one, a failure to acknowledge the fool’s errand of stasis that is embodied in preservation, and most importantly, a failure to recognise that climate change is not a problem to be solved. Climate “solutions” are left conceptually bankrupt when they flatten complex contexts into one-dimensional problem sets that are doomed by unknowable variability. From succession, to extinction, to ocean biochemistry, to ice migration; our understanding of environmental norms has expired.
The expiration of our environmental understanding is underlined by the state of climate adaptation today – filled with moving targets, brittle infrastructures, increasing rates of failure, and overly complicated management regimes. These symptoms illustrate the trouble contemporary adaptation has escaping the cognitive dissonance of the manner in which knowledge about climate change is produced: the information has eclipsed its own ideological boundaries. This eclipse represents a crisis of knowledge, and therefore must give rise to a new climatic form. Changing how we think and how we see climatic energy asks us to make contact with the underlying texture and character of this nascent unruliness we find ourselves in, and the wilds that it can produce.
Earth’s new wilds will look very different from the wilderness of the past. Classical wilderness is characterised by purity: it is unsettled, uncultivated, and untouched. But given the massive reshaping of ecological patterns and processes across the Earth, wilderness has become less useful, conceptually. Even in protected wilderness areas, “it has become a challenge to sustain ecological patterns and processes without increasingly frequent and intensive management interventions, including control of invading species, management of endangered populations, and pollution remediation”. Subsequently, recent work has begun to focus less on the pursuit of historical nature and more on promoting ecological autonomy.[6, 7, 8] Wildness, on the other hand, is undomesticated rather than untouched. The difference between undomesticated and untouched means that design priorities change from maintaining a precious and pure environment to creating plural conditions of autonomy and distributed control that promote both human and non-human form.
Working with wildness requires new ways of imagining and engaging futurity that operate beyond concepts of classical earth systems and the conventional modelling procedures that re-enact them, though conventional climate thinking, especially with the aid of computation, has achieved so much: “everything we know about the world’s climate – past, present, future – we know through models”. Models take weather, which is experiential and ephemeral, abstract it into data over long periods of time, and assemble this data into patterns. Over time, these patterns have become increasingly dimensional. This way of understanding climate has advanced extremely quickly over the past few decades, enough that we can get incredibly high-resolution pictures (like the one below, which illustrates how water temperature swirls around the earth). Climate models use grids to organise their high-resolution, layered data and assign it rules about how to pass information to neighbouring cells. But the infinite storage capacity of the grid cells and the ways they are set up to handle rules and parameters create a vicious cycle, by enabling exponential growth toward greater and greater degrees of accuracy. Models get bigger and bigger, heavier and heavier, with more and more data; operating under the assumption that collecting enough information will eventually lead to the establishment of a perfect “control” earth, and to an earth that is under perfect control. But this clearly isn’t the case, as for these models, more data means more uncertainty about the future. This is the central issue with the traditional, bottom-up climate knowledge that continues to pursue precision. It produces ever more perfect descriptions of the past while casting the future as more and more obscene and unthinkable. In other words, in a nonlinear world, looking through the lens of these bottom-up models refracts the future into an aberration.
The technological structure of models binds us to a bizarre present. It is a state which forecloses the future in the same way that Narcissus found himself bound to his own reflection. When he saw his reflection in a river, he “[mistook] a mere shadow for a real body” and found himself transfixed by a “fleeting image”. The climatic transfixion is the hypnotism of the immediate, the hypothetically knowable, which devalues real life in favour of an imaginary, gridded one. We are always just a few simulations from perfect understanding and an ideal solution. But this perfection is a form of deskilling which simulates not only ideas but thinking itself. The illusion of the ideal hypothetical solution, just out of reach, allows the technical image to operate not only as subject but as project; a project of accuracy. And the project of making decisions about accuracy in models then displaces the imperative of making decisions about the environments that the models aim to describe by suspending us in the inertia of a present that is accumulating more data than it can handle.
It is important to take note of this accumulation because too much information starts to take on its own life. It becomes a burden beyond knowledge, which makes evident that “without forgetting it is quite impossible to live at all”. But rather than forget accumulated data and work with the materiality of the present, we produce metanarratives via statistics. These metanarratives are a false consciousness. Issues with resolution, boundary conditions, parameterization, and the representation of physical processes represent technical barriers to accuracy, but the deeper problem facing accuracy is the inadequacy of old data to predict new dynamics. For example, the means and extremes of evapotranspiration, precipitation and river discharge have undergone such extreme variation due to anthropogenic climate change that fundamental concepts about the behaviour of earth systems for fields like water resource management are undergoing radical transformation. Changes like this illustrate how dependence upon the windows of variability that statistics produce is no longer viable. This directly conflicts with the central conceit of models: that the metanarrative can be explanatory and predictive. In his recently published book, Justin Joque challenges the completeness of the explanatory qualities of statistics by underlining the conflicts between its mathematical and metaphysical assumptions. He describes how statistics (and its accelerated form, machine learning) are better at describing imaginary worlds than understanding the real one. Statistical knowledge produces a way of living on top of reality rather than in it.
The shells of modelled environments miss the materiality, the complexity and the energy of an ecosystem breaking apart and restructuring itself. The phase of a system that follows a large shift is known as a “back loop” in resilience ecology,[18, 19] and is an original and unstable period of invention that is highly contingent upon the materials left strewn about in the ruins of old norms. For ecological systems in transition, plant form, geological structure, biochemistry and raw materiality matter. These are landscape-scale issues that are not described in the abstractions of parts per million. High-level knowledge of climate change, while potentially relevant for some scales of decision-making, does not capture the differentiated impacts of its effects that are critical for structuring discussions around the specific ways that environments will grow and change, degrade or complexify through time.
This is where wilds can play a role in structuring design experimentation. Wildness is unquestionably of reality, or a product of the physical world inhabited by corporeal form. Wilds as in situ experiments become model forms, which have a long epistemological history as a tool for complex and contingent knowledge. Physicists (and, here, conventional climate modellers) look to universal laws to codify, explain and predict events, but because medical and biological scientists, for example, do not have the luxury of stable universalism, they often use experiments as loose vehicles for projection. By “repeatedly returning to, manipulating, observing, interpreting, and reinterpreting certain subjects—such as flies, mice, worms, or microbes—or, as they are known in biology, ‘model systems’”, experimenters can acquire a reliable body of knowledge grounded in existing space and time. This is how we position the project of wildness, which can be found from wastewater swamps, to robotically maintained coral reefs, to reclaimed mines and up-tempo forests. Experimental wilds, rather than precisely calculated infrastructures, have the potential to do more than fail at adapting to climate: they can serve “not only as points of reference and illustrations of general principles or values but also as sites of continued investigation and reinterpretation”.
There is a tension between a humility of human smallness and a lunacy in which we imagine ourselves engineering dramatic and effective climate fixes using politics and abstract principles. In both of these cases, climate is framed as being about control: control of narrative, control of environment. This control imaginary produces its own terms of engagement. Because its connections to causality, accuracy, utility, certainty and reality are empty promises, modelling loses its role as a scientific project and instead becomes a historical, political and aesthetic one. When the model is assumed to take on the role of explaining how climate works, climate itself becomes effectively useless. So rather than thickening the layer of virtualisation, a focus on wild experiments represents a turn to land and to embodied changes occurring in real time. To do this will require an embrace of aspects of the environment that have been marginalised, such as expanded autonomy, distributed intelligence, a confrontation of failure, and pluralities of control. This is not a back-to-the-earth strategy, but a focus on engagement, interaction and modification; a purposeful approach to curating climatic conditions that embraces the complexity of entanglements that form the ether of existence.
 M. Davis, “Living on the Ice Shelf”, Guernica.org https://www.guernicamag.com/living_on_the_ice_shelf_humani/, (accessed May 01, 2022).
 V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T.K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)]. IPCC, 2021: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, USA, 2021) doi:10.1017/9781009157896.
 R, Holmes, “The problem with solutions”, Places Journal (2020).
 V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T.K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)]. IPCC, 2021: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, USA, 2021) doi:10.1017/9781009157896.
 B. Cantrell, L.J. Martin, and E.C. Ellis, “Designing autonomy: Opportunities for new wildness in the Anthropocene”, Trends in Ecology & Evolution 32.3 (2017), 156-166.
 R.T. Corlett, “Restoration, reintroduction, and rewilding in a changing world”, Trends in Ecology & Evolution 31 (2016), 453–462
 J. Svenning, et al., “Science for wilder Anthropocene: Synthesis and future directions for trophic rewilding research” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113 (2015), 898–906
 P. N. Edwards, A vast machine: Computer models, climate data, and the politics of global warming (MIT Press, Cambridge, 2010).
 P. N. Edwards, “Control earth”, Places Journal (2016).
 J. Baudrillard, Cool Memories V: 2000-2004, (Polity, Oxford, 2006).
 Ovid, Metamorphoses III, (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1955), 85
 B. Han, Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and new technologies of power, (Verso Books, New York, 2017).
 B. Frohmann, Deflating Information, (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2016).
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 P. C. D. Milly, et al. “Stationarity is dead: whither water management?”, Science 319.5863 (2008), 573-574.
 J. Joque, Revolutionary Mathematics: Artificial Intelligence, Statistics and the Logic of Capitalism, (Verso Books, New York, 2022).
 Gunderson and Holling, 2001; and Holling, “From complex regions to complex worlds”, Ecology and Society, 9, 1 (2004), 11.
 S. Wakefield, Anthropocene Back Loop (Open Humanities Press, 2020).
 A. N. H. Creager, et al., eds. Science without laws: model systems, cases, exemplary narratives (Duke University Press, Durham, 2007).
The paper presents a “primitives” approach to understanding the computational design enabled by blockchain technologies, as a new political economy for the architecture discipline. The paper’s motivation lies in exploring the challenges that exist for architects to understand blockchain, evidenced through the author’s multiple prototypes,[1,2,3,4] discussions, workshops and code writing with students and colleagues, but also in the fragmentation of the Architecture-Engineering-Construction (AEC) industry and the impermanence that computational design enhances in architecture. These challenges, while situated within the confines of the discipline of computational design and architecture, are defined and affected by the challenges that exist within the wider AEC industry and its extractive relationship with the physical environment.
Methodologically the paper is a philosophical and semantic exploration on the meaning of architecture in a decentralised context, considering its uncoupled nature with signs and design, and it sets a direction in which architectural practice needs to move, changing from an extractive to a non-extractive or circular nature.
Blockchain: peer economies, trust and immutability, transparency, incentives for participation, and entropy
A blockchain is a distributed computer network, where each computer node holds a copy of a distributed ledger that holds values. Computationally, a Blockchain acts as both a state machine able to execute smart contracts, i.e., software code that is the equivalent of an automatic vending machine, but also a continuous, immutable chain, built out of discrete blocks of information, each of which contains a cryptographic hash of the previous discrete block. Each block contains a series of transactions or changes to the distributed ledger, which in the discipline of architectural design can be a series of design synthetical actions, executed in a bottom-up fashion, and encoded into a block. Within a regular time interval, the blockchain network, though an incentivised participation system, selects the next block to be written to the ledger/chain. Due to the their nature, public, permissionless blockchains act as a medium of trust (trust machines) between agents that are not necessarily in concert or known to one another; are resilient in the sense that losing a large part of the network does not destroy the blockchain; are immutable because one cannot go back and delete information as by design block cryptographic hashes are embedded into the next one creating an immutable chain; and operate through cryptoeconomic incentives, i.e., economic mechanisms that incentivise, not always monetarily, behaviour that maintains or improves the system itself. Economically, a blockchain is a decentralised trust-machine that enables the creation of peer-to-peer economies via smart contracts, tokens and their computer protocols.
The first blockchain, the one invented in the bitcoin whitepaper, has been designed as a replacement for centrally managed financial institutions. As such, blockchains, when pubic and permissionless, act as a medium of de-centralisation, i.e., a channel within which to engage with, where one does not need permission or approval beyond the limits and rules of the computer code that runs the blockchain.
Blockchains encompass cryptography and its semantic discipline, immutability and entropy of information, continuity but also discreteness of information, and trust. Due to their decentralised nature, there is little room to understand blockchains as having affinity with architecture, the act of designing and building. In the following similes, however, I develop the parallels between architecture and blockchain, employing ideas from western and eastern literature.
Applications that have promise within the blockchain space and that are distinctive compared to other similar or competing automation technologies are the creation of tokens, both fungible and non-fungible [10, 11] the formation of Decentralised Autonomous Organisations i.e., organisations that operate through the blockchain medium, and applications of decentralised finance. All these are built through the smart contracts, along with additional layers for interfaces and connectors between the blockchain and its external environment. Since the blockchain is an immutable record, it becomes even more important to ensure that data that passes and gets recorded on the blockchain is of a high quality or truthfulness. To ensure this takes place, the concept of an oracle is introduced. Oracles are trustworthy entities, operating in the exterior of a blockchain, made trustworthy through both incentivisation and disincentives, with the responsibility to feed data into blockchains. Parallel to blockchains, though, remain distributed filesystems, used for storing files, rather than data, in a decentralised manner. One such filesystem is the Interplanetary filesystem, which operates via content rather than addressing: within IPFS we are looking for “what” rather than “where” as we do within the world wide web. Content on IPFS is also cryptographically signed with a cryptographic hash that makes the content unique and allows it to be found. For example, the following file from Blender has the IPFS hash:
Architecture as Cryptography
To explore the idea of blockchain as an infrastructure layer for architectural design, we will introduce Odysseus (Ulysses), a much discussed hero and anti-hero of many turns or tricks (polytropos), as his myth as a craftsman is solidified by architecture in the closing narration of The Odyssey. Inventiveness and the particular craft skills attributed to the character are compelling reasons to use him as a vehicle for creating parallels between blockchain and architectural design.
Odysseus participated in the Trojan Wars, and was the key hero responsible for the Trojan Horse and the demise of Troy. His quest for “Nostos”, i.e. returning home, is documented in the second Homerian epic, Odyssey. The Odyssey describes the voyage of Odysseus to Ithaca, after the Troy war, where his ship and crew pass through a multitude of trials and challenges imposed by Poseidon, in a voyage that takes about 10 years. His crew and ship get lost but he is saved, and manages to return to the island of Ithaca.[13,14] Upon his return, he must face a final challenge.
The olive tree bed
During his absence of more than 20 years, his wife Penelope has been under pressure by the local aristocracy to re-marry, as Odysseus is considered lost at sea. Local aristocrats have converged at the palace and are in competition to marry Penelope. She has prudently deflected the pressure by saying that she will chose one of the aristocrats, the “Mnesteres”, after she finishes her textile weaving – which she delays by weaving during the day and unmaking it during the night. However, the day comes, when Odysseus arrives unrecognised at Ithaca, and is warned upon arrival that not all is as one would expect. At the same time, the Mnesteres, or suitors, have forced Penelope to set a final challenge to select the best of them. The challenge is to string and use the large bow that Odysseus had carved and made tensile, and shoot an arrow through the hanging hoops of a series of large battle axes. No other but Odysseus himself was able to tense the bow since he first crafted and used it, providing thus a formidable technical challenge.
Odysseus enters the palace incognito, as a pig herder, and also makes a claim to the challenge, in concert with his son Telemachus. Penelope reacts at the prospect that a pig herder might win but is consoled by Telemachus who tells her to go to her rooms, where the poem finds her reminiscing of her husband. In the main hall of the palace, all the Mnesteres, in turn, fail to draw back and string the bow. Odysseus, however, tenses and strings the bow, passing the first challenge, then successfully uses the bow to shoot an arrow through the axes, providing the first sign that uncovers his identity. At the same time, he connects all the nodes of the battle axes in the line, by shooting his arrow through their metal rings, thus creating a chain. This is the second challenge, after the stringing of the bow that Odysseus must pass to prove he is the true king and husband of Penelope.
The third challenge, remains: the elimination of all suitors. A battle ensues in which the Mnesteres are killed by Telemachus and Odysseus, and thus the third challenge is complete.
The most architectonic metaphor of the poem takes place after the battle, at the moment Penelope needs to recognise her long lost husband, in rhapsody “Ψ”, i.e. the penultimate poem of Odyssey. She calls for a servant to move Odysseus’s bed outside its chamber and to prepare it so that he can rest. Upon hearing that, Odysseus immediately reacts in fury, claiming that moving the bed is an impossibility. The only person who could make the bed movable would be either an amazing craftsperson, or a god, as its base was made out of the root of an Olive tree, with its branches then used for the bed. Essentially the piece of furniture is immovable and immutable, it cannot be changed without being destroyed and it cannot be altered and taken out of the chamber without having its nature inadvertently changed – i.e., cutting the olive tree roots.
Odysseus knows this as he was the one that constructed it, shaping its root from the body of the olive tree and crafting the bed. He then describes how he built the whole chamber around the bed. This knowledge acts as a crypto-sign that verifies his identity. Odysseus himself calls the information a “token” – a “sêma” – a sign that it is indeed him, as only he would know this sêma. In a sense, knowledge of this is the personal cryptographic key to the public cryptographic riddle that Penelope poses to verify his identity.
The story acts as an architectonic metaphor for blockchain, in three layers. First, the token, both the information and the bed itself, cannot be taken out of its container (room) as its structure is interlinked with the material of the olive tree trunk and the earth that houses it. Second, it is Odysseus who is the architect of the crypto-immutability of the bed and the architecture around it, created by the most basic architectonic gestures: re-shaping nature into a construction. Thirdly, the intimacy between Penelope and Odysseus is encapsulated in the token of the bed, as knowledge of how the bed was made recreates trust between them – in the same kind of manner that blockchains become bearers of trust by encapsulating it cryptographically and encasing it in a third –medium, crafted, though, by a collective.
The implication is that architectonic signs are cryptographically encased into their matter, and changing the physical matter changes the sign. Odysseus has created the first architectonic non-fungible token in physical form, where its meaning and its function and utility are interlinked through a cryptographic sema, in the same fashion that a non-fungible token exists through the cryptographic signature on a smart contract corresponding to a particular data structure.
Deconstruction in Chinese
Odysseus is not the only one who has created physical NFTs. Philosopher Byung-Chul Han describes in his book Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese the relationship that exists in Asian cultures generally, but specifically in Chinese, between the master and the copy, where emulating or blatantly copying from the original is not seen as theft; instead, the form of the original is continually transformed by being deconstructed. 
Byung-Chul Han presents a Chinese ink painting of a rock landscape, where a series of Chinese scholars have signed it using their jade seals and have scribbled onto it a poetic verse or two, as a parting gift to one of their friends leaving for another province. Within Chinese culture, the jade seal is the person, and the person is the jade seal. As such, the painting has now accumulated all the signatures and selves of the scholars, and has become unique in the same sense a non-fungible token is unique due to its cryptographic signature onto a smart contract. The difference from the simple non-fungible tokens that one finds by the thousand now on the internet, is that the Chinese painting scroll, according to Byung-Chul Han, is activated and becomes exclusive with the signature-seals and poems of the literati. It is a dynamic NFT, a unique object that is open to continuous addition, and exclusive and recursive interpretation.
The act of creation, then, of the token, the unique sign, is the accumulation of all of the signatures of the scholars, whereby the painting cannot be reverted back to its original format; it is unique because it has been permanently changed. It is the same craft in Odysseus that takes the olive tree and makes into a bed, and then builds a room around the bed, an immobile, immutable sign, and its physical manifestation. The sêma of the significance of intimacy between Odysseus and Penelope is inextricable from the physical object of the bed, and the vector of change for the Chinese ink painting cannot return to its previous condition.
This is where the similarities end though. While the craft is the same, in the Chinese ink scroll, the point of departure is not nature, but another artwork. The non-fungible token of the Chinese art scroll remains open to more additions and recursive poetry, new cryptographic signatures may be added to it, while the olive tree bed has a finality and a permanence. Odysseus changes nature to create his token, and the olive tree can never be the same. To create a bed and the foundations and the wall of the room, the tree needs to be transformed into architecture. The Chinese literati change a drawing, an artefact already in existence, which in the end remains still subject to further change. In the case of the olive tree, the hero is one, single, and the sêma revolves around his relationship with the world. For the Chinese literati and the Chinese ink scroll, the sêma is immutable towards the past but open to re-signing as a manner of recursive interpenetration. Significant mental shifts and attitudes is demanded to travel from crafting architecture like Odysseus, a lone genius who is king of his domain, to crafting architecture like a collective of Chinese literati, where a well balance collaboration is required from all. Both can be served by blockchain as a record of actions taken; however, it is only the collective, dynamic work open to continuing evolution that has the best future fit between blockchain and the discipline of architecture.
“Zhen ji, an original, is determined not by the act of creation, but by an unending process” Byun Chul-Han
The extractive nature of Architecture: Odysseus.
The current dominant political economy of architecture is based on the Odysseus paradigm. The metabolism of the discipline is based on abundant natural resources and their transformation, and this parallels the irrational form of capitalist development.[16, 17] Essentially, the criticism shaped against the extractive nature of the discipline focuses on the ideological trap of continuously creating new designs and plans and sêmas, as Tafuri would have them, reliving the myth of Odysseus as a craftsperson, where every design is a prototype and every building is brand new, and where the natural environment is immutably transformed as the arrow of time moves forward. The repercussions of this stance are well documented in IPCC reports in terms of the carbon impact and waste production of the AEC industry.
In contrast, the “Space Caviar” collective posits that we should shift to a non-extractive architecture. They examine this shift via interviews with Benjamin Bratton, Chiara di Leone, and then Phineas Harper and Maria Smith. The focus within is a critical stance on the question of growth versus de-growth in the economy of architecture, where one needs a little bit more resolution to define the question in a positive term. Chiara di Leone correctly identifies design and economics as quasi-scientific disciplines and, as such, dismantles the mantra of de-growth as a homogenous bitter pill that we must all swallow. Instead, she proposes a spatial and geo-coupled economy, one that can take into account the local, decentralised aspects of each place and design an economy that is fit for that place. I would posit that as part of geo-coupled economy, an understanding of nature as a vector of a circular economy is needed
Decentralisation is, of course, a core principle within the blockchain sociotechnical understanding, in the sense that participation in a blockchain is not regulated by institutions nor gatekeepers. However, before declaring it the absolute means to decentralisation, one needs to take a look at what is meant by decentralisation in economics and development, and the difference with decentralisation in blockchain, as there are differences in their meaning and essence that need alignment.
Decentralisation and autonomy of local economies in the 70s
Decentralisation as a term applied to the economy used to have a different meaning in the 70s. Papandreou, in his seminal book Paternalistic Capitalism, defines the decentralised economic process as a container for the parametric role of prices in the information system of a market economy. In the same book, Papandreou, while interrogating the scientific dimensions of planning, calls for the decentralisation of power, in a regional, spatial function, rather than a functional one, after having set logical (in distinction to historical) rules for popular sovereignty and personal freedom. This is to counter the technocratic power establishment that emerges in representative democracy, as citizens provide legitimacy to the actions of the state. To further define decentralisation of power, he turns to regional planning and Greek visionary spatial planner Tritsis’ PhD thesis: “The third aim: decentralisation. This points to a world depending for its existence less on wheels and population uprootings and more on the harmonious relationship between man and his environment, social and natural”.
Based on this definition, Papandreou then builds the vision for a kind of governance consensus between decentralised regional units to form a “national” whole, with rules agreed and set between all units in a peer-to-peer basis. Within this, most importantly he calls for the liberal establishment of a guarantee of freedom of entry into occupations, in a kind of “integration of all forms of all forms of human work, of mental with manual, of indoors with outdoors” as envisioned by Tritsis . Papandreou extends the vision of decentralisation in a global society and envisions the emergence of new poles of global power through regional decentralisation. As such, decentralisation used to mean something other than what it means within the context of blockchain – up until the first politics of “cypherpunk”. Decentralisation used to be a planning instrument and a political stance, rather than a technological strategy against the centralised power of established technocracies. Still, within the local, spatial geocoupling of economies, one can align the political decentralisation and the cypherpunk version of blockchain decentralisation, i.e. of no barriers to participation, of trust in the computer protocol, and the exclusion of authority of central political institutions, from which no one needs to ask permission.
A new political economy for Architecture
When one chains the spatial- and geo-coupled economy that Chiara di Leone proposes to decentralisation, both on the level of the politics of technocracies and the level of the operating system, i.e., the use of blockchains, it is possible to shape a new political economy in architecture, where computation regulates its heart. Encased within this shift is also a shift from the Odysseus craftsperson to the Chinese collective in terms of the “prototype” and our understanding of it. An economy where the artefact is open to recursive reinterpretation and is never finished can easily be transformed into a circular economy and adapted to minimise carbon. We have already prototyped early instances of collective digital factories for buildings, where collectives of architects and digital design agents are incentivised through smart contracts to minimise the embodied and operational carbon impact of buildings: simply put the design teams earns in proportion to the increase of building performance and decrease in environmental impacts.
To be able to create this regenerative renaissance for the discipline we need to make a series of changes to the manner in which the discipline is practised and taught. First, to integrate the function of the architect not only as the designer but as that of the orchestrator of the whole AEC industry. This requires that we abandon the notion of artistry, and embrace the notion of craft and engineering, including an understanding of materials and the economy. Second, to develop the infrastructure, products and services that can make that happen, where we also assume the responsibility and, why not, the liability for that integration. These first two actions will reverse the trend of abandoning the space of architecture to consultants where the erosion of our integrity has led to the glorification of form as our sole function. Thirdly, to shift our attention from star practices to collectives, as we embrace practices where wider stakeholders are considered. Odysseus needs to morph into a collective, where the artefact of architecture is conceived as ever changing, ever evolving, into circular thinking and economies. This might mean that alternative forms of practice emerge, where younger, more inclusive minds have more of a command and say on the purpose of an architecture company (and not a firm). Fourth, in the same pivot we as architects should reclaim the space lost, to embrace rigorously the new tools of the craft in the digital realm. It is not by chance that the title for senior programmers and digital network professionals is that of “architect”, as there is no other word that can specifically describe the people who orchestrate form-function-structure with one gesture. The age of machine-learning generative systems performing the trivial repetition of an architect is already here.
Still, the automation we should embrace as a fifth point, since it allows the shaping and design of circular and peer-to-peer economies, is that of blockchain. This is the true Jiujitsu defence to the capitalist growth-at-all costs mantra. Unless we embrace different, local, circular economies, we will not be able to effect the change we need in the discipline – and this also means that we might not necessarily need to be naive and simplistic about carbon impacts, for example by declaring that timber is always better than concrete. To embrace the automation of cryptoeconomics though, we need to first abandon the romantic idea of the architect as the sketch artist and embrace the idea of the architect as a collaborative economist. Only then will we be able to define ourselves the conditions for a regenerative architecture, in a decentralised, spatial-human-geo-coupled manner.
 T. Dounas, W. Jabi, D. Lombardi, “Non-Fungible Building Components – Using Smart Contracts for a Circular Economy in the Built Environment”, Designing Possibilities, SIGraDi, ubiquitous conference, XXV International conference of the Ibero-American society of digital Graphics (2021).
 T. Dounas, W. Jabi, D. Lombardi, “Topology Generated Non-Fungible Tokens – Blockchain as infrastructure for a circular economy in architectural design”, Projections, 26th international conference of the association for Computer-Aided Architectural Design research in Asia, CAADRIA, Hong Kong, (2021).
 D. Lombardi, T. Dounas, L.H. Cheung, W. Jabi, “Blockchain for Validating the Design Process”, SIGraDI (2020), Medellin.
 T. Dounas, D. Lombardi, W. Jabi, ‘Framework for Decentralised Architectural Design:BIM and Blockchain Integration’, International Journal of Architectural Computing, Special issue eCAADe+SiGraDi “Architecture in the 4th Industrial Revolution” (2020) https://doi.org/10.1177/1478077120963376.
 T. Maver, “CAAD’s Seven Deadly Sins”, Sixth International Conference on Computer-Aided Architectural Design Futures [ISBN 9971-62-423-0] Singapore, 24-26 September 1995, pp. 21-22.
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 N. Szabo, (1997): “Formalizing and Securing Relationships on Public Networks”, accessed 27 January 2022.
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 S. Nakamoto, 2008, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” (2008), originally at http://www.bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf.
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 Homer, E. Wilson trans., Odyssey (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018)
 Ζ. Όμηρος, Σιδέρης, Οδύσεια (Οργανισμός Εκδόσεως Διδακτικών βιβλίων Αθήνα, 1984).
 Byung-Chul Han, Deconstruction in Chinese, Translated by P. Hurd (Boston, MA: MIT press, 2017).
 Space Caviar collective, Non-Extractive Architecture, on designing without depletion (Venice: Sternberg Press, 2021).
 V.P. Aureli, “Intellectual Work and Capitalist Development: Origins and Context of Manfredo Tafuri’s Critique of Architectural Ideology”, the city as a project, http://thecityasaproject.org/2011/03/pier-vittorio-aureli-manfredo-tafuri/ March 2011.
 P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, R. Slade, A. Al Khourdajie, R. van Diemen, D. McCollum, M. Pathak, S. Some, P. Vyas, R. Fradera, M. Belkacemi, A. Hasija, G. Lisboa, S. Luz, J. Malley (eds.), IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge, UK and New York, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2022) doi: 10.1017/9781009157926.
 A.G. Papandreou, Paternalistic Capitalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972).
 A. Tritsis, “The nature of planning regions” unpublished PhD thesis (Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, 1969).
 T. Dounas, D. Lombardi, W. Jabi,  “Collective Digital Factories for Buildings”, T. Dounas, D. Lombardi, Ed., Blockchain for Construction (Singapore: Springer – Verlag, 2022) ISBN 9811937583.
 B. Tschumi, “Architects act as mediators between authoritarian power, or capitalist power, and some sort of humanistic aspiration. The economic and political powers that make our cities and our architecture are enormous. We cannot block them, but we can use another tactic, which I call the tactic of Judo, that is, to use the forces of one’s opponent in order to defeat it and transform it into something else … To what extent can we move away from a descriptive critical mode to a progressive, transformative mode for architecture?” Peter Eisenman and Cynthia Davidson, eds, anyplace symposium, ANY corporation, Montreal (1994).
Data and its visualisation have been an important part of architectural design practice for many years, from data-driven mapping to building information modelling to computational design techniques, and now through the datasets that drive machine-learning tools. In architectural design research, data-driven practices can imbue projects with a sense of scientific rigour and objectivity, grounding design thinking in real-world environmental phenomena.
More recently, “critical data studies” has emerged as an influential interdisciplinary discourse across social sciences and digital humanities that seeks to counter assumptions made about data by invoking important ethical and socio-political questions. These questions are also pertinent for designers who work with data. Data can no longer be used as a raw and agnostic input to a system of analysis or visualisation without considering the socio-technical system through which it came into being. Critical data studies can expand and deepen the practice of working with data, enabling designers to draw on pertinent ideas in the emerging landscape around data ethics. Data visualisation and data-driven design can be situated in more complex creative and critical assemblages. This article draws on several ideas from critical data studies and explores how they could be incorporated into future design and visualisation projects.
Critical Data Studies
The field of critical data studies addresses data’s ethical, social, legal, economic, cultural, epistemological, political and philosophical conditions, and questions the singularly scientific empiricism of data and its infrastructures. By applying methodologies and insights from critical theory, we can move beyond a status quo narrative of data as advancing a technical, objective and positivist approach to knowledge.
Historical data practices have promoted false notions of neutrality and universality in data collection, which has led to unintentional bias being embedded into data sets. This recognition that data is a political space was explored by Lisa Gitelman in “Raw Data” Is an Oxymoron, in which she argues that data does not exist in a raw state, such as a natural resource, but is always undergoing a process of interpretation. The rise of big data is a relatively new phenomenon. Data harvested from extensive and nuanced facets of people’s lives signifies a shift in how we approach the implications for power asymmetries and ethics. This relationship between data and society is tied together through critical data studies.
The field emerged from the work of Kate Crawford and danah boyd, who in 2012 formulated a series of critical provocations given the rise of big data as an imperious phenomenon, highlighting its false mythologies. Rob Kitchen’s work has appraised data and data science infrastructures as a new social and cultural territory. Andrew Iliadis and Federica Russo use the theory of assemblages to capture the multitude of ways that already-composed data structures inflect and interact with society. These authors all seek to situate data in a socio-technical framework from which data cannot be abstracted. For them, data is an assemblage, a cultural text, and a power structure that must be available for interdisciplinary interpretation.
Data Settings and Decolonisation
Today, with the increasing access to large data sets and the notion that data can be extracted from almost any phenomena, data has come to embody a sense of agnosticism. Data is easily abstracted from its original context, ported to somewhere else, and used in a different context. Yanni Loukissas is a researcher of digital media and critical data studies who explores concepts of place and locality as a means of critically working with data. He argues that “data have complex attachments to place, which invisibly structure their form and interpretation”. Data’s meaning is tied to the context from which it came. However, the way many people work with data today, especially in an experimental context, assumes that the origin of a data set does not hold meaning and that data’s meaning does not change when it is removed from its original context.
In fact, Loukissas claims, “all data are local”, and the reconsideration of locality is an important critical data tactic. Asking where data came from, who produced it, when, and why, what instruments were used to collect it, what kind of conditioned audience was it intended for, and how might these invisible attributes inform its composition and interpretation are all questions that reckon with a data set’s origin story. Loukissas proposes “learning to analyse data settings rather than data sets”. The term “data set” evokes a sense of the discrete, fixed, neutral, and complete, whereas the term “data setting” counters these qualities and awakens us to a sense of place, time, and the nuances of context.
From a critical data perspective, we can ask why we strive for the digital and its data to be so place-agnostic, a totalising system of norms that erases the myriad of cultures? The myth of placelessness in data implies that everything can be treated equally by immutable algorithms. Loukissas concludes, “[o]ne reason universalist aspirations for digital media have thrived is that they manifest the assumptions of an encompassing and rarely questioned free market ideology”. We should insist upon data’s locality and multiple and specific origins to resist such an ideology.
“If left unchallenged, digital universalism could become a new kind of colonialism in which practitioners at the ‘periphery’ are made to conform to the expectations of a dominant technological culture.
If digital universalism continues to gain traction, it may yet become a self-fulfilling prophecy by enforcing its own totalising system of norms.”
Loukissas’ incorporation of place and locality into data practices comes from the legacy of postcolonial thinking. Where Western scientific knowledge systems have shunned those of other cultures, postcolonial studies have sought to illustrate how all knowledge systems are rooted in local- and time-based practices and ideologies. For educators and design practitioners grappling with how to engage in the emerging discourse of decolonisation in pedagogy, data practices and design, Loukissas’ insistence on reclaiming provenance and locality in the way we work with abstraction is one way into this work.
Situated Knowledge and Data Feminism
Feminist critiques of science have also invoked notions of place and locality to question the epistemological objectivity of science. The concept of situated knowledge comes from Donna Haraway’s work to envision a feminist science. Haraway is a scholar of Science and Technology Studies and has written about how feminist critiques of masculinity, objectivity and power can be applied to the production of scientific knowledge to show how knowledge is mediated by and historically grounded in social and material conditions. Situated knowledge can reconcile issues of positionality, subjectivity, and their inherently contestable natures to produce a greater claim to objective knowledge, or what Sarah Harding has defined as “strong objectivity”. Concepts of situatedness and strong objectivity are part of feminist standpoint theory. Patricia Hill Collins further proposes that the intersectional marginalised experiences of women and minorities – black women, for example – offer a distinctive point of view and experience of the world that should serve as a source for new knowledge that is more broadly applicable.
How can we take this quality of situatedness from feminist epistemology and apply it to data practices, specifically the visualisation of data? In their book Data Feminism, Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein define seven principles to apply feminist thinking to data science. For example, principle six asks us to “consider context” when making sense of correlations when working with data.
“Rather than seeing knowledge artifacts, like datasets, as raw input that can be simply fed into a statistical analysis or data visualisation, a feminist approach insists on connecting data back to the context in which they were produced. This context allows us, as data scientists, to better understand any functional limitations of the data and any associated ethical obligations, as well as how the power and privilege that contributed to their making may be obscuring the truth.”
D’Ignazio and Klein argue that “[r]efusing to acknowledge context is a power play to avoid power. It is a way to assert authoritativeness and mastery without being required to address the complexity of what the data actually represent”. Data feminism is an intersectional approach to data science that counters the drive toward optimisation and convergence in favour of addressing the stakes of intersectional power in data.
Design Practice and Critical Data Visualisation
The visualisation of data is another means of interpreting data. Data visualisation is part of the infrastructure of working with data and should also be open to critical methods. Design and visualisation are processes through which data can be treated with false notions of agnosticism and objectivity, or can be approached critically, questioning positionality and context. Even when data practices explore creative, speculative, and aesthetic-forward techniques, this can extend and enrich the data artefacts produced. Therefore, we should critically reflect on the processes and infrastructures through which we design and aestheticise data.
How can we take the concept of situatedness that comes out of critical data studies and deploy it in creative design practice? What representational strategies support thinking through situatedness as a critical data practice? Could we develop a situated data visualisation practice?
The following projects approach these questions using design research, digital humanities and critical computational approaches. They are experiments that demonstrate techniques in thinking critically about data and how that critique can be incorporated into data visualisation. The work also expands upon the visualisation of data toward the visualisation of computational processes and software infrastructure that engineer visualisations. There is also a shift between exploring situatedness as a notion of physical territory toward a notion of socio-political situatedness. The following works all take the form of short films, animations and simulations.
Cinematic data visualisation is a practice of visually representing data. It incorporates cinematic aesthetics, including an awareness of photography’s traditional aspects of framing, motion and focus, with contemporary virtual cinematography’s techniques of camera-matching and computer-generated graphics. This process intertwines and situates data in a geographic and climatic environment, and retains the data’s relationship with its source of origin and the relevance that holds for its meaning.
As a cinematic data visualisation, Alluvium presents the results of a geological study on the impact of diverted flood waters on a sediment channel in Death Valley, California. The scenes took their starting point from the research of Dr Noah Snyder and Lisa Kammer’s 2008 study. Gower Gulch is a 1941 diversion of a desert wash that uncovers an expedited view of geological changes that would normally have taken thousands of years to unfold but which have evolved at this site in several decades due to the strength of the flash floods and the conditions of the terrain.
Gower Gulch provides a unique opportunity to see how a river responds to an extreme change in water and sediment flow rates, presenting effects that could mimic the impact of climate change on river flooding and discharge. The wash was originally diverted to prevent further flooding and damage to a village downstream; today, it presents us with a microcosm of geological activity. The research paper presents data as historical water flow that can only be measured and perceived retrospectively through the evidence of erosion and sediment deposition at the site.
Alluvium’s scenes are a hybrid composition of film and digitally produced simulations that use the technique of camera-matching. The work visualises the geomorphological consequences of water beyond human-scale perception. A particle animation was developed using accurate topographic models to simulate water discharge over a significant period. Alluvium compresses this timeframe, providing a sense of a geological scale of time, and places the representation and simulation of data in-situ, in its original environment.
In Alluvium, data is rendered more accessible and palpable through the relationship between the computationally-produced simulation of data and its original provenance. The data’s situatedness takes place through the way it is embedded into the physical landscape, its place of origin, and how it navigates its source’s nuanced textures and spatial composition.
The hybridised cinematic style that is produced can be deconstructed into elements of narrative editing, place, motion, framing, depth of field and other lens-based effects. The juxtaposition of the virtual and the real through a cinematic medium supports a recontextualisation of how data can be visualised and how an audience can interpret that visualisation. In this case, it is about geographic situatedness, retaining the sense of physical and material qualities of place, and the particular nuances of the historical and climatic environment.
Death Valley National Park, situated in the Mojave Desert in the United States, is a place of extreme conditions. It has the highest temperature (57° Celsius) and the lowest altitude (86 metres below sea level) to be recorded in North America. It also receives only 3.8 centimetres of rainfall annually, registering it as North America’s driest place. Despite these extremes, the landscape has an intrinsic relationship with water. The territorial context is expressed through the cinematic whilst also connecting the abstraction of data to its place of origin.
For cinematic data visualisation, these elements are applied to the presentation of data, augmenting it into a more sensual narrative that loops back to its provenance. As a situated practice, cinematic data visualisation foregrounds a relationship with space and place. The connection between data and the context from which it was derived is retained, rather than the data being extracted, abstracted, and agnostically transferred to a different context in which site-specific meaning can be lost. As a situated practice, cinematic data visualisation grapples with ways to foreground relationships between the analysis and representation of data and its environmental and local situation.
LA River Nutrient Visualization
Another project in the same series, the LA River Nutrient Visualization, considers how incorporating cinematic qualities into data visualisation can support a sense of positionality and perspective amongst heterogeneous data sets. This can be used to undermine data’s supposed neutrality and promote an awareness of data containing various concerns and stakes of different groups of people. Visualising data’s sense of positionality and perspective is another tactic to produce a sense of situatedness as a critical data visualisation practice. Whilst the water quality data used in this project appeared the same scientifically, it was collected by different groups: locally organised communities versus state institutions. The differences in why the data was collected, and by whom, have a significance, and the project was about incorporating that in the representational strategy of data visualisation.
This visualisation analyses nutrient levels, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus, in the water of the Los Angeles River, which testify to pollution levels and portray the river’s overall health. Analysed spatially and animated over time, the data visualisation aims to provide an overview of the available public data, its geographic, seasonal and annual scope, and its limitations. Three different types of data were used: surface water quality data from state and national environmental organisations, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Water Science Center; local community-organised groups, such as the River Watch programme by Friends of the Los Angeles River and citizen science group Science Land’s E-CLAW project; and national portals for remotely-sensed data of the Earth’s surface, such as the United States Geological Survey.
The water quality data covers a nearly-50-year period from 1966 to 2014, collected from 39 monitoring stations distributed from the river’s source to its mouth, including several tributaries. Analysis showed changes in the river’s health based on health department standards, with areas of significantly higher concentrations of nutrients that consistently exceeded Water Quality Objectives.
The water quality data is organised spatially using a digital elevation model (DEM) of the river’s watershed to create a geo-referenced 3D terrain model that can be cross-referenced with any GPS-associated database. A DEM is a way of representing remotely-captured elevation, geophysical, biochemical, and environmental data about the Earth’s surface. The data itself is obtained by various types of cameras and sensors attached to satellites, aeroplanes and drones as they pass over the Earth.
Analysis of the water data showed that the state- and national-organised data sets provided a narrow and inconsistent picture of nutrient levels in the river. Comparatively, the two community-organised data sets offered a broader and more consistent approach to data collection. The meaning that emerged in this comparison of three different data sets, how they were collected, and who collected them ultimately informed the meaning of the project, which was necessary for a critical data visualisation.
Visually, the data was arranged and animated within the 3D terrain model of the river’s watershed and presented as a voxel urban landscape. Narrative scenes were created by animating slow virtual camera pans within the landscape to visualise the data from a more human, low, third-person point of view. These datascapes were post-processed with cinematic effects: simulating a shallow depth of field, ambient “dusk-like” lighting, and shadows. Additionally, the computer-generated scenes were juxtaposed with physical camera shots of the actual water monitoring sites, scenes that were captured by a commercial drone. Unlike Alluvium, the two types of cameras are not digitally matched. The digital scenes locate and frame the viewer within the data landscape, whereas physical photography provides a local geographic reference point to the abstracted data. This also gives the data a sense of scale and invites the audience to consider each data collection site in relation to its local neighbourhood. The representational style of the work overall creates a cinematic tempo and mood, informing a more narrative presentation of abstract numerical data.
In this cinematic data visualisation, situatedness is engaged through the particular framing and points of view established in the scenes and through the juxtaposition of cinematography of the actual data sites. Here, place is social; it is about local context and community rather than a solely geographical sense of place. Cinematic aesthetics convey the “data setting” through a local and social epistemic lens, in contrast to the implied frameless and positionless view with which state-organised data is collected, including remotely-sensed data.
All the water data consisted of scientific measurements of nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the river. Numerically, the data is uniform, but the fact that different stakeholders collected it with different motivations and needs affects its interpretation. Furthermore, the fact of whether data has been collected by local communities or state institutions informs its epistemological status concerning agency, motivation, and environmental care practices.
Context is important to the meaning that the data holds, and the visualisation strategy seeks to convey a way to think about social and political equity and asymmetry in data work. The idea of inserting perspective and positionality into data is an important one. It is unusual to think of remotely-sensed data or water quality data as having positionality or a perspective. Many instruments of visualisation present their artefacts as disembodied. Remotely-sensed data is usually presented as a continuous view from everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. However, feminist thinking’s conception of situated knowledge asks us to remember positionality and perspective to counter the sense of framelessness in the traditional tools of data collection and analysis.
Cinema for Robots
Cinema for Robots was the beginning of an exploration into the system that visualises data, rather than data visualisation itself being the outcome. Cinema For Robots presents a technique to consider how to visualise computational process, instead of presenting data as only a fixed and retrospective artefact. The project critically investigates the technique of photogrammetry, using design to reflexively consider positionality in the production of a point cloud. In this case, the quality of situatedness is created by countering the otherwise frameless point cloud data visualisation with animated recordings of the body’s position behind the camera that produced the data.
Photogrammetry is a technique in which a 3D model is computationally generated from a series of digital photographs of a space (or object). The photographs are taken systematically from many different perspectives and overlapping at the edges, as though mapping all surfaces and angles of the space. From this set of images, an algorithm can compute an accurate model of the space represented in the images, producing a point cloud. In a point cloud, every point has a 3D coordinate that relates to the spatial organisation of the original space. Each point also contains colour data from the photographs, similarly to pixels, so the point cloud also has a photographic resemblance. In this project, the point cloud is a model of a site underneath the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena, California. It shows a mixture of overgrown bushes and large engineered arches underneath the bridge.
The image set was created from a video recording of the site from which still images were extracted. This image set was used as the input for the photogrammetry algorithm that produced the point cloud of the site. The original video recordings were then inserted back into the point cloud model, and their camera paths were animated to create a reflexive loop between the process of data collection and the data artefact it produced.
With photogrammetry; data, computation, and its representation are all entangled. Similarly to remotely-sensed data sets, the point cloud model expresses a framelessness, a perspective of space that appears to achieve, as Haraway puts it, “the god trick of seeing everything from nowhere”. By reverse-engineering the camera positions and reinserting them into the point cloud of spatial data points, there is a reflexive computational connection between data that appears perspectiveless and the human body that produced it. In the series of animations comprising the project, the focus is on the gap between the capturing of data and the computational process that visualises it. The project also juxtaposes cinematic and computational aesthetics to explore the emerging gaze of new technologies.
The project is presented as a series of animations that embody and mediate a critical reflection on computational process. In one animation, the motion of a hand-held camera creates a particular aesthetic that further accentuates the body behind the camera that created the image data set. It is not a smooth or seamless movement but unsteady and unrefined. This bodily camera movement is then passed on to the point cloud model, rupturing its seamlessness. The technique is a way to reinsert the human body and a notion of positionality into the closed-loop of the computational process. In attempting to visualise the process that produces the outcome, reflexivity allows one to consider other possible outcomes, framings, and positions. The animations experiment with a form of situated computational visualisation.
Automata I + II
This work took the form of a series of simulations that critically explored a “computer vision code library” in an open-ended way. The simulations continued an investigation into computational visualisation rather than data visualisation. The process sought to reverse-engineer machine vision software – an increasingly politically contentious technology – and critically reflect on its internal functionality. Here, source code is situated within a social and political culture rather than a neutral and technical culture. Instead of using a code library instrumentally to perform a task, the approach involves critically reading source code as a cultural text and developing reflexive visualisations that explore its functions critically.
Many tools we use in design and visualisation were developed in the field of computer vision, which engineers how computers see and make sense of the world, including through camera-tracking and the photogrammetry discussed previously. In Automata I, the OpenCV library (an open-source computer vision code library) was used. Computer vision is comprised of many functions layered on top of each other acting as matrices that filter and analyse images in different ways to make them interpretable by algorithms. Well-known filters are “blob-detection” and “background subtraction”. Simply changing a colour image to greyscale is also an important function within computer vision.
Layering these filters onto input images helps to understand the difference between how humans see the world and interpret it and how an algorithm is programmed to see the world and interpret it differently. Reading the code makes it possible to understand the pixel logic at play in the production of a filter, in which each pixel in an image computes its values based on the pixel values around it, producing various matrices that filter information in the image. The well-known “cellular automata” algorithm applies a similar logic; a “Langton’s ant” uses a comparable logic.
A series of simulations were created using a satellite image of a site in the Amazon called the Meeting of Waters, which is the confluence of two rivers, the dark-coloured Rio Negro and the sandy-coloured Amazon River. Each river has different speeds, temperatures and sediments, so the two rivers do not merge but flow alongside each other in the same channel, visibly demarcated by their different colours.
The simulations were created by writing a new set of rules, or pixel logics, to compute the image, which had the effect of “repatterning” it. Analogously, this also appeared to “terraform” the river landscape into a new composition. The simulations switch between the image that the algorithm “sees”, including the information it uses to compute and filter the image, and the image that we see as humans, including the cultural, social and environmental information we use to make sense of it. The visualisation tries to explore the notion of machine vision as a “hyperimage”, an image that is made up of different layers of images that each analyse patterns and relationships between pixels.
Automata II is a series of simulations that continue the research of machine vision techniques established in Automata I. This iteration looks further into how matrices and image analysis combine to support surveillance systems operating on video images. By applying similar pixel rule sets to those used in Automata I, the visualisation shows how the algorithm can detect motion in a video, separating figures in the foreground from the background, leading to surveillance.
In another visualisation, a video of a chameleon works analogously to explore how the socio-political function of surveillance emerges from the mathematical abstraction of pixel operations. Chameleons are well-known for their ability to camouflage themselves by blending into their environment (and in many cultures are associated with wisdom). Here the algorithm is programmed to print the pixels when it detects movement in the video and remain black when there is no movement. In the visualisation, the chameleon appears to reveal itself to the surveillance of the algorithm through its motion and camouflage itself from the algorithm through its stillness. An aesthetic contrast is created between an ancient animal captured by innovative technology; however, the chameleon resists the algorithm’s logic to separate background from foreground through its simple embodiment of stillness.
The work explores the coded gaze of a surveillance camera and how machine vision is situated in society, politically and apolitically, in relation to the peculiarly abstract pixel logics that drive it. Here, visualisation is a reverse-engineering of that coded gaze in order to politically situate source code and code libraries for social and cultural interpretation.
Applying critical theory to data practices, including data-driven design and data visualisation, provides a way to interrupt the adherence to the neutral-objective narrative. It offers a way to circulate data practices more justly back into the social, political, ethical, economic, legal and philosophical domains from which they have always derived. The visual techniques presented here, and the ideas about what form a critical data visualisation practice could take, were neither developed in tandem nor sequentially, but by weaving in and out of project developments, exhibition presentations, and writing opportunities over time. Thus, they are not offered as seamless examples but as entry points and options for taking a critical approach to working with data in design. The proposition of situatedness as a territorial, social, and political quality that emerges from decolonial and feminist epistemologies is one pathway in this work. The field of critical data studies, whilst still incipient, is developing a rich discourse that is opportune and constructive for designers, although not immediately associated with visual practice. Situatedness as a critical data visualisation practice has the potential to further engage the forms of technological development interesting to designers with the ethical debates and mobilisations in society today.
 L. Gitelman, “Raw Data” is an Oxymoron (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).
 d. boyd and K. Crawford, “Critical Questions for Big Data: provocations for a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon”, Information, Communication & Society 15 5 (2012), 662–79.
 R. Kitchen, The Data Revolution: big data, open data, data infrastructures & their consequences (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2014).
 A. Iliadis and F. Russo, “Critical Data Studies: an introduction”, Big Data & Society 3 2 (2016).
 Y. A. Loukissas, All Data are Local: thinking critically in a data-driven world (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019), 3.
 Ibid, 23.
 Ibid, 2.
 Ibid, 10.
 Ibid, 10.
 D. Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: the science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective”, Feminist Studies 14 3 (1988), 575–99.
 S. Harding, “‘Strong objectivity’: A response to the new objectivity question”, Synthese 104 (1995), 331–349.
 P. H. Collins, Black Feminist Thought: consciousness and the politics of empowerment (London, UK: HarperCollins, 1990).
 C. D’Ignazio and L. F. Klein, Data Feminism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020),152.
 Ibid, 162.
 N. P. Snyder and L. L. Kammer, “Dynamic adjustments in channel width in response to a forced diversion: Gower Gulch, Death Valley National Park, California”, Geology 36 2 (2008), 187–190.
 D. Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: the science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective”, Feminist Studies 14 3 (1988), 575–99.
We live in a period of unprecedented proliferation of constructed, internally coherent virtual worlds, which emerge everywhere, from politics to video games. Our mediascape is brimming with rich, immersive worlds ready to be enjoyed and experienced, or decoded and exploited. One effect of this phenomenon is that we are now asking fundamental questions, such as what “consensus reality” is and how to engage with it. Another effect is that there is a need for a special kind of expertise that can deal with designing and organising these worlds – and that is where architects possibly have a unique advantage. Architectural thinking, as a special case of visual, analogy-based synthetic reasoning, is well positioned to become a crucial expertise, able to operate on multiple scales and in multiple contexts in order to map, analyse and organise a virtual world, while at the same time being able to introduce new systems, rules and forms to it.
A special case of this approach is something we can name architectural worldmaking, which refers broadly to practices of architectural design which wilfully and consciously produce virtual worlds, and understand worlds as the main project of architecture. Architects have a unique perspective and could have a say in how virtual worlds are constructed and inhabited, but there is a caveat which revolves around questions of agency, engagement and control. Worldmaking is an approach to learning from both technically-advanced visual and cultural formats such as video games, as well as scientific ways of imaging and sensing, in order to be able to construct new, legitimate, and serious ways of seeing and modelling.
These notions are central to the research seminar called “Games and Worldmaking”, first conducted by the author at SCI-Arc in summer of 2021, which focused on the intersection of games and architectural design, and foregrounded systems thinking as an approach to design. The seminar is part of the ongoing Views of Planet City project, in development at SCI-Arc for the Pacific Standard Time exhibition, which will be organised by the Getty Institute in 2024. In the seminar, we developed the first version of Planet Garden, a planetary simulation game, envisioned to be both an interactive model of complex environmental conditions and a new narrative structure for architectural worldmaking.
Planet Garden is loosely based on Edward O. Wilson’s “Half-Earth” idea, a scenario where the entire human population of the world occupies a single massive city and the rest is left to plants and animals. The Half Earth is an important and very interesting thought experiment, almost a proto-design, a prompt, an idea for a massive, planetary agglomeration of urban matter which could liberate the rest of the planet to heal and rewild.
The question of the game was, how could we actually model something like that? How do we capture all that complexity and nuance, how do we figure out stakes and variables and come up with consequences and conclusions? The game we are designing is a means to model and host hugely complex urban systems which unravel over time, while being able to legibly present an enormous amount of information visually and through the narrative. As a format, a simulation presents different ways of imaging the World and making sense of reality through models.
The work on game design started as a wide exploration of games and precedents within architectural design and imaging operations, as well as abstract systems that could comprise a possible planetary model. The question of models and modelling of systems comes at the forefront and becomes contrasted to existing architectural strategies of representation.
Mythologizing, Representing and Modelling
Among the main influences of this project were the drawings made by Alexander von Humboldt, whose work is still crucial for anyone with an interest in representing and modelling phenomena at the intersection of art and science. If, in the classical sense, art makes the world sensible while science makes it intelligible, these images are a great example of combining these forms of knowledge. Scientific illustrations, Humboldt once wrote, should “speak to the senses without fatiguing the mind”. His famous illustration of Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador shows plant species living at different elevations, and this approach is one of the very early examples of data visualisation, with an intent of making the world sensible and intelligible at the same time. These illustrations also had a strong pedagogical intent, a quality we wanted to preserve, and which can serve almost as a test of legibility.
The project started with a question of imaging a world of nature in the Anthropocene epoch. One of the reasons it is difficult to really comprehend a complex system such as the climate crisis is that it is difficult to model it, which also means to visually represent it in a legible way which humans can understand. This crisis of representation is a well-known problem in literature on the Anthropocene, most clearly articulated in the book Against the Anthropocene, by T.J. Demos.
We do not yet have the tools and formats of visualising that can fully and legibly describe such a complex thing, and this is, in a way, also a failure of architectural imagination. The standard architectural toolkit is limited and also very dated – it is designed to describe and model objects, not “hyperobjects”. One of the project’s main interests was inventing new modalities of description and modelling of complex systems through the interactive software format, and this is one of the ideas behind the Planet Garden project.
Contemporary representational strategies for the Anthropocene broadly fall into two categories, those of mythologising or objectivising. The first approach can be observed in the work of photographers such as Edward Burtynsky and Louis Helbig, where the subject matter of environmental disaster becomes almost a new form of the aesthetic sublime. The second strategy comes out of the deployment and artistic use of contemporary geospatial imaging tools. As is well understood by critics, contemporary geospatial data visualisation tools like Google Earth are embedded in a specific political and economic framework, comprising a visual system delivered and constituted by the post–Cold War and largely Western-based military-state-corporate apparatus. These tools offer an innocent-seeming picture that is in fact a “techno-scientific, militarised, ‘objective’ image”. Such an image displaces its subject and frames it within a problematic context of neutrality and distancing. Within both frameworks, the expanded spatial and temporal scales of geology and the environment exceed human and machine comprehension and thus present major challenges to representational systems.
Within this condition, the question of imaging – understood here as making sensible and intelligible the world of the Anthropocene through visual models – remains, and it is not a simple one. Within the current (broadly speaking) architectural production, this topic is mostly treated through the “design fiction” approach. For example, in the work of Design Earth, the immensity of the problem is reframed through a story-driven, narrative approach which centres on the metaphor, and where images function as story illustrations, like in a children’s book. Another approach is pursued by Liam Young, in the Planet City project, which focuses on video and animation as the main format. In this work, the imaging strategies of commercial science fiction films take the main stage and serve as anchors for the speculation, which serves a double function of designing a new world and educating a new audience. In both cases, it seems, the focus goes beyond design, as these constructed fictions stem from a wilful, speculative exaggeration of existing planetary conditions, to produce a heightened state which could trigger a new awareness. In this sense, these projects serve a very important educational purpose, as they frame the problem through the use of the established and accepted visual languages of storybooks and films.
The key to understanding how design fictions operate is precisely in their medium of production: all of these projects are made through formats (collage, storybook, graphic novel, film, animation) which depend on the logic of compositing. Within this logic, the work is made through a story-dependent arrangement of visual components. The arrangement is arbitrary as it depends only on the demands of the story and does not correspond to any other underlying condition – there is no model underneath. In comparison, a game such as, for example, SimCity is not a fiction precisely because it depends on the logic of a simulation: a testable, empirical mathematical model which governs its visual and narrative space. A simulation is fundamentally different from a fiction, and a story is not a model.
This is one of the reasons why it seems important to rethink the concept of design fiction through the new core idea of simulation. In the book Virtual Worlds as Philosophical Tools, Stefano Gualeni traces a lineage of thinking about simulations to Espen Aarseth’s 1994 text called Hyper/Text/Theory, and specifically to the idea of cybertextuality. According to this line of reasoning, simulations contain an element not found in fiction and thus need an ontological category of their own: “Simulations are somewhere between reality and fiction: they are not obliged to represent reality, but they have an empirical logic of their own, and therefore should not be called fictions.” This presents us with a fundamental insight into the use of simulations as the future of architectural design: they model internally coherent, testable worlds and go beyond mere fiction-making into worldmaking proper.
Simulations, games and systems
In the world of video games, there exists a genre of “serious” simulation games, which comprises games like Maxis software’s SimCity and The Sims, as well as some other important games like Sid Meier’s Civilization and Paradox Studio’s Stellaris. These games are conceptually very ambitious and extremely complex, as they model the evolution of whole societies and civilisations, operate on very long timescales, and consist of multiple nested models that simulate histories, economies and evolutions of different species at multiple scales. One important feature and obligation of this genre is to present a coherent, legible image of the world, to give a face to the immense complexity of the model. The “user interface” elements of these kinds of games work together to tell a coherent story, while the game world, rendered in full 3D in real time, provides an immersive visual and aesthetic experience for the player. Contrary to almost any other type of software, these interfaces are more indebted to the history of scientific illustration and data visualisation than they are to the history of graphic design. These types of games are open-ended and not bound to one goal, and there is rarely a clear win state.
Another feature of the genre is a wealth of underlying mathematical models, each providing for the emergence of complexity and each carrying its own assumptions and biases. For example, SimCity is well known (and some would say notorious) for its rootedness in Jay Forrester’s Urban Dynamics approach to modelling urban phenomena, which means that its mathematical model delivers very specific urban conditions – and ultimately, a very specific vision of what a city is and could be. One of the main questions in the seminar became how we might update this approach on two fronts: by rethinking the mathematical model, and by rethinking urban assumptions of the conceptual model.
The work of the game designer Will Wright, the main designer behind the original SimCity, as well as The Sims and Spore, is considered to be at the origin of simulation games as a genre. Wright has developed a vast body of knowledge on modelling simulations, some of which he presented in his 2003 influential talk at the Game Developers Conference (GDC), titled “Dynamics for Designers”. In this talk, Wright outlines a fully-fledged theory of modelling of complex phenomena for interactivity, focusing on topics such as “How we can use emergence to model larger possibility spaces with simpler components”. Some of the main points: science is a modelling activity, and until now, it has used traditional mathematics as its primary modelling method. This has some limits when dealing with complex dynamic and emergent systems. Since the advent of the computer, simulation has emerged as an alternative way of modelling. These are very different: in Wright’s view, maths is a more linear process, with complex equations; simulation is a more parallel process with simpler components interacting together. Wright also talks about stochastic (random probability distribution) and Monte Carlo (“brute force”) methods as examples of the simulation approach.
Wright’s work was a result of a deep interest in exploring how non-linear models are constructed and represented within the context of interactive video games, and his design approach was to invent novel game design techniques based directly on System Dynamics, a discipline that deals with the modelling of complex, unpredictable and non-linear phenomena. The field has its roots in the cybernetic theories of Norbert Wiener, but it was formalised and created in the mid-1950s by Professor Jay Forrester at MIT, and later developed by Donella H. Meadows in her seminal book Thinking in Systems.
System dynamics is an approach to understanding the non-linear behaviour of complex systems over time using stocks, flows, internal feedback loops, table functions and time delays.[14,15] Forrester (1918–2016) was an American computer engineer and systems scientist, credited as the founding father” of system dynamics. He started by modelling corporate supply chains and went on to model cities by describing “the major internal forces controlling the balance of population, housing and industry within an urban area”, which he claimed could “simulate the life cycle of a city and predict the impact of proposed remedies on the system”. In the book Urban Dynamics, Forrester had turned the city into a formula with just 150 equations and 200 parameters. The book was very controversial, as it implied extreme anti-welfare politics and, through its “objective” mathematical model, promoted neoliberal ideas of urban planning.
In another publication, called World Dynamics, Forrester presented “World2”, a system dynamics model of our world which was the basis of all subsequent models predicting a collapse of our socio-technological-natural system by the mid 21st century. Nine months after World Dynamics, a report called Limits to Growth was published, which used the “World3” computer model to simulate the consequences of interactions between the Earth and human systems. Commissioned by the Club of Rome, the findings of the study were first presented at international gatherings in Moscow and Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 1971, and predicted societal collapse by the year 2040. Most importantly, the report put the idea of a finite planet into focus.
The main case study in the seminar was Wright’s 1990 game SimEarth, a life simulation video game in which the player controls the development of a planet. In developing SimEarth, Wright worked with the English scientist James Lovelock, who served as an advisor and whose Gaia hypothesis of planetary evolution was incorporated into the game. Continuing the systems dynamics approach developed for SimCity, SimEarth was an attempt to model a scientifically accurate approximation of the entire Earth system through the application of customised systems dynamics principles. The game modelled multiple interconnected systems and included realistic feedback between land, ocean, atmosphere, and life itself. The game’s user interface even featured a “Gaia Window”, in direct reference to the Gaia theory which states that life plays an intimate role in planetary evolution and the regulation of planetary systems.
One of the tutorial levels for the SimEarth featured a playable model of Lovelock’s “Daisyworld” hypothesis, which postulates that life itself evolves to regulate its environment, forming a feedback loop and making it more likely for life to thrive. During the development of a life-detecting device for NASA’s Viking lander mission to Mars, Lovelock made a profound observation, that life tends to increase the order of its surroundings, and that studying the atmospheric composition of a planet will provide evidence enough of life’s existence. Daisyworld is a simple planetary model designed to show the long-term effects of coupling and interdependence between life and its environment. In its original form, it was introduced as a defence against criticism that his Gaia theory of the Earth as a self-regulating homeostatic system requires teleological control rather than being an emergent property. The central premise, that living organisms can have major effects on the climate system, is no longer controversial.
In SimEarth, the planet itself is alive, and the player is in charge of setting the initial conditions as well as maintaining and guiding the outcomes through the aeons. Once a civilisation emerges, the player can observe the various effects, such as the impacts of changes in atmospheric composition due to fossil fuel burning, or the temporary expansion of ice caps in the aftermath of a major nuclear war. SimEarth’s game box came with a 212-page game manual that was at once a comprehensive tutorial on how to play and an engrossing lesson in Earth sciences: ecology, geology, meteorology and environmental ethics, written in accessible language that anyone could understand.
SimEarth and other serious simulation games in general represent a way that games could serve a function of public education while remaining a form of popular entertainment. This genre also represents an incredible validation of claims that video games can be valuable cultural artifacts. Ian Bogost writes: “This was a radical way of thinking about video games: as non-fictions about complex systems bigger than ourselves. It changed games forever – or it could have, had players and developers not later abandoned modelling systems at all scales in favor of representing embodied, human identities.”
Lessons that architectural design can learn from these games are many and varied, the most important one being that it is possible to think about big topics by employing models and systems while maintaining an ethos of exploration, play and public engagement. In this sense, one could say that a simulation game format might be a contemporary version of Humboldt’s illustration, with the added benefit of interactivity; but as we have seen, there is a more profound, crucial difference – this format goes beyond just a representation, beyond just a fiction, into worldmaking.
As a result of this research, the students in the seminar utilised Unreal Engine to create version one (v.1) of Planet Garden, a multi-scalar, interactive, playable model of a self-sustaining, wind and solar-powered robotic garden, set in a desert landscape. The simulation was envisioned as a kind of reverse city builder, where a goal of the game is to terraform a desert landscape by deploying different kinds of energy-producing technologies until the right conditions are met for planting and the production of oxygen. The basic game loop is based on the interaction between the player and four main resources: energy, water, carbon, and oxygen. In the seminar, we also created a comprehensive game manual. The aims of the project were to learn how to model dynamic systems and to explore how game workflows can be used as ways to address urban issues.
Planet Garden is projected to become a big game for the Getty exhibition; a simulation of a planetary ecosystem as well as a city for 10 billion people. We aim to model various aspects of the planetary city, and the player will be able to operate on multiple spatial sectors and urban scales. The player can explore different ways to influence the development and growth of the city and test many scenarios, but the game will also run on its own, so that the city can exist without direct player input. Our game utilises core design principles that relate to system dynamics, evolution, environmental conditions, and change. A major point is the player’s input and decision-making process, which influence the outcome of the game. The game will also be able to present conditions and consequences of this urban thought experiment, as something is always at stake for the player.
The core of the simulation-as-a-model idea is that design should have testable consequences. The premise of the project is not to construct a single truthful, total model of an environment but to explore ways of imaging the world through simulation and open new avenues for holistic thinking about interdependence of actors, scales and world systems. If the internet ushered a new age of billions of partial identarian viewpoints, all aggregating into an inchoate world gestalt, is it a time to rediscover a new image of the interconnected world?
 For a longer discussion on this, see O. M. Ungers, City Metaphors, (Cologne: Buchhandlung Walther Konig, 2011). For the central place of analogies in scientific modeling, see M. Hesse, Models and Analogies in Science, and also Douglas Hofstadter, Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking (Basic Books, 2013).
 The term “worldmaking” comes from Nelson Goodman’s book Ways of Worldmaking, and is used here to be distinguished from worldbuilding, a more narrow, commercially oriented term.
 For a great introduction to the life and times of Alexander Von Humboldt, see A. Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015).
 Quoted in H. G. Funkhouser, “Historical development of the graphical representation of statistical data”, Osiris 3 (1937), 269–404.
 T. J. Demos, Against The Anthropocene (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016).
 T. J. Demos, Against The Anthropocene (Berlin: Sternberg Press 2016).
 Design Earth, Geostories, The Planet After Geoengineering (Barcelona: Actar, 2019 and 2021).
 L. Young, Planet City, (Melbourne: Uro Publications, 2020).
 For an extended discussion of the simulation as a format, see D. Jovanovic, “Screen Space, Real Time”, Monumental Wastelands 01, eds. D. Lopez and H. Charbel (2022).
 S. Gualeni, Virtual Worlds as Philosophical Tools, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
 For an extended discussion on this, see Clayton Ashley, The Ideology Hiding in SimCity’s Black Box, https://www.polygon.com/videos/2021/4/1/22352583/simcity-hidden-politics-ideology-urban-dynamics
 W. Wright, Dynamics for Designers, GDC 2003 talk, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBcfiiulw-8.
 D. H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems, (White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008).
 Arnaud M., “World2 model, from DYNAMO to R”, Towards Data Science, 2020, https://towardsdatascience.com/world2-model-from-dynamo-to-r-2e44fdbd0975.
 Wikipedia, “System Dynamics”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/System_dynamics.
 Forrester, Urban Dynamics (Pegasus Communications, 1969).
 K. T. Baker, “Model Metropolis”, Logic 6, 2019, https://logicmag.io/play/model-metropolis.
 I. Bogost, “Video games Are Better Without Characters”, The Atlantic (2015), https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/03/video-games-are-better-without-characters/387556.
On December 24, 1968, the three-person crew of lunar spacecraft Apollo 8 became the first humans to witness a shimmering Earth ascend over the barren surface of the moon with their own eyes. The photographs that they took of that “Earthrise” electrified humanity, activating a sense of collective destiny not only between human nations but with Earth itself. This vivid new “world picture” was both more total and more visceral than earlier terrestrial abstractions like globes, atlases or maps. Earthrise was an eidetic portrait of a living, breathing world, an amalgam of the geologic, climatic and biologic, taken from outside the world itself. Historian Benjamin Lazier characterised this meta-Copernican moment as inaugurating an entire “Earthrise era”, a time when the image of a whole and delicate Earth could “organize a myriad of political, moral, scientific, and commercial imaginations”.
In many ways, Apollo’s Earth image was a quintessential product of the space age. Not only did its achievement rely on modern space flight, it played out against the backdrop of global conflicts like the Cold War that exploited space as a proxy battleground. Of course, the space age coincided with the information age, and these two cultural tendencies arguably offered divergent ways to picture the world. If the Apollo photos captured a single static vision of a unified Earth, the information age countertendency was to federate disparate fragments of text, diagrams, images, and video into information-rich dynamic media experiences. Experimental media environments brought visitors inside a closed world of light and image projections, immersing the visitor in choreographed flows of electronic stimuli. The constructed worlds presented within such media environments might resemble, reflect, or subvert the world outside them. Projects like filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie Drome or architect Ken Isaacs’ Knowledge Box constructed total media spaces with the visitor at the centre, ensconced in walls saturated by film and slide projections. They effectively constructed mediated worlds within the confines of a single room. Even earlier forays into the mediatic experience of information – notably the Eames Office’s Ovoid Theatre at New York’s 1964 World’s Fair – hinted that the information age would be experienced through choreographed matrices of endless and heterogenous image streams. The spatial array of multiple images induced a relational ordering and systemic framework among them. In these media environments, the world picture was not a single image but an overlapping and federated mosaic, a reality implied through juxtaposition and assembled in the technically-calibrated space of the room-world.
To the extent that they conveyed not the static image of a world picture but rather the dynamic behaviour of a world system, information-age media spaces resembled behavioural models. In his influential lecture “World Pictures and World Models”, German philosopher Hans Blumenberg drew the distinction between world pictures and world models as the “difference between the total notion of nature on the one hand and the purpose assigned to the totality of understanding nature on the other”. By “world picture”, Blumenberg does not exactly intend an Earthrise-like image but rather “that embodiment of reality through which and in which humans recognise themselves, orient their judgements and the goals of their actions, measure their possibilities and necessities, and devise their essential needs”. The world picture thus becomes a metaphysical anchor and compass for the human species in relation to species and nature as a whole. The world model, then, is the end toward which the world might be oriented and perhaps the mechanism that effects its transformation.
This paper considers how the world picture, world model, and room-world interact and resonate in our own time, and how they are transcribed into architectural space. We explore these resonances through a specific project of our office, Certain Measures: The Observatory, an immersive environmental installation housed within Dubai’s new Museum of the Future that imagines a fictional centre for global bioremediation in the year 2071. By situating this project in a wider historical constellation of room-worlds and world pictures, Earth-scale architecture extends its purview to contemporary notions of bioengineering, data visualisation, and artificial intelligence. Moreover, in contrast to canonical room-worlds of the past, the Observatory presents its world picture as a fictional reflection on a possible Earth, rather than as a true image of our world today. In doing so, it orchestrates several overlapping and interlocking layers of worldbuilding: fictional species, fictional media content, and even the fictional bureaucracy in which the Observatory is housed. It diverts the nominally factual media of data visualisation and scientific modelling toward projective worldbuilding. The Observatory thus illustrates the role architects and designers can play as worldbuilders across media, including image, data, narrative, and space.
Room Worlds and Control Rooms
Built to transform the very perception of the future as we know it, Dubai’s new Museum of the Future houses a series of immersive environments that position visitors in an empowering version of tomorrow. The Observatory is one such environment, a fictional centre for planetary ecology staged as a physical and media experience. It is presented as an amalgam of control room, panorama, and incubator for newly designed species, developed to confront the challenges of the climate crisis in a future fiction. It is the culmination of the floor-wide exhibit introducing “the HEAL Institute”, a fictional NGO tasked with gathering the planet’s genetic material, engineering species capable of meeting the challenges of extreme climate, and redeploying these to regreen the world.
The Observatory drew inspiration from the sundry architectures of planetary visualisation of the past century and a half. From building-scale panoramic “great globes” to interactive games of planetary resource use, architectural projects at the scale of the world envisioned designerly ways of seeing, understanding, and shaping Earth. Many of these projects posited not only a particular world picture but a behavioural system for planetary interactions akin to Blumenberg’s world models. In this sense, the Observatory falls into a lineage of architecture that orients design toward a global scale. In surveying the range of world-scale architectural projects, Hashim Sarkis and Rio Salgueiro Barrio point out the “possibility of differentiating between totality and totalization”. The implication is that in the Anthropocene, the systems presented by such world models are not necessarily controlling or coercive, but might be mutually constitutive with Earth itself.
Beyond the mutuality of system and planet, the form of the Observatory considers the codetermination between a collection of objects and the architecture that displays them. A particularly vivid example of collection-architecture co-determinacy are proto-modern cabinets such as the Oval Room of the Teylers Museum in Haarlem, Netherlands. Historian Geert-Jan Janse describes this singular space as “a room to hold the world”, not merely to house the miscellaneous contents of a world but to construct an architecture fitted to that world picture. Opened in 1784, the Oval Room concentrated its collection into a single space that adopts the organisation of the collection itself, furnishing bespoke cabinetry for irregular objects and reflecting a specific collection taxonomy in its arrangement. The curved space presented no corners, its quasi-elliptical shape evoking the spherical contours of a planet. In this sense it resembled a panorama, a dramatic vista over a field of particulars in orchestrated and interconnected conversation.
Our aim for the Observatory was to extend the architectural type of a Teylers collection panorama with the informatic and multi-scalar view of simultaneous dimensions of planetary ecology. In this way, the historical type of the room world is set in dialogue with the contemporary rise of data science and artificial intelligence. The Observatory accomplishes this by making visible both newly engineered species and the network of human and machinic actors that collect, analyse and act to resuscitate Earth. It is a control room for bioremediation, showing and evolving a web-of-life datascape and the symbiotic interactions of ecosystems, plants, animals, bacteria, robots, and humans.
The Observatory space consists of two complimentary experiences: the Geoscope and the Nursery. The Geoscope is an information-rich global monitoring system that visualises the progress of bespoke species deployed to aid threatened biomes. It combines physical models of speculative species themselves with dynamic projection mapping to show symbiotic interconnections across scales, offering a trans-scalar view of the planet from global to microscopic. The Geoscope could be understood as a dynamic data panorama, or even an informatic world picture. But instead of presenting an instantaneous view of the world from a single perspective at a uniform scale, it presents a temporally unfolding and multi-scalar assemblage of imagery and data, stitched together into a unified sensorium.
The Geoscope is not only a collection gallery but also a control room, a cockpit for the planet. As a control room, the Observatory sits adjacent to what anthropologist Shannon Mattern has called “urban dashboards”, or visualisations of real-time urban operations data. When expanded to the room scale, they evolve into what she terms “immersive dashboards”: vast control rooms for city functions that resemble NASA’s Mission Control for spaceflight. Mattern argues that the raison d’être for such rooms is “translating perception into performance, epistemology into ontology”. Urban control rooms thus constitute and condition the subjects that interact with them, creating particular conventions of legibility and action. For Mattern, the “dashboard and its user had to evolve in response to one another”. In the critical relationship between dashboard and intelligibility, a particular data organisation fosters a corresponding kind of intelligence in its observer.
Historian Andrew Toland argues that Mattern’s urban dashboards might naturally be extended to the scale of the planet. “We can begin to imagine an enlargement from the real-time data and feedback loops of urban dashboards considered by Mattern towards a vast integrated and machine-directed system of environmental-sensing and response”. He catalogs several initiatives, such as Microsoft’s “AI for Earth”, that fall comfortably within this genre of design. While he notes the aspiration for an “AI whole Earth dashboard”, Toland frames artificial intelligence in functional terms as a straightforward extrapolation of statistical data analysis. Yet in ethical terms, the idea of AI sentience or reflection – that an AI might come to its own conclusions about the state of the planet – is largely absent. The possibility that the dashboard could become an ethical agent in its own right remains an untested possibility.
Beyond Mattern’s urban dashboards and Toland’s AI for Earth, the Geoscope makes deliberate reference to Buckminster Fuller’s series of geoscopes or “mini-Earth” projects. Beginning from his first room-scale globe, constructed at Cornell University in 1952, through many variants into the 1970s, Fuller proposed augmented planetary models “wherewith humanity can see and read all the spherical data of the Earth’s geography … within the theater of local Universe events”. In their most developed form, Fuller’s geoscopes were data-rich and mediatic portraits of planetary civilisation unfolding over time: “The Geoscope’s electronic computers will store all relevant inventories of world data arranged chronologically, in the order and spacing of discovery, as they have occurred throughout all known history”. Fuller saw the geoscopes as a means to accelerate and intensify the viewing not only of natural phenomena like weather systems and geologic conditions but also of human activity like military deployments or mobility patterns. “With the Geoscope humanity would be able to recognize formerly invisible patterns and thereby to forecast and plan in vastly greater magnitude than before”.
Curiously, Fuller ignored the living organisms within the biosphere except in their direct and extractive connection with agriculture. Thus, in deliberate riposte, our Geoscope sees the human technosphere in intimate dialogue with the biosphere, not as an extractive system but as a symbiotic relationship in which humans have a vital role. The Geoscope’s AI, which acts as an intermediary between technosphere and biospehere, scans specific locations – the Ganges River Delta, Antarctic Inland, the Empty Quarter of the Emirates, Canada’s Nunavut territory and so forth – for progress against climate catastrophe. As a central digital globe turns, it reveals new points of crisis, but also signs of hopeful recovery. It projects a protean and continuously changing view into the network of monitoring stations across the planet. The coordinating AI dynamically connects with a menagerie of human and nonhuman agents across biomes and nations – including drones, satellites and hybrid techno-biological sensors – which constantly collect samples, register progress, and meticulously rebuild the planet. This menagerie of agents complements the biological menagerie of newly-engineered species gestating within the Observatory. The coordinating AI slowly becomes more aware of human culpability for climate change – and its own fraught role in regreening. The Geoscope thus offers a glimpse into the expanding ethical consciousness of this AI.
Experientially, the Geoscope operates like closed-circuit television for the planet. It presents a cluster of video feeds that track the thriving species introduced by the HEAL institute on the one hand and the research of the scientists of the HEAL institute on the other. The myriad seeded species include, for example: a comb jelly super organism that signals danger by bioluminescent flashes; cryptobiotic wildflowers designed to hibernate in steppe and tundra regions; and fire-resistant trees with robust roots to resist infernal heat. At the same time, the Geoscope streams surveillance footage of scientists tirelessly working to enact the techniques of re-greening of the earth. These scientists engage with deployed species through forensic fieldwork and careful labwork. We even witness moments of painstaking analysis as they prepare samples for review of soil toxins, trace carbohydrates, and other critical biomarkers. In effect, this planetary CCTV invites visitors to join in the on-the-ground work of the HEAL institute.
In the Nursery, the other half of the Observatory experience, visitors peer into incubators nurturing dozens of species that could revitalise a struggling planet. In collaboration with a geneticist, we designed over 80 species of plant, insect and animal, each with special characteristics designed to combat the environmental challenges of today and the future. Drawn from seven major ecosystems – desert, aquatic, arctic, forest, swamp, alpine and grassland – we imagined species such as nutrient jelly cacti, radiation-sequestering flowers, lipid-rich quinoa, and remediation coral designed to feed on microplastics and sequester heavy metals. To facilitate rapid repopulation of bird species, a portable multispecies egg incubator could be used to quickly reestablish biological diversity in previously inhospitable areas. At the microscopic scale, designer bacteria symbiotically support larger species and the broader biome. These bacteria include cancer-hunting and sunscreen-producing varieties, for instance. Enhanced with holographic data, profiles of each specimen reveal to visitors the details of the organism and its role in a remediated Earth.
Like the Observatory itself, the model dioramas representing new species are in conscious dialogue with the dioramas and conventions of natural history museums: each cryptobiological species was meticulously researched, and is complete with a scientific name, specific climate-robust features, and estimated lifecycles. There is an encyclopedic impulse in their collection, an attempt to convey the variety and possibility of nature across its variegated climates. Some dioramas present assembled biomes, habitats in miniature that arrange numerous species in symbiotic constellation. In a sense, the dioramas are not only biological but agricultural: they display the implements and technology of cultivation and accelerated growth, and in this way also echo one of the earliest roles of museum dioramas, to educate on the process of machinic cultivation of nature.
The posthuman perspective of a sentient AI monitoring Earth in the Observatory raises strange questions about the subjectivity of the AI itself. Is this AI an overlord, servant, friend, or colleague? How would this agent come to terms with climate catastrophe and its role in the rebirth of the planet? How would its ethical consciousness unfold? What role would its human colleagues play in this awakening, and how might it perceive that role? What story would the AI tell about itself?
The logs of the AI’s interactions actually comprise an intimate journal of sorts, a glimpse into its ethical awakening. The AI communicates with the visitor and the network of remote agents through transmissions and messages akin to letters, and the AI is also receiving messages via its sensor network from myriad species – an interspecies communication between natural and artificial life. Taken collectively, these messages bear a surprising resemblance to the venerable literary form of epistolary fiction. An epistolary novel is a story that unfolds entirely through fictional letters, messages, or transmissions between its sundry characters, exposing their intimate thoughts and interpersonal connections. As a literary form, it was notably popular in the eighteenth century. The epistolary form has a particularly interesting connection to technology, science fiction and bioengineering, in that Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is an epistolary novel. The epistolary form could even extend to electronic and machine-readable messages, such as Carl Steadman’s Two Solitudes, a 1995 novella told entirely through email exchanges.
In keeping with the panoramic nature of the Observatory itself, we combined the content of the epistolary AI novel with the format of a panoramic book, drawing on precedents like Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip. While Ruscha constructed a linear panorama of an urban streetscape, we propose a linear panorama of the sequential scan of the entire Earth, including every new bioengineered species introduced to it. The resulting text fuses AI diary and panorama into a journal of exchanges between this AI and its various human interlocutors. This yet-to-be published book, tentatively titled Dispatches from a Verdant Tomorrow, tells the story of climate remediation from a nonhuman perspective, as one continuous scan of Earth’s biosphere.
A Future Archive of Fictions
In his critique of the globe as an epistemic model, philosopher Peter Sloterdijk distinguishes between the epistemic ramifications of observing the globe from the outside or from the inside. Seeing the globe from the outside – as with the Apollo Earthrise – provides an “all-collecting awareness … the thinker feels and understands what it means to ‘know’ everything, to see everything visible, to recognize everything … the very epitome of objectivity”. In contrast, the interior view places “oneself at the absolute center”, in “ecstatic-circumspective concentricity”: presumably an experience of complete subjectivity. Yet between inside and outside lies the world itself, a moment at which globe and observer are coincident, one embedded in and inhabiting the other. It is that moment of coincidence and embeddedness that the Observatory aims to make tangible.
Historian Benjamin Lazier notes a similar polarity between environment and globe that illustrates how mutually defining they have become:
“The globalization of the world picture is perhaps easier to discern when we consider a parallel slippage – from ‘environment’ to ‘globe’ as it is inscribed in the phrase ‘global environment.’ The term has become a platitude, even a ritual incantation. It is in truth a Frankenstein phrase that sutures together words referring to horizons of incompatible scale and experience. Environments surround us. We live within them. Globes stand before us. We observe and act upon them from without. Globes are things that we make. They are artifacts. Environments, at least in theory and in part, are not.”
The Observatory sits at that threshold between globe and environment, oscillating between the two but also introducing a third possibility: an experience of situated habitation and networked action. Through intersecting practices of speculative design, biofutures, fiction and data visualisation, the Observatory represents a comprehensive simulation of a connected biotechnical ecology.
In their analysis of urban data visualisation installations, Nanna Verhoeff and Karin van Es describe the city as a “navigable archive” and, indeed, one might make the same claim about Earth itself through the instrument of the Observatory. The Observatory is a device not only for measuring and dimensioning a planetary biological archive but also for cultivating new specimens and Earth itself as an organism. It is a staging area for an active engagement between myriad human and nonhuman actors with each other and Earth itself. It is the terminus of a planetary-scale nervous system but also a sentient agent of action. It is a medium of communication with the planet, a telephone to Earth, a device for engaging in dialogue with it and its inhabitants. The Observatory is a proving ground for a more humane humanity, a tool through which we might take stock of the future of Earth and of design itself.
 R. Poole, Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).
 B. Lazier, “Earthrise; or, The Globalization of the World Picture,” American Historical Review, June 2011, 606.
 G. Sutton, The Experience Machine: Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie-Drome and Expanded Cinema (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015).
 H. Blumenberg, “World Pictures and World Models,” in History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader, Kroll, Joe Paul, Fuchs, Florian, Bajohr, Hannes, eds. (Ithica: Cornell University Press,2020), 43.
 Ibid., 43.
 H. Sarkis, Roi Salgueiro Barrio and Gabriel Kozlowski, The World as an Architectural Project (Cambridge: MIT Press), 8.
 G-J Janse, A Room to Hold the World. The Oval Room at Teylers Museum (Amsterdam: Teylers Museum, 2011)
 S. Mattern, “Mission Control: A History of the Urban Dashboard”, Places Journal, March 2015, <https://doi.org/10.22269/150309>, accessed 09 June 2022.
 A. Toland, The Learning Machine and the Spaceship in the Garden. AI and the design of planetary ‘nature’ RA. Revista de Arquitectura Núm. 20 (2018), 216–227
 Ibid., 225.
 R. Buckminster Fuller, The Critical Path (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981), 172.
 Ibid., 180.
 Ibid., 183.
 J. Insley, “Little Landscapes: Agriculture, Dioramas, and the Science Museum,” Icon, 12 (2006): 8.
 E. Ruscha, Every Building on the Sunset Strip (Los Angeles: E. Ruscha, 1966).
 P. Sloterdijk, Spheres Volume 2: Globes (Pasadena: Semiotext(e), 2014), 85.
 Ibid., 88.
 B. Lazier, “Earthrise; or, The Globalization of the World Picture,” American Historical Review, June 2011, 614-615.
 N. Verhoeff and K. van Es, “Situated Installations for Urban Data Visualization: Interfacing the Archive-City”, in Visualizing the Street: New Practices of Documenting, Navigating and Imagining the City, P. Dibazar and J. Naeff, eds (Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP, 2018).
Until recently, nature was wholly outside the law. At most, it was property of one sort or another – to be bought and sold, securitised and commodified, and especially, in the old-fashioned phrase of the English common law, “improved”. Other “laws” – of physics, chemistry and biology – are not of consequence in this realm of capital “L” Law, exempted because of their exceptionalism. Humans are distinct from and superior to other animals, a situation the Canadian environmental lawyer and academic David R. Boyd describes as “at odds with reality … any biologist will tell you that humans are animals”. Black’s Law Dictionary, the dominant legal lexicon in North America, is at pains to point out that the legal definition of animals “includes all living creatures not human”. Similarly, architecture presented itself as standing apart from nature. “Architecture, unlike the other arts, does not find its patterns in nature”, claimed Gottfried Semper in 1834. Or Louis Kahn in 1969: “What man makes, nature cannot make.” In what is ultimately a form of the cosmology of the modern, law and architecture sit apart from and superior to nature. Design, like the economic activities to which law gives its support, is about subduing nature and turning it to productive ends. In this model, both are methods of human governance of the natural world. Indeed, for centuries, architecture was among the key pieces of evidence cited for human exceptionalism – buildings and cities, just as in Laugier’s original parable of the hut as the first example of architecture, allowed humans to transcend the state of nature.[7, 8] At times, this line of Western thought had deeply pernicious consequences for other peoples throughout the world, as the presence or absence of architecture, as well as agricultural cultivation, became one of the key legal determinants that permitted European colonisers to expropriate the lands of indigenous peoples. Architecture was thus enfolded into the law’s methods for imposing governance over unfamiliar lands and peoples, just as it structured the dominance over nature. But what would it mean, for architecture no less than for the law, if – as one of the provocations suggested by the editors of this journal proposes – nature were to govern itself? Developments in legal theory over the past several decades, as well as a handful of legal cases that have received wide media coverage, now allow us to consider this novel possibility. This article considers the rise of this “rights of nature” jurisprudence from the perspective of architecture and landscape architecture, with particular attention paid to the emergence of the (literal) law of “the land”, as well as what this emerging way of thinking about the natural world and its life and systems might mean for the design of the very ground itself.
Media reporting on high profile lawsuits or settlements where legal standing has been claimed (and in some cases recognised) for landscapes, ecosystems and rivers, to enable them to sue as plaintiffs, has drawn attention to the rights of nature and related claims as strategies to protect ecosystems or seek accountability for environmental damage and destruction. This has involved instances as diverse as the Whanganui River in New Zealand, the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers and the Gangotri and Yamunotri glaciers in India,[11, 12] the Colorado River in the United States, the Amazon rainforest in Colombia, and the Paraná Delta wetlands in Argentina. In addition, by the start of 2021, 178 legal provisions derived from rights of nature legal theory had been documented in seventeen countries across five continents, with an additional thirty-seven under consideration in ten more countries. Rights of nature has also found expression in a range of international legal instruments, such as the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and in the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. These approaches have their origins in the relatively recent fields of “earth jurisprudence” and “wild law”. Many of their arguments derive from the disjunction that has emerged between the law and advances in the ecological sciences; a critique of legal doctrines trapped in the discrete and mechanistic model of the natural work developed during the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when these foundational areas of the law were also fundamentally consolidated. In contrast, earth jurisprudence and wild law seek to orient the law towards a scientific model of the world as made up of dynamic organic and material interrelationships, and away from anthropocentrism, subordination of the environment in the form of “property”, and economic notions of ever-expanding “growth”.
Beyond this, the legal presumptions that give rise to the longstanding juridical status of nature also provide the basic conceptual structure within which the basic actions of modernity, including design, occurred. The basic systems of procurement of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban and landscape planning and design all fundamentally depend on the system of property; on who has legal control or dominion over land, and the right to “exploit” its resources (a much more neutral term in legal parlance, but one which, nonetheless, opens the door for acts with much more negative and damaging consequences). Whether issued by individuals, corporations or the state, any design commission granted to an architect or landscape architect requires the commissioner to have the right to “improve” (again, in the sense of the archaic language of the law) the land in the first place. Before embarking on a further consideration of what the rights of nature might mean for design disciplines concerned with built and natural environments, it is worth examining in some detail how the very legal conceptualisation of the ground itself also involved the basic activities of architecture and landscape design.
From the sixteenth century onwards, in English common law, one of the fundamental precepts governing land (and who had the right to do what; on, under, and above the ground) was encapsulated in the Latin legal dictum, Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad colem et ad infernos: “Whoever’s is the soil, it is theirs all the way to Heaven and all the way to Hell.” The earliest recorded judicial authority for this approach has its origins in a basic architectural dispute. Sometime around 1586, an English landowner somewhere in Oxfordshire constructed a house blocking the light and views his neighbour had enjoyed for some three to four decades. The neighbour sued. The record of the judgment in that lawsuit, Bury v Pope, is a scant 123 words long and can be quoted in full:
“Case for stopping of his light.-It was agreed by all the justices, that if two men be owners of two parcels of land adjoining, and one of them doth build a house upon his land, and makes windows and lights looking into the other’s lands, and this house and the lights have continued by the space of thirty or forty years, yet the other may upon his own land and soil lawfully erect an house or other thing against the said lights and windows, and the other can have no action ; for it was his folly to build his house so near to the other’s land: and it was adjudged accordingly.
Nota. Cujus est solum, ejus est summitas usque ad cœlum.”
The final nine words echo down the centuries, certainly in the areas of the world touched by English common law, from mineral rights in Native American lands to mining leases in postcolonial Africa to tricky jurisdictional questions over carbon capture and storage. The careful reader will note that “et ad infernos” (“and to hell/the underworld”) does not appear in the original Latin maxim at the end of the report of the original judgment. And yet by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the common law doctrine, which has variously been claimed to have its origins in Roman or Jewish Law, had come to be accepted as applying to rights both above and below an owner’s land. It is no coincidence that by this time claims and rights related to the extraction of mineral resources were of huge economic importance. In English common law, the parameters of land and land ownership, as originally conceived, emerged as spatially absolute – it could not conceive of more intricate frameworks of interests or custodianship in which different parties or, indeed, different beings might share in the rights and responsibilities for the use and care of a given territory.
A few decades later, this fundamental principal of the law of Land (Terra, as presented in its Latin formulation), was elaborated in telling detail by the great systematiser of early modern jurisprudence, the Elizabethan jurist Sir Edward Coke. Again, it is worth scrutinising how Coke first presented this legal approach to the land; in essence, it depends on a set of presumptions of human habitation within the material environment that we can also see establishing the modern foundations of designing, dwelling and designing the land in which that dwelling occurs (with land that can be built upon being accorded a special privilege):
“Terra, in the legal signification comprehended any ground, soil, or earth whatsoever; as meadows, pastures, wood, moores, waters, marshes, furses and heath. Terra est Nomen generalissimum, et comprehendit omnes species terra; but properly terra dicitur a terendo, quia vomere teritur; and anciently it was written with a single r; and in that sense it includeth whatsoever may be plowed; and is all one with arvum ab arando. It legally includeth also all castles, houses, and other buildings: for castles, houses, &c. consist upon two things, viz. land or ground, as the foundation or structure therewith, so that in passing the land or ground, the structure or building thereupon passeth therewith. Land is anciently called Fleth; but land builded on is more worthy than other land, because it is for the habitation of man, and in that respect hath the precedency to be demanded in the first place in a Præcipe, as hereafter shall be said.”
It is habitation that conveys rights; that is the source of law and governance over land and the expropriation of its material resources:
“And therefore this element of earth is preferred before the other elements: first and principally, because it is for the habitation and resting-place of man; for man cannot rest in any of the other elements, neither in the water, are, or fire. For as the heavens are the habitation of Almightie God, so the earth hath he appointed as the suburbs of heaven to be the habitation of man; Cœlum cœli domino, terram autum dedit filiis hominum. All the whole heavens are the Lord’s, the earth hath he given to the children of men. Besides, every thing, as it serveth more immediately or more meerly for the food and use of man (as it shall be said hereafter), hath the precedent dignity before any other. And this doth the earth, for out of the earth cometh man’s food, and bread that strengthens man’s heart, confirmat cor hominis, and wine that gladdeth the heart of man, and oyle that makes him a cheerful countenance; and therefore terra olim Ops mater dicta est, quia omnia hac opus habent ad vivendum. And the Divine agreeth herewith for he saith, Patrium tibi & nutricem, & matrem, & mensam, & domum posuit rerram Deus sed & sepulchre tibi hanc eandem dedir. Also, the waters that yeeld fish for the food and sustenance of man and are not by that name demandable in a Præcipe.”
The ownership of control of the surface of the land is then expanded into a fully three-dimensional envelope of property, governance and control:
“… but the land whereupon the water floweth or standeth is demandable (as for example) viginti acr’ terræ aqua coopert’, and besides, for the earth doth furnish man with many other necessaries for his use, as it is replenished with hidden treasures; namely gold, silver, brasse, iron, tynne, leade, and other metals, and also with a great variety of precious stones, and many other things for profit, ornament, and pleasure. And lastly, the earth hath in law a great extent upwards, not only of water, as hath been said, but of ayre and all other things even up to the heaven; for cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum, as it is holden.”
Although the subsurface is not explicitly mentioned in the Latin dictum, it has always been the presumption that the rights of land extend down as well as upwards, which is made plain by Coke’s express discussion of mining (an increasingly important economic activity in both Elizabethan and Jacobean England) and the expanding global conquests of the European empires.
Less than a century later, the importance of subsuming any disorderly expressions of nature on landed property – a theory of landscape design that had been developing across the course of the seventeenth century – was famously crystallised in Joseph Addison’s influential essay on the landscape garden, “On the Pleasures of the Imagination”; property and design fused in his dictum: “a Man might make a pretty Landskip of his own Possessions.” Over subsequent centuries, and especially in the context of European colonialism, it became almost an imperative that land be improved by “art” in order to justify its expropriation and its incorporation into a totalising world economic system. As Sir William Blackstone, Coke heir’s as juridical systems builder and the most influential legal systematiser from the end of the eighteenth century onwards, wrote: “The Earth, and all things herein, are the general property of mankind, exclusive of other beings, from the immediate gift of the creator.”
Blackstone himself was a great architectural enthusiast and, indeed, an architectural critic and draftsperson, author of An Abridgment of Architecture (1743) and Elements of Architecture (1746-7). In classical architecture, Blackstone saw the highest expression of a system of universal laws that surpassed the disorderliness of the natural world. Here, his model was the science of mathematics, not the natural sciences; it was the former that gave architecture access to a plane of being beyond the worldly, the realm of Beauty and Nobility, “the flower and crown of all sciences mathematical”. Classical architecture provided Blackstone with his model for his efforts to renovate and remodel English common law, to rescue it from its fate, “like other venerable edifices of antiquity, which rash and unexperienced workmen have ventured to new-dress and refine, with all the rage of modern improvement … it’s [sic] symmetry … destroyed, it’s proportions distorted, and it’s majestic simplicity exchanged for specious embellishments and fantastic novelties”. Just as the architect must work to restore symmetry, proportion, and majestic simplicity to a grand manor fallen into decay, “mankind [sic]” was duty-bound to elevate “his [sic]” property of the entire earth through the improvements of art and science. Blackstone’s distaste for “modern improvement” did not preclude him from writing elsewhere of the inherited law as “an old Gothic castle” that needed to be “but fitted up for a modern inhabitant … converted into rooms of convenience, … chearful [sic] and commodious”.
The totalising thrust of Western property law as a law of land has resulted in more recent efforts by designers focused on the environment and ecology, unlike the theorists of earth jurisprudence and wild law, to find spaces outside of the law itself, rather than to attempt to find space within it. The landscape architect Gilles Clément has deliberately sought out land literally outside the jurisdiction and operations of the law and its various systems of governance and administration. His notion of le tiers paysage is about land:
“… forgotten by the cartographer, neglected by politics, undefined spaces, devoid of function that are difficult to name; an ensemble … located on the margins. On the edge of the woods, along the roads and rivers, in the forgotten corners of the culture, in the places where machines do not go. It covers areas of modest size, scattered like the lost corners of a field; unitary and vast like peat bogs, moors and wastelands resulting from recent abandonment.
There is no similarity of form between these fragments of landscape. They have only one thing in common: they all provide a refuge for diversity. Everywhere else, diversity is driven out.
This justifies bringing them together under a single term. I propose ‘Third Landscape’ …”
The passage is striking, especially when we compare it to Coke, whose aim was to bring those very landscapes – “meadows, pastures, wood, moores, water, marshes, furses and heath” – within the remit of the law. For Clément, it is the very fact that the latter types of landscape, especially, have been so difficult to govern, to bring within law’s jurisdictional ambit, that makes them such rich sources of biodiversity – nature’s outlaw territories. It is these territories that ought to provide a model for designers (and his preferred model for the designer in question is not the architect or landscape architect, but the gardener, who “creates a landscape by following it over time, using horticultural and environmental maintenance techniques. … But above all, it is about life”).
But if nature itself has rights, if it is recognised as having agency and self-determination in the manner put forward by the earth jurisprudence and wild law movements, then designers may not need to – and, increasingly, cannot – escape into a third landscape. As other theorists have pointed out, nature is always part of the social. Beyond the well-known position of Bruno Latour in We Have Never Been Modern, other theorists have noted the ways in which “the entities that compose arrangements have a physiochemical composition and are, accordingly, part of the greater physiochemical stratum in which material entities are linked”. In other words, society and culture have a “physicality”, and a large part of that physicality is defined by the bio- and physiochemical processes of “nature”. In this sense, even anthropogenic climate change is a kind of revenge of nature, whose processes have turned against us. In a more everyday sense, “The properties of wood, for instance, lay down sequences of actions that must be followed if trees are to be felled, axe handles produced, animals clubbed, houses built, and paper produced”.
There is no escaping our material realities and the dynamics they define. The question is how to enter into and think of ways to reconfigure those “sequences of actions” – in other words, how to design. Material properties are not absolutely deterministic. It is not just a matter of asking the brick, à la Louis Kahn. Instead, the design possibilities that come from the rights of nature simply begin to open up the field for a set of political claims about the appropriate status and interrelationship between humans, societies and the non-human environment, by codifying those claims in a form that other models of organising human activities are forced to recognise. As in debates over the political, social, economic and cultural rights of humans, the language of rights is simply part of an ongoing political contestation over claims and obligations. We might begin, for example, by using the very same premises as Coke, considering what design might mean in the realm of terra itself – “ground, soil, or earth whatsoever” – if that very ground also had self-determining rights, and could govern itself, irrespective of what our “designs” upon it might be. A recent piece in Nature Climate Change draws attention to the extent to which subterranean ecosystems have generally been overlooked in biodiversity and climate change mitigation agendas. This zone, “likely the most widespread non-marine environment on Earth,” remains largely a terra incognita. In cities, the upper layers of the urban soil (the “A and B horizons”) are highly “disturbed” and often “depaupurated”, if not directly contaminated with anthropogenic chemicals and other wastes. Various projects have drawn attention to the task of recovering urban and other post-anthropogenic soils. But an equally important shift may simply be in opening up the legal definition of “land” and the cluster of rights and obligations that have been constructed around it. Instead of a conceptual tabula rasa simply to be built upon, if we instead came to recognise it as the lively subterranean biome it in fact is, and if that biome might be recognised as having rights and claims of its own, then design might be forced to take a very different turn. Even the most vacant of plots will come to seem not so vacant, after all.
 Admittedly, this assertion is phrased in a universalist register. The reality is that what is being referred to is Western, and, latterly, international, legal constructs, that have provided the dominant model for legal thinking across almost all jurisdictions that form the basis for land law in the early twenty-first century.
 C. Kauffman and P. Martin, The Politics of Rights of Nature: Strategies for Building a More Sustainable Future (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2021), 4.
 D. Boyd, The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World, (Toronto: ECW Press, 2017), xxv.
 Ibid, xxv.
 Quoted in A. Forty, Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000), 220.
 Ibid, 220.
 O. Verkaaik, “Creativity and Controversy in a New Anthropology of Buildings”, Ethnography 17(1) (2015), 135–143. Recent work in anthropology has explicitly challenged this premise, as in the work of Tim Ingold discussed by Verkaaik: T. Ingold, “Building, Dwelling, Living: How Animals and People Make Themselves at Home in the World”, 172–188. In Tim Ingold, ed., The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill (London: Routledge, 2000).
 M. Laugier, An Essay on Architecture, trans. Wolfgang Herrmann and Anni Herrmann (Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, 1977).
 S. Banner, “Why Terra Nullius? Anthropology and Property Law in Early Australia”, Law and History Review, 23(1) (2005), 95–132 at 107.
 Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 (NZ).
 Mohd Salim v State of Uttarakhand & others, WPPIL 126/2014 (High Court of Uttarakhand), 2017.
 Lalit Miglani v State of Uttarakhand & others, WPPIL 140/2015 (High Court of Uttarakhand), 2017.
 Colorado River Ecosystem v State of Colorado, 1:17-cv-02316 (U.S. Colorado Federal Court), 2017.
 Demanda Generaciones Futuras v Minambiente, STC4360-2018 (Supreme Court of Colombia), 2018.
 Asociación Civil por la Justicia Ambiental v. Province of Entre Ríos, et al., (Supreme Court of Argentina), 2020.
 C. Kauffman and P. Martin, The Politics of Rights of Nature: Strategies for Building a More Sustainable Future (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2021), 2.
 As represented, especially, in the work of T. Berry, “Rights of Earth: We Need a New Legal Framework Which Recognises the Rights of All Living Beings,” 227–229. P. Burdon, ed., Exploring Wild Law: The Philosophy of Earth Jurisprudence (Kent Town, South Australia: Wakefield Press, 2011); C. Cullinan, Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice, 2nd ed. (Totnes, UK: Green Press, 2011); and P. Burdon, Earth Jurisprudence: Private Property and the Environment (London: Routledge, 2014).
 C. Kauffman and P. Martin, The Politics of Rights of Nature: Strategies for Building a More Sustainable Future (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2021), 4–5.
 D. Boyd, The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World, (Toronto: ECW Press, 2017), xxii–xxiii.
 Jackson Municipal Airport Authority v. Evans, 191 So. 2d 126, 128 (Miss. 1966).
 Bury v Pope (1586) Cro Eliz 118; 78 ER 375.
 Coke on Littleton (1628–1644), 4a.
 J. Addison, Spectator, III, Nos 411–421 (21 June–3 July 1712), 535.
 For example, the first landscape designer in Australia, Thomas Shepherd, advocated for the use of English “landscape gardening” principles to be used to improve Crown land in order to attract foreign capital investment: see T. Shepherd, Lectures on Landscape Gardening in Australia (Sydney: William M’Garvie, 1836).
 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, Book III (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1893; orig pub 1765), 2.
 C. Matthews, “Architecture and Polite Culture in Eighteenth-Century England: Blackstone’s Architectural Manuscripts” (unpublished dissertation, School of History and Politics, University of Adelaide, 2007); W. Prest, “Blackstone as Architect: Constructing the Commentaries,” Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities, 15(1) (2003), 103–133.
 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, Book I (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1893; orig pub 1765), 8.
 Ibid, Book III, 268.
 G. Clément, Manifeste du tiers paysage (Paris: Éditions du commun, 2016), 14.
 G. Clément, Gardens, Landscape and Nature’s Genius, trans Elzélina Van Melle (Risskov, Denmark: IKAROS Press, 2020), 19–20.
 T. Schatzki, “Nature and Technology in History,” History and Theory 42(4) (2003), 88–89.
 Ibid, 89.
 Quoted in S. Turkle, Simulation and its Discontents (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009), 86 n 4.
 Marie-Bénédicte Dembour, “Human Rights Talk and Anthropological Ambivalence: The Particular Contexts of Universal Claims,” 17–32. Olivia Harris, ed., Inside and Outside the Law: Anthropological Studies of Authority and Ambiguity (London: Routledge, 1996).
 D. Sánchez-Fernández, D. Galassi, J. Wynne, P. Cardoso and S. Mammola, “Don’t Forget Subterranean Ecosystems in Climate Change Agendas,” Nature Climate Change 11 (2021), 458–459.
 R. Forman, Urban Ecology: Science of Cities (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 91–93.
 See, for example, the projects of the landscape architect Julie Bargmann and her D.I.R.T. studio.
27 April 2022, 3:00 pm–5:30 pm
Déborah López and Hadin Charbel curate a seminar that spotlights authors and practices whose works link technology’s diverse roles across human and non-human scales in the current and future climate regime, exploring the possibility, and perhaps the inevitability, of encoding ethics.
The effects of climate change have become increasingly apparent with implications across multiple geographical scales and regions. Read as ecological and environmental transformations, accelerated transitional states are unfolding consequences and prompting responses within social, political, economic, human and non-human spheres alike. For instance, the term ‘cli-migration’ was coined by an Alaskan human rights lawyer in 2008 to describe the permanent, forced relocation of communities due to climate change. That same year, Ecuador introduced articles 10 and 71-74 to their constitution that explain the “Rights of Nature” as both a definition and the means to its legal and practical application.
While climate change can be described as a “hyper-object” (Morton 2013) whose effects are generally conceived to exist at an incomprehensible scale, its causes are grounded in the accumulation of various actions that are linked with the extractivist and capitalist logics resulting in a positive feedback loop – more resource extraction leads to more consumption and vice versa. Architecture is indeed one facet among an ecosystem of production- and consumer-based economies that has inextricably linked resources to commodities. Further to this, the use of territorialising technologies and mediums (such as satellite imagery and land surveys) is now coupled with artificial intelligence such as machine learning, optimisation algorithms and sensory devices, increasing the efficiency of all aspects of the supply chain, from prospecting to extraction and transport. It would seem that technology’s inevitable end is towards colonisation.
This has in turn drawn the attention of some to investigate alternative modes of land and resource management. Meanwhile, contemporary trends in circular economies have begun questioning and testing the viability of re-utilising materials and rethinking logistical processes. Parallel to this, relatively recent technological trends that are predicated on decentralised protocols such as blockchain inherently possess political ideologies whilst exhibiting practical implications. Although technology tends to be presented as generic, the aforementioned hints at the possibility, and perhaps the inevitability, of encoding ethics.
This session will feature the following speakers for presentations followed by roundtable discussion:
Bradley Cantrell and Marantha Dawkins, University of Virginia
Theodore Dounas, Robert Gordon University and Adventurous Architecture
Catherine Griffiths, University of Michigan and Isohale
Damjan Jovanovic, Sci-Arc and lifeforms.io
Andrew Witt, Harvard University and Certain Measures
About the curators
Deborah Lopez and Hadin Charbel are architects and founders of Pareid, an interdisciplinary design and research studio. Their works adopt approaches from various fields and contexts, addressing topics related to climate, ecology, human perception, machine sentience, and their capacity for altering current modes of existence through imminent fictions (IF).
Deborah completed her second Master’s in Architecture at Obuchi Laboratory at the University of Tokyo as a Monbukagakusho scholar (MEXT) from 2014 to 2018, and received a Bachelor of Arts and Master’s of Architecture from the European University of Madrid. Hadin was awarded the Monbukagakusho scholarship (MEXT) between 2014-2017 and received a Master in Engineering in the Field of Architecture from the University of Tokyo. He received his Architectural Studies BA from UCLA in 2012. Their works have been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Seoul Biennale, and Japanese Junction and they have published articles at various conferences such as ACADIA, Technarte, and COCA.
They are both lecturers at The Bartlett in the B-Pro programme where they run Research Cluster 1 in Architectural Design MArch. The research cluster, titled “Monumental Wastelands”, focuses on cli-migration and autonomous ecologies, using methods of “decoding” and “recoding” through climate fiction (Cli-Fi).
About The B-Pro Open Seminar
The B-Pro Open Seminar of Prospectives invites a diverse range of thinkers and practitioners from across the world. The Open Seminar will support the development of articles for Issue 03 of the Prospectives Journal in Summer 2022.
All B–Pro students and staff are advised and encouraged to attend.
Our collective consciousness of climate change is an accomplishment of the vast apparatus of computational technologies for capturing, processing and visualising increasing amounts of data produced by earth observation technologies, satellite imaging, and remote sensing. These technologies establish novel ways of sensing and understanding our world, extending human visual cultures in scale, time and spectral capacities. The gathered data is synthesised in increasingly complex models and simulations that afford highly dynamic visualisations of climate events as they unfold and envision near future scenarios. The images resulting from this technical vision and cognition render the artificial abstraction comprehensible and are essential in developing the notion of climate change and attempts to mitigate its effects.
The artificial abstraction introduced through this planetary apparatus is reflected in the naming of the Anthropocene, as the contemporary geological epoch, prompted by humanity’s lasting impact on our planet. The naming has been criticised for its anthropocentrism, i.e. putting the human once again at the centre, and for depoliticising and de-territorialising climate change, casting the whole of humanity as equally responsible for environmental crises, disregarding substantial regional and societal differences. Several alternatives have been formulated in critique of the term: Capitalocene, highlighting the devastating role of capitalism in climate change, or Plantationocene, stressing the ongoing inequalities resulting from colonialism and slave labour. While acknowledging these terms, Donna Haraway proposes the term Chthulucene, introducing multispecies stories and practices, mythologies, and tentacular narratives to avoid anthropocentrism and reductionism, providing room for more than human agency.
The framing of climate crises within human-centred, depoliticised, technocratic discourse is also strongly critiqued from cultural practices in the arts, design and media. The top-down, analytical point of view afforded through scientific observation, visualisation and prediction is increasingly being complemented by documentary, eyewitness and on-the-ground reports of the impact of climate change. Images captured through the plethora of cell phone and other cameras, data logging, image sharing and social media produce a constantly updating stream of images and data on climate change. Digital media ecologies, the assemblages of hardware, software and content of digital media within our environment, play an important role in addressing climate change. Whether it is through the repurposing of the scientific apparatus and technologies for observation and visualisation or the ubiquitous use of personal devices and social media, computational images have become significant cultural media artefacts that can be used to develop more narrative and fictional imaginaries of environmental crises.
Landscapes are defined as both natural and human-made environments, as well as their depiction in media such as painting, photography and film. Even as environments, landscapes are a physical and multi-sensory medium in which cultural meanings and values are encoded. Landscapes operate through the visual; i.e. a landscape is what can be seen from a certain vantage point, and implies an active spectator. As a verb, landscaping indicates acting on the environment, through manipulating its material features, erasing or adding elements. Both as environment and as media, landscapes are inextricably entangled with capital and power, whether exploited through extracting resources, consumed as an experience through tourism and real estate, or mediated and commodified as an artefact. In Landscape and Power, Mitchell indicates a landscape as a medium; an area of land is only considered a landscape from the moment one perceives it to be as such, through attached meanings, as artificial-cultural, political and social constructs. The recent climate crises and the emergence of digital media ecologies require us to rethink this implicit human-centred notion of landscape and extend it to include non-human, animal and machine agencies. As such, landscapes are an interesting lens through which to look at the blurring between the natural and the cultural, human and non-human agency, and the mediated and bodily experiences of environments.
The dissertation project “Migrating Landscapes” by Tanya Mangion is framed within the ideas outlined above, it explores landscapes as both environment and media, inextricably entangled with capital and power. The project speculates on landscapes gaining agency through a decentralised autonomous organisation (DAO), that can interact on behalf of the landscape with human agencies – individuals, governments, legal entities, financial systems… Once established, the DAO operates on the blockchain and can operate without human interference as regulated through smart contracts. Governance of the DAO is regulated through tokens, which fractionalise stewardship, but cannot act against the interest of the landscape as encoded by the DAO.
This speculative scenario questions what role architecture could play when engaged by a DAO that represents the interests of exploited landscapes. How do architects design for this non-human agency? What strategies could architects develop to engage landscapes beyond the habitual ways of looking at them as resources to be excavated, sites to be developed? What novel languages, tools and protocols would architects need to develop in order to take up this role? Rather than attempting to find definite answers to these questions, they instead form the drivers for developing a speculative design project.
The architectural toolbox seems ill-equipped to deal with the large timeframes and scales that migrating landscapes operate on. In order to begin to address these questions we might extend the architectural toolbox with technologies such as earth observation, satellite imagery, data mining, sensor arrays… The role of the architect could be to repurpose the high-tech apparatus and data from scientific observations of climate change, and turn them into speculative design narratives and imaginaries on migrating landscapes. Using media ecology and algorithmic vision the project highlights issues and landscapes that deserve attention, and launches a call to architects who wish to engage with it. Data collection from available data sets including time-based, satellite, terrain and eyewitness data could be used to rebuild a cohesive image of exploited landscapes, using narrative media combined with conventional architectural processes. Injecting the image of the landscapes back into media ecology would generate a feedback loop that would go on to bring about changes in human behaviour in regard to the landscape both as media and environment, the latter occurring over a longer time frame.
The speculative design project explores this potential through different aspects: starting with the use of algorithmic vision to analyse landscapes, then giving an overview of the various phases of the development of a DAO, exploring a tokenisation shift from a fungible to a non-fungible valuation of landscapes, representation of landscapes in media ecology and demonstrating how architecture could be used to engage an audience.
Computational visual tools allow architects novel ways of understanding, mapping and visualising landscapes. The combination of multiple data sets provides a more densely mediated version of a landscape. Satellites can pick up the image of a landscape and, when combined with terrain data, mapping platforms provide a data-rich and layered representation of the landscape. While mapping services, like Google maps or GIS, are presented as neutral media, they are entangled with commercial, military and political interests, not only in the technologies used for capturing data but also in its visualisation – as is demonstrated by the absence of data for certain territories, differences in resolution, or the deliberate blurring of specific sites.
Satellite imagery is not limited to capturing bands of the spectrum visible to human eyes; by combining several bands they can provide insights into vegetation, elevation, refraction, moisture, temperature… The resulting multi-band images can be considered synthetic artificial artefacts as they are assembled by algorithms. They remain largely invisible to humans, and are reduced to mediating information and data flows, as they “do not represent an object, but rather are part of an operation”. Depending on the capturing sensor, information is sampled at discrete intervals, introducing resolution ranging from a hundred metres to fifteen centimetres. Depending on the number of satellites and their operation, the images have a certain refresh rate, giving us the ability to visit time progressions within the landscapes. These freeze-framed images of landscapes provide us with information or proof of interventions that occurred within the territory over time.
The landscapes in the project were the result of human-centric actions like resource extraction, as demonstrated at one of the largest gold mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition to satellite images, a virtual field trip of sorts allowed a journey through the data-sphere of the landscapes concerned. This led to extraction performed on different levels; data extraction from photo-sharing platforms was used to investigate the image of the landscapes within the limitations of its geolocation. Another data extraction was performed to explore the fungible asset within the landscape, resulting in a plethora of data, exploring the appropriation of the asset within our culture. Through a process of data scraping, deduction and fragmentation, a series of reconstructions of landscapes were produced during the project. These reconstructed landscapes link material flows from extraction to consumption – of, for instance, gold – and are published again through social media in an attempt to reveal the material sources of familiar consumer objects. Gold was a remarkable mineral to start off with due to its use as a federal resource, keeping economies stable by functioning as a hedge against inflation, as well as its significance in history and popular culture.
Figure 3 – Zoomable map of the Kibali gold mines, Democratic Republic of the Congo (press space to change layers).
When excavating landscapes for minerals, they are valued for their interchangeable or fungible material properties, for example the amount of gold they contain. Once extracted, each gram of gold is valued the same, regardless of where on the planet it has been mined. Whereas if one goes for a hike, for instance, or looks at landscape painting or photography, specific features of the landscapes, slopes or mountain peaks provide unique experiences; i.e., they are not interchangeable, they are non-fungible. In both these scenarios, the fungible exploitation of landscapes for resource extraction and the non-fungible experience of landscapes, mediated or otherwise, the landscape is passive and does not have agency.
The project proposes tokenisation of the non-fungible aspects of the landscape, controlled by a DAO, allowing collective stewardship of the landscape. This is to be achieved through appropriating tools from earth observation to build a mesh representation of the landscape. Each triangle of the mesh represents a unique, non-fungible fractional token of the landscape – in contrast to a voxel representation, which could be seen as representing the fungible exploitation of the landscape. This data allows an understanding, on a large scale, of fluxes within the landscape, and detects changes unseen to the human eye. Additionally, this data also offers the possibility to autonomise landscapes as DAO systems and thereby give them agency. The DAO operates transparently & independently of human intervention, including that of its creators. Based on a collection of smart contracts running on blockchain technology, it has the ability to garner capital, with automation at its centre and humans at the edges to manage, protect and promote its agency.
There is a role for architects here, to become engaged to map and visualise the DAO’s non-fungible entities. The architect has the tools to change the representation of landscapes, raising awareness of environmental evolution, generating behavioural changes and, over a longer timescale, impacting the environment itself. However, representation alone is not enough to communicate the sheer scale of these landscapes; the project proposes to map the exploited landscapes on the scale of urban environments, and build interventions in the form of pavilions to raise awareness of the landscapes. This serves to communicate the scale of material displacement of exploited landscapes such as mines within urban environments; commonly being the final destination for material flows, creating conversation and the possibility of engagement between the DAO and the human, with the latter generally being distanced from the reality of material displacement. This act brings the idea of tokenised landscapes to large audiences and allows for human engagement and participation within the DAO as shareholders.
The role of the architect engaged by the DAO is to map and visualise the landscape’s assets, fractionalising it using algorithmic visual tools, and using architectural representations that can be minted as non-fungible tokens. The presence of these tokens on social media and through interventions within physical public spaces in cities aims, in the short term, to raise awareness of the vast scale of these landscapes of exploitation, and to change behaviours and allow for engagement and participation within the DAO as token holders. In the long term, this will start to affect the physical conditions of these landscapes themselves, as they no longer rely on selling their fungible, non-renewable material assets. This could lead to rewilding and restoring of vegetation – and potentially to their being traded as carbon sinks.
Although token holders should be preserving the non-fungibility of the landscapes, returning to the argument that nature is ultimately defeated by its utility, the next step would be to remove the human from the system completely, merging the biosphere and technosphere. There is still a chance of a “51% attack”; meaning shareholders could agree to overturn an agreement within the smart contract. To prevent this, the system could opt for full autonomy, which it could achieve over a longer timescale. Garnering capital through non-fungible tokens – of its image – could also be a possibility, and would potentially affect and accelerate the timescale of the process.
Migrating Landscapes can be viewed as a concept that traces material flows through the use of algorithmic technologies not typically used within architecture, to explore how landscapes, non-human agents, can become autonomous. In the case of this dissertation project, the framework of a DAO was used to transform landscapes as media into non-fungible tokens, allowing the landscapes to stop being exploited and gain agency. What other technologies or tools could architects use to create compelling visual narratives, to engage with audiences and enable autonomy to non-human agents? Within the context of media ecology and algorithmic vision this was one response; considering the plethora of devices and data-gathering techniques that already exist and are still being created, the likelihood of autonomy for non-humans is ever more likely.
The project does not propose a techno-solutionist approach, where we can engineer ourselves out of wicked problems caused by climate change. Rather, it proposes to use these technologies for their compelling visual, imaginary and narrative qualities, to make migrating landscapes and their non-human agency more relatable. The DAO as a system ultimately acts as a driving force for landscapes to “migrate”, becoming new entities and modifying our relationships and attitudes towards them. The system is allowing for these otherwise unseen landscapes to both establish presence within our media ecologies and to become located within our consciousness in this contemporary age. The changes it would instil are yet to be discovered.
This paper reflects on the dissertation project “Migrating Landscapes” by Tanya Mangion that was developed in response to the studio brief “Algorithmic Vision: Architecture and Media Ecologies” of Fieldstation Studio at KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture. The project speculates on landscapes gaining agency through a decentralised autonomous organisation that can interact on behalf of the landscape with human agencies. Through reappropriating technologies for algorithmic vision, landscapes could turn their unique features into non-fungible tokens, allowing them to stop being exploited and gain agency.
Fieldstationstudio.org | https://www.instagram.com/migrating.landscapes/
 B. Bratton, The Terraforming (Moscow: Strelka, 2019), 19.
 P. Crutzen and E. Stoermer, “The ‘Anthropocene’”, Global Change Newsletter, International Geosphere-Biosphere Program Newsletter, no. 41 (May 2000), 17–18; Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind”, Nature 415 (2002), 23; J. Zalasiewicz et al., “Are We Now Living in the Anthropocene?” GSA (Geophysical Society of America) Today vol. 18, no. 2 (2008), 4–8.
 The origin of this term is not entirely clear, but is discussed at length here: https://www.e-flux.com/journal/75/67125/tentacular-thinking-anthropocene-capitalocene-chthulucene.
 J. Davis, A. Moulton, L. Van Sant, B. Williams, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, … Plantationocene?: A Manifesto for Ecological Justice in an Age of Global Crises” Geography Compass, Volume 13, Issue 5, 2019).
 D. Haraway, “Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene”, Eflux Journal, Issue 75, September 2016.
 T. J. Demos, Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today (MIT Press, 2017).
 S. Taffel, Digital Media Ecologies: Entanglements of Content, Code and Hardware (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019).
 W. T J. Mitchell, Landscapes and Power (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 15.
 L. Young, Machine Landscapes: Architectures of the Post Anthropocene (London: Wiley).
 The notion and implementation of a DAO was published by Christoph Jentzsch in the DAO white paper in 2016, see https://blog.slock.it/the-history-of-the-dao-and-lessons-learned-d06740f8cfa5.
 These dimensions were discussed during the Vertical Atlas – world.orbit at the Nieuw Instituut Rotterdam in 2020, see https://verticalatlas.hetnieuweinstituut.nl/en/activities/vertical-atlas-worldorbit.
 “Resolution Frontier” by Besler and Sons, 2018 see https://www.beslerandsons.com/projects/resolution-frontier.
 E. Thomas, H. Farocki, Working on the Sightlines (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2004).
 A toolkit for satellite imagery has been compiled by Andrei Bocin Dumitriu, for the Vertical Atlas – world.orbit project, see https://brainmill.wixsite.com/worldorbit.
 K. Davies, L. Young, Never Never Lands: Unknown Fields (London: AA publishing, 2016).
 In Extraction Models and along with Weronika Gajda the exploration of gold as a resource was explored further within the context of New York City’s federal reserve, see https://www.instagram.com/extraction.models.
 This idea was developed by terra0 in: P. Seidler, P. Kolling, M. Hampshire, “Can an augmented forest own and utilise itself?”, white paper, Berlin University of the Arts, Germany, May 2016, https://terra0.org.
The Production of Normativity
I am sitting at the table, facing my computer, writing the first draft of the paper you are now reading. This paper is published in the Bartlett’s Prospectives Journal at University College London (UCL). UCL sets the disciplinary boundary within which this paper is enclosed. My body, my fingers to be specific, follow a certain trajectory on the keyboard, writing in between the lines that the University has produced. The University, in return, examines and performs edits on the paper that I am writing.
As in the case above, the integration of my body into a disciplinary institution produces marks on the former, accompanied by certain aesthetic qualities. From the posture my body has taken to write this paper, to the format of this paper, my body is mechanically reproducing words; the journal is an encoded mechanical reproduction of an assembly of papers. The integration of machines as tools for exerting power on bodies, and the Body, which power itself manufactures, emerged in the first industrial revolution (Figure 1). Such integration has grown in intensity as industry and the system it produces become ever larger and more sophisticated. More bodies need to be compressed into the Body so that they can easily be placed under surveillance and control. Emerging from Foucauldian excavation, the shift from disciplinary power to biopower marks the first major expansion of power’s mechanism.
Before landing in the UK to start my studies at UCL, I first had to take a tuberculosis medical exam to obtain a student visa. Then, upon landing in the UK, I was required to register with a general practitioner to access health care. The registration form requested categorical information such as gender, ethnicity, and exercise status. The form sought this information in order for my body to be “legible”, in the eyes of the system, to become part of the Species-Body invented by biopower itself: the population.
“According to Foucault, the disciplinary mechanisms of the body and the regulatory mechanisms of the population constitute the modern incarnation of power relations, labeled as biopower.” Categorising bodies based on biopower’s concept of “the population” produces a normative effect on these very bodies. Under disciplinary power, institutions are concerned with micro behaviours of the bodies held within their boundaries. Under biopower, bodies are no longer unregulated beyond disciplinary institutions’ doors. Medical experts manage how individuals live their lives, and compare them to the overall wellness of the population. The population’s fate hinges on birth and death rates; procreation depends on the nuclear family (Figure 2). The nuclear family becomes the model image that bodies are moulded upon and into.
Despite disciplinary power and biopower’s different aesthetic consequences, as the factory man (Figure 1) and the nuclear family man (Figure 2) suggest, they are not mutually exclusive but reinforcing means of control. Biopower, a cogent consequence of disciplinary power, is born in a colonial context to protect claims of inheritance and racial superiority of the bourgeoisie families. Its logic is then instrumentalised to ensure the continued insertion of eligible bodies into the machine. For example, the 1890 census taker of the United States, Herman Hollerith, invented the mechanical manipulation of data and consequently founded the predecessor of IBM in 1911. Disciplinary power and biopower both serve as mechanisms for the increasing integration of the Body and machine.
This paper departs from an analysis of the forces that my body is subjected to. These forces are a product and reflection of the system which we – all bodies – coinhabit. Bodies are actively conditioned into the Body. The conditioning process has evolved over time, in episodes, each episode having its own aesthetic consequences. The self-analytical process of writing this paper follows Descartes’ method in Meditations, which famously creates a psychic doubling of “I” as an object of analysis to extend to the universal foundation of knowledge. This paper, importantly, makes no universal claims. Instead, it uses the experience of “I” – and its extension – to narrate machine’s absorption of bodies, in order to illustrate how diverse bodies are situated within a hegemonic system and to celebrate these diverse bodies’ resistances towards being moulded into the Species-Body.
Developed as a means of constructing and portraying knowledge through design praxis, the wearable device “Contiguity”, designed in unison with this paper, follows a comparable introspective process by bonding the wearer to a host of queer bodies populating the queer dating network, Grindr. In the eyes of systems of power, queer bodies are “weird” because of their oblique positioning in relation to the Species-Body. Queer bodies’ refusal to be – and become – straight marks a first episode of resistance.
The Rise of Antinormativity
Of Resistance: The Deviated Queer Bodies
My desire for men is my subjectivity’s departure point of deviation. When I was fifteen, my own awareness of my queer sexuality led me to study abroad – a response to China’s heavily disciplinarian post-secondary education. Five years later, on a trip back to visit my family, the receptionist at the public notary office (a government agency in China) looked at my date of birth, then straight into my eyes, and said: “You are getting married too late.” My queer body failed – and fails – to reproduce the straight lines set out by and for the nuclear family. When I had the opportunity to leave, I did.
The German origin of the word “queer” is “quer”, meaning “oblique” or “perverse”. Quer specifies the spatial and temporal relationships of queer bodies to the world. In this sense, queerness is always relational – the presence of a normative background makes queer bodies appear oblique (Figure 3). In turn, queerness resists normative effects in its ephemeral nature and rhizomatic organisation. It enchants bodies based on local relationships without superimposed logic or structure, therefore resisting both disciplinary power and biopower’s monopolistic claim on the future:
“The future is only the stuff for some kids. Racialized kids, queer kids, are not the sovereign princes of futurity… This monolithic figure of the child that is indeed always already white… It is important not to hand over futurity to normative white reproductive futurity.”
Queerness means a continued investment into alternatives to a white and heteronormative future. It opens different definitions of what kind of life is worth living. Bodies gather based on desires instead of class. This mode of relating allows queerness to form a counterforce to the Species-Body fabricated by biopower. In the world of art, queerness conceptually establishes the counterforce that disrupts the Western canon of beauty in the form of the weird, making room for a multiplicity of beings through aesthetic means.
From April 1950 to February 1951, Jean Dubuffet initiated a relentless attack on a traditional Western genre of beauty – the female nude. The genre of the Western female nude is composed of clear-cut contours and a pink tone that mimics northern European skin. From The Birth of Venus (Figure 4) to Olympia (Figure 5), the subject of representation shifted from a goddess to a prostitute. Yet, the continuity of monolithic beauty has remained intact. Images of beauty emit a normative effect on beauty standards set for the population. As the West attempted to move past the horrors of WWII, the genre of the female nude collapsed, its representation of the Body becoming less relevant. During this period, Dubuffet produced a collection of thirty oil paintings and seventy drawings called “Ladies’ Bodies”. These bodies form a collective, a collective-like queerness, that challenges the Species-Body aesthetically.
As part of this collection, The Tree of Fluids (Figure 6) presents a flattened female nude lying bare in front of its viewer. Different from its predecessors, this female nude is not represented as gentle but as monstrous. The pink that mimics a northern European skin tone can still be found, but shades of orange, red, even hints of purple, activate a violent deconstruction of ideal skin. In addition, the texture of sand mixed with paint creates a sense of flow that recalls erupting bodily fluids; the normative female nude run over by a car, leaving the figure flat on the ground, fluids splashing out from its reproductive – and sexualised – parts, spilling all over its body.
In relation to the Western canon of beauty, Dubuffet’s representation of female bodies is weird because of its radical opposition to what can be accounted as normatively beautiful. It challenges the normative notion of beauty similar to queerness’s challenge to heteronormativity’s monopoly of the future. Given queerness’s promises to open futures, capital has unsurprisingly attempted to valorise – and indeed capitalise on – queerness itself by inventing new means of control; one of its means is the queer dating network Grindr. Here, Grindr as a site marks a mutational response from power, attempting to force and secure a productive insertion of queer bodies into the machine, undermining their inherent resistance.
Antinormative is Profitable: My Abstracted Body
Of Control: We the Corporations
Grindr profiles demonstrate the depth to which “societies of control” have penetrated social relations. Deleuze first coined the term “societies of control” in 1992 to describe the shift away from a disciplinary society – a shift enabled by informational technology. An example of informational technology, Grindr pioneered the integration of geolocation into dating apps. Upon opening Grindr, profiles are presented in a grid layout, each profile occupying the same amount of virtual real estate on screen. This equalising effect is further reflected in profiles’ statistics that divide bodies into body types and categories. Body types, for example, are listed as: no response, average, large, muscular, slim, stocky, and toned (Figure 8). These body types are then divided further into categories called tribes (Figure 9). Each tribe reflects a male archetype, which can be used as a search term on porn search engines. These categories serve as entry points for bodies to access standardised desires:
“… the beefcake ﬂexing as if a cover model for Men’s Fitness; the bear doing his best Paul Bunyan impersonation; the twink posing like a supermodel; the tough guise appropriating hip hop gestures and styles; the jock/bro making certain to display his allegiance to whatever sports team; the boy-next-door, often admittedly an ‘average guy,’ devoid of any specifically gay cultural signifiers, fueling heteroerotic fantasies – all obviously borrowed, banal, willful reversions to types …”
This conscious construction of digital selves based on existing stereotypes erases the historical struggles of minorities and flattens them into purely aesthetic products. Racial bias and misogyny are deeply rooted in and, in turn, emerge from the development of these stereotypes. The problematic, ocular-centric construction of desires based on visual appearances and socio-cultural connotations relies heavily on the advertising industry. It defines our relationship with products and specifies our role as consumers. Through the lenses of these types, one can only measure the success or failure of their bodies by how they compare to ideal imagery – the Body reproduces sameness through serial repetition as if they were Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans (Figure 10). In essence, virtual cruising and shopping now have ever more similarities. Hoping to stand out from an endless grid of men (it is only “Unlimited” if you pay $19.99 a month), one must promote one’s body as “the body” of each category – what is my brand? For a connection to be made, continuous window shopping and constant comparison is required, mirroring behaviour in a shopping mall – what bodies are available; how does one calculate pleasure based on other listed statistics?
An obsession with personal brands and statistical comparisons brings the Body’s mode of being ever closer to corporations. The thinking “I” has increasing similarities with the calculating AI. Adopted in the late nineteenth century, the Fourteenth Amendment gives people in the United States fundamental human rights. However, it also gives corporations the status of being (a) human. Under the neoliberal regime, the Constitution has realised its full consequences. Can we still tell the difference between corporations and ourselves? As we the corporation, are we willing to trade our imperfect profile pictures with a singular image that perfectly conforms to an ideal type?
Pertinently, the artist Lucy McRae explores the aesthetic potential of radical conformity, for example in her work Biometric Mirror. Beauty brands are deploying increasingly algorithmic services to offer customers personal advice. McRae’s mirror provides viewers with analyses of their characters solely based on their faces. In return, the algorithm calculates a mathematically perfect version of a present face and returns it to its viewer. McRae pushes the concept of beauty advice services to its extreme to explore the aesthetic consequences of a body conforming to algorithmic perfection (Figure 11). The ideal representation is embedded in – and constructed from – a biased dataset that (re)affirms traditional beauty standards. These biases are presented as objective claims of truth by the virtue of their allegiance with “science”. However, compared to the imperfections of human bodies, the personalised ideal representation slips easily into the uncanny valley. Weirdness resides in the gap between bodies in their flesh and their unattainable virtual representation. For the expediency of pleasure, we turn away from the weird and become fungible modules, ready to be exchanged in the neoliberal marketplace of human capital. In this impasse of the present, what and where is the next frontier of resistance to corporations’ valorisation of queerness’ open futures?
Under and Out of Control
From the invention of the disciplinary society to the formation of biopower, then to the creation of societies of control, each shift and mutation of power is enabled by – and creates – new means of measuring the Body. The panopticon established the absence or presence of bodies through spatial typology and abstract hierarchy. Statisticians compile aggregate population data to theorise on general trends of wellness, in order to ensure stability of power. Today, with the aid of ubiquitous computing and artificial intelligence, the resolution of the Body and the potential for data extraction is brought to unprecedented levels, placing it under even more comprehensive control.
Wearables are a form of threshold, where the forces of power that seek to exercise control over bodies meet weird flesh. On the surface of the skin, wearables attempt to materialise the intentions of their creators. Nevertheless, where the Body may not, diverse bodies possess the disposition to resist these forces. Tailoring wearables to distinctive bodies requires the creation of detailed and unique mappings.
A Creaform HandyScan 700 Scanner is deployed to obtain the map for Contiguity’s intervention. The scanner relies on scanning targets placed randomly on a body (Figure 12). The random pattern generates reference points for the scanner to register and construct local relationships. After the targets are placed, each scanning session takes around 20 minutes. During a scanning session, the body has to stay still, otherwise its movements would register new, or duplicate, parts due to changes in the local relationships of the scanning targets (Figures 13–16).
The process of mapping diverse bodies into one virtual body is an objective method invented by power structures to exercise control; however, the duration of the scanning session made space for my subjected, yet subjective, will to resist its mapping. While lasers brushed against the surface of my skin, with my arms opened, eyes closed, I tried to keep my mind and my body as still as possible. As the scanning progressed, my arms became heavier and slowly dropped in the presence of gravity. My virtual body looked increasingly unfamiliar in the eyes of the scanner. Eventually, unfamiliarity turned into monstrosity – the body growing more and more limbs, the surface of the chest starting to peel off the neck to accommodate changes in breathing (Figures 13–15). This monstrous body lacks legibility for power to operate upon. Parts must be restitched together in post-production to return the virtual body to a state of familiarity. During the editing process, my personal, subjective assumptions about my own body manifested in its representation (Figure 16). The gap between the physical and the virtual was my body’s unconscious attempt to escape the order imposed from above, despite my voluntary submission to the scanner. My body was constantly adjusting to its surrounding forces and internal processes, leveraging its flexibility and adaptability to disrupt the power’s process of mapping.
Developed in conjunction with this paper, Contiguity is a wearable device that absorbs the closest 500 Grindr profiles and transforms them into haptic feedback (Figure 17). Each air chamber of Contiguity corresponds to one of the body type categories. As users around the wearer go online and offline, Contiguity creates weird and unpredictable haptic sensations for the wearer. In contrast to Contiguity’s haptic mapping of surrounding profiles, Grindr’s grid layout and categorisations compress users’ bodies into virtual avatars of the Species-Body. The compression makes bodies legible in the eyes of the machine. Contiguity aims to disrupt the logic of compression with the weird flesh. The flesh is weird in form, made out of silicone skin with inflatable thermoplastic polyurethane backings, and in its communication with surrounding users’ bodies.
Contiguity is weird in its form because it is designed to transgress erogenous zones of the Body (Figure 18). The neck spills into the chest, and the chest spills into the upper abdomen (Figure 19). The transgressed boundaries make Contiguity’s touch oblique to biopower’s mapping of the Body, therefore challenging its monopolistic claim on pleasure. Who decides how we should be touched and what is seen as pleasurable? Contiguity’s conscious failure to approximate flesh amplifies its queering of the Body. Silicone is a popular material for the production of life-like masks, but the application of melted paint, food colouring and sand between silicone layers disrupt the visual field, creating monstrous bodies, much like in the aforementioned Dubuffet painting. Consequently, Contiguity recasts the representations of bodies and their definitions of intimacy, replacing a self-preserving definition with a world-building one.
The gap between the flesh and its (virtual) representation is another instigator of weirdness. Compressed bits and bytes of data drawn from surrounding queer bodies are translated into haptic feedback, a sensation of “heartbeats” cast onto the surface of a wearer’s skin. The neoliberal Grindr “meat market” is no longer experienced through discrete encounters, each Body an abstracted, idealised visual product, but is collectively subsumed into pulsing heartbeats Contiguity impress onto the skin. The collective allows us to reexamine our individualistic experiences of consumer desires. In the same way that biopower fabricates the Species-Body to exercise control, Contiguity assembles this new collective to create a sense of togetherness – being together without erasing differences. This togetherness has the power to form new political bodies, to become a counterforce that confronts the violence and crisis brought about by the normative Body.
Of Bodies and Togetherness
The legibility of the Body is the normative force, the weird flesh is the departure point of antinormativity. The open futures of antinormativity reside in the gaps between the Body as an ideal representation and diverse bodies in their flesh. Disciplinary power launched the ambitious project of integrating bodies into the machine for the former’s obedience and the latter’s efficiency. The factory man was the perfect man. Following the invention of biopower, the heteronormative couple projected the ideal imagery of the Body. The perfect couple bears the social labour of carrying and raising children, extending the patriarchal lineage, and ensuring the conservation of class and order. To justify imposing control on desires, biopower invented the Species-Body of the population with the aid of statistics to maximise the productivity of bodies. Queerness challenges the Body that biopower has produced in the gaps between imposed desire and the desires of the flesh. Resistance stems from the flesh and spreads across social fields, opening up alternative futures that power structures have yet to come to regulate. In response, biopower mutates with the aid of information technology into societies of control. New categories of representations are invented so that queer bodies can be more productive to the economy. Here, Grindr valorises queerness through the use of body types. These types serve as ideal imagery that queer bodies are measured against – the more conformed one is to the Body and its representation, the more productive you are to the economy. New measuring instruments will always be invented to penetrate the bodies deeper, to open new markets of consumption.
As Deleuze advises us, “there is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons”. Contiguity demonstrates that a platform that seeks to partition and exercise control can be appropriated, subverted to build connections that escape the latest means of control. With the current global energy crisis, the all-encompassing system is showing its shortcomings in dealing with the even larger climate crisis. The current system is built to maximise (personal) interests, and can be exercised by an entity as small as a body aiming to fulfil its pleasure – as in the case of Grindr – or as large as a nation state aiming to profit from natural resources. Local disruptions can have undesirable global impacts since technology is deployed with a purpose of exclusion rather than inclusion. Forging a sense of togetherness is the first step to shifting our current technological and aesthetic development towards pluralistic and resilient futures.
 VW. Cisney, N. Morar, “Introduction: Why Biopower? Why now?” Biopower: Foucault and Beyond (The University of Chicago Press, 2016), 3.
 VW. Cisney, N. Morar, “Introduction: Why Biopower? Why now?” Biopower: Foucault and Beyond (The University of Chicago Press, 2016), 5.
 M. Foucault, The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge (Penguin Books, 1998).
 I. Hacking, “Biopower and the Avalanche of Printed Numbers.”, VW. Cisney, N. Morar, ed., Biopower: Foucault and Beyond (The University of Chicago Press, 2016), 76.
 L. Bersani, “Ardent Masturbation.”, Thoughts and Things (The University of Chicago Press, 2015).
 Google’s English Dictionary [Internet], Oxford: Oxford Languages. https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/ (Accessed 02 Aug. 2021).
 S. Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology (Duke University Press, 2006), 161.
 JE. Munoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. (New York University Press, 2009), 65–82.
 Ibid, 95.
 S. Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology (Duke University Press, 2006), 46.
 J. Nairne, Jean Dubuffet – Brutal Beauty (Barbican Art Gallery, 2021).
 G. Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control”. October, Vol.59 (1992) http://www.jstor.org/stable/778828 (Accessed 02 Aug. 2021) 3–4.
 T. Roach, Screen Love: Queer Intimacies in the Grindr Era (State University of New York Press, 2021), 88.
 Ibid, 18.
 L. McRae, Biometric Mirror (2019) https://www.lucymcrae.net/biometric-mirror- (Accessed 02 Aug. 2021).
 M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Penguin Classics, 2020).
 I. Hacking, “Biopower and the Avalanche of Printed Numbers.”, VW. Cisney, N. Morar, ed., Biopower: Foucault and Beyond (The University of Chicago Press, 2016), 73.
 G. Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control”. October, Vol.59 (1992) http://www.jstor.org/stable/778828 (Accessed 02 Aug. 2021), 4.
Interspecies Encounters and Performative Assemblages of Contamination
Our inner mental ecology has been known to be fundamental for the meaningful and complete success of the notion of ecology. Further demonstrated by the neurosciences, we have now assimilated the notion that we first empathise emotionally and physiologically with what surrounds us in a precognitive phase and only at a later time do we understand consciously the source of our aesthetic experience and, cognitively, its reason and meaning.
In order to investigate the concept of digital and material contaminations as a new way to conceptualise democratic design processes as modes of appropriation and negotiation of space, we have chosen to venture into the epistemological ecotone between aesthetics and cognition, examined through the concept of affect. It is within affects, in fact, that creativity emerges through perception and a cognitive approach to change and social action, “bridging aesthetics and political domain” through a series of encounters between different ecologies and their becoming.
What the affect theory speculates is that our “life potential comes from the way we can connect with others”, from our connectedness and its intensity, to the point that the ability itself to connect with others could be out of our direct control. It is a question of affective attunement, an emergent experience that becomes proto-political, and as any experience that works through instantaneous assessments of affect it becomes also strongly connected with notions of aesthetics and cognition. The paper examines how both aesthetics and cognition could be the instantiators of a change of paradigm within affectual and post-humanist approaches to the design of our cities and territories.
THE DIMENSIONS OF POST-HUMANIST AESTHETICS
Aesthetics can be defined according to its field of reference in slightly different ways: in neuroscience, aesthetics is the neural manifestation of a process articulated into sensations, meaning and emotions; in evolutionary biology, aesthetics is an adaptive system to environmental stimuli; in an ecological discourse, aesthetics is capacity to respond to the patterns which connect; in philosophy and specifically in the context of Object-Oriented Ontology, aesthetics is the root of all philosophy. Above all, regardless of the framework of reference, aesthetics fundamentally represents a form of knowledge, and as such, it is a very powerful and uncanny conceptual device.
The choice to connect the topic of ecology with aesthetics is not only related to the idea that aesthetics is primarily a form of knowledge and because “any ecologic discourse must be aesthetic as well as ethical in order to be meaningful”, but also because aesthetics has the power to attract affects and to convey difficult or ambiguous concepts, like those feelings of ambivalence that often come along with the ecological debate. As Morton states, the aesthetic experience “provides a model for the kind of coexistence ecological ethics and politics wants to achieve between humans and nonhumans […] as if you could somehow feel that un-feelability, in the aesthetic experience”. As a form of semiotic and experiential information exchange, the aesthetic experience is our primary source of genuine human understanding.
Neuroscientist Damasio demonstrates through a compelling series of scientific studies how emotions are essential to rational thinking and social behaviour. In addition, the embodied simulation theory teaches us that in a precognitive phase we first empathise emotionally and physiologically with what surrounds us and only at a later stage understand consciously the source of our aesthetic experience and, cognitively, its reason and meaning.
“Our capacity to understand the others and what the others materially accomplish does not depend exclusively on theoretical-linguistic competences, but it strongly depends on our socio-relational nature, of which corporeity constitutes the deepest and not further reducible structure. … In this sense, the aesthetic experience is a process on multiple levels which exceeds a purely visual analysis and leans on the visceral-motor and somatomotor resonation of whoever experiences it.”
In other words, the theory speculates that the same neural structures involved in our bodily experiences, our sensing, contribute to the conceptualisation of what we observe in the world around us.
Aesthetics, however, is no competence nor ability nor property exclusive to human nature, it only depends on the different sensing apparatus of each agency – or on what the proto-ecologist von Uexküll defined as the Umwelt, a specific model of the world corresponding to a given creature’s sensorium. Being aware of this aesthetic “perceptual reciprocity”, of this condition of mutual affects towards the environment, opens up new perspectives of solidarities where multiple agencies, each one living through multiple temporalities and with their own “way of worlding”, participate in the remaking of the planet through their patterns of growth and reproduction, their polyarchic assemblages, their territories of action and their landscapes of affects. In fact, we need to acknowledge that the environment is constituted by an ecology of different forms of intelligence where humans are just one form of biochemical intensity.
This expanded notion of agency is further enriched by Bennett’s vital materialism, which by ascribing to non-living systems their own trajectories and potentials, defines a multidimensional gradient that includes not only human and biological intelligences, but the natural and the artificial, raw matter and machinic intelligence, revealing opportunities of intersection, contamination, and collaboration. Her thought is about the need to recognise the vital agency of matter “as the alien quality of our own flesh”, and a part of that “Parliament of Things” or “Vascularised Collective” mentioned by Latour in his Actor Network Theory.
This radical understanding of agency as a confederation of human and nonhuman elements, biological and artificial entities, leads to some critical questions regarding equality, accountability and moral responsibility. As a form of rhizomatic Animism, it aims to reclaim and honour the mesh of connections and “assemblages that generate metamorphic transformation in the capacity to affect and be affected – and also to feel, think, and imagine”. And it is this capacity to affect and be affected that once again emerges as the effectual and necessary catalyst for creation and change, as affects are implicated in all modes of experience as a dimension of becoming. They are located in a non-conscious “zone of indistinction” between action and thought, and they fully participate in cognitive processes.
This is a pervasive process that affects all scales of being singular and choral, from the mesoscale of large planetary processes down to the nano-mechanisms of molecular self-organisation, entailing a new worldly disposition towards the nature of being collective. And it’s precisely because of the trans-scalar and concurrent effects that this extended notion of agency produces while processing new interpretations and understandings of the world that, when considering its impact on ideas of the negotiation and democratisation of space, we should interrogate not only the larger mechanisms of collective sense and decision making, but the very processes of cognition, communication, and information exchange at its basis.
PERFORMING THE MANY VOICES
In recent publications, Hayles describes the idea of a cognitive non-conscious as the possibility for complex systems to perform functions that “if performed by conscious entities would be unquestionably called cognitive”. Drawing from artificial and biological examples, she further explores a series of complex, adaptive and intention-driven organisations that, performing within the domain of evolutionary dynamics, exhibit cognitive capacities operating at a level that is inaccessible to introspection. Within this context, when considering the relation between human cognition and the cognitive non-conscious, she explains, the human interpretation might enter algorithmic analysis at different stages, in a sort of dialogue that de-facto structures the potential outcomes of a hybrid cognitive process, where part of the interpretation might be outsourced to the cognitive non-conscious, in a process that intimately links the meaning of the information produced to the specific mechanisms and the context of the interpretation, opening multiple new opportunities for the interpretation of ambiguous information.
Indeed, the argument about the potential and the perils of automation for decision-making is as relevant as it is controversial today. Parisi is significantly more critical regarding the current practices of human-machine collaboration, warning of the dangers of granular machine-generated content amplifying existing bias, or worse, being redirected for a purpose not pre-known. “Even if algorithms perform non-conscious intelligence, it does not mean that they act mindlessly”, she argues. Building on Hayles’ argument, she further elaborates that while it is not possible to argue that cognition performed by non-conscious entities is coherent and able to link the past and the present in causal connection, it is possible for non-conscious cognition to expose “temporal lapses that are not immediately accessible to conscious human cognition”. This is a process that sees algorithms not just adapting passively to the data provided but establishing new patterns of meaning to form coevolutionary cognitive infrastructures that, based on the idea of indeterminacy as a model for automated and hybrid cognition, avoid the primary level of feedback based on prescriptive outcomes and incorporate parallelism of learning and processing.
These arguments acquire a particular relevance if further considered in combination with the theory of information expressed by Simondon, which, formulated as an antagonist argument to Shannon’s cybernetic theory of communication, argues that information is never found, but is always expressed through a process of individuation of the system, as the result of the tensions between the realities that compose the system itself, as the very notion that clarifies the modes through which these realities might become a system in the first instance. This is a process that, by drawing on Simondon’s notion of individuation as the process of social becoming that leads to the formation of the collective subject – the transindividual – becomes inherently metastatic as it emerges from the tension between the sensorial abilities of the system and its tropism.
As such, Simondon’s notion of transindividuality constitutes the basis for a radical reimagination of the process of becoming collective and building collective knowledge, and through its intersection with the speculative opportunities inherent in ideas of tropistic material computation, it also offers the potential for an emergent rearticulation of collective sense and decision making, ultimately offering a protocol towards the exploration of the material, technological and aesthetic dimensions of new post-human and pervasive forms of authorship.
Attempting to account for the multidimensional consequences of altering the creative processes as a result of the construction of collective authorship as an inherently transindividual practice, the points made above imply a series of strategies oriented toward the definition of emergent meaning potentially able to capture the weaker voices and signals. This includes a focus on the diverse sensual and affectual experience of the participants, the orientation towards procedural indeterminacy and the exploration of material intelligence.
Furthermore, if we consider them in their intersection with our initial idea of the environment as constituted by an ecology of different forms of intelligence – where the creation of aesthetic assemblages of collaborative agencies is intended as the entangled construction of space, time and value through the symbiosis of different forms of intelligence defined by open-endedness and inclusiveness – these ideas describe a new urban paradigm, where the notion and aesthetic language of single human authorship with intellectual ownership is substituted by the concept of a collective of humans and non-human ecologies that might recover the aesthetics’ real, fundamental meaning, as an ecological category.
It is with the acceptance of these mixtures of interchanges and crossings of energies, that we can finally observe the old notion of quality, as an essential and pure identity related to cathartic categories, giving way to a more diffused and impure version of itself; a definition of quality not so much related to pureness, homogeneity, uniformity and refinement, but rather to a more complex meaning of sophistication by collaboration, contamination and exploitation of multiple resonances and superimpositions.
As Lowenhaupt Tsing advocates, learning to look at multi-species worlds could lead to different types of production-based economies: “Purity is not an option if we want to pursue a meaningful, informed ecological discourse. We must acknowledge that contaminations are a form of liveable or bearable collaborations. ‘Survival’ requires liveable collaborations. Collaboration means working across differences which leads to contamination.”
These domains and agencies searched for across other species, other ecological intensities and other modes of cognition, and reconfigured through computational technology, respond to a different kind of beauty, a filthy one, a revolutionary one, and an ecologic one. One that, as Morton preaches, “must be fringed with some kind of slight disgust … A world of seduction and repulsion rather than authority”.
According to Guattari, such ecosophic aesthetic paradigms, these collective assemblages or abstract machines, working transversally on different levels of existence and collaboration, would organise a reinvention of social and ecological practices, offering opportunities for dialogues among different forms of ecological intensities. They would also instantiate processes that would give back to humanity a sense of responsibility, not just towards the planet and its living beings, but also towards that immaterial component which constitutes consciousness and knowledge. Such a change of perspective in terms of critical agency would inevitably bring along a change in what Jacque Rancière calls the distribution of the sensible – where sensible is understood as “perceptible or appreciable by the senses or by the mind”, in a definition that describes new forms of inclusion and exclusion of the human and non-human collectivity in the process of appropriation of reality. And since access to a different distribution of the sensible is “the political instrument par excellence against monopoly”, we should treasure it for its capacity to allow us, borrowing Thomas Saraceno’s words, “to tune in to the non-human voices that join ours in boundless connectivity canvases, … proposing the rhizomatic web of life, which highlights hybridisms between one species and another and between species and worlds”. This is a process that describes new trajectories for new forms of institutions where we shall consider not just individual democracy, but a democracy extended to other species, talking to us through the language of the machines.
TOWARDS CO-CREATIVE AFFECTUAL PRACTICES
Along these trajectories, when approaching world and space-making strategies, design processes are translated into an “entangled” construction of space, time, value, and resources, which are critically defined by the very processes of their formation. In such a perspective, artificial intelligence has the potential to become the enabler, the instantiator of a new wider democratic process potentially able to disrupt existing power structures, giving a voice to what currently has none: all the non-conscious agencies separate from humankind or its direct will.
This is a new form of authorship which translates the question to the final user, so that the inquiry is not so much what the user wants from the environment but what can the user do for the environment, an idea that reverts the role of the final user from consumer to service provider. Such a form of authorship takes place in a symbiosis of computational and non-computational forms of thinking, as a hybrid of the diverse modes of cognition, resulting in a new type of synthetic ecology: the one that the designer enables.
In such a context, digital design platforms work as co-evolutionary cognitive infrastructures dealing with an amalgamation of different types of resource thinking: the thinking coming from the machines, the thinking coming from human participants, and the one converging from other ecological intensities. This is a type of transindividual subjectivity, that, formed as an ecology of diverse forms of cognition, is choral, decentralised, and inclusive, and has the capacity of being able to transmit tacit or informed knowledge exposing new models of democratic collective decision- and sense-making. In this process, all the participating forms of cognition have the potential to learn from each other and to compose unexpected dialogues and collective knowledge – what we call “interfaces [i/f], physical/virtual devices, a platform, enabling communications among entities of different kinds each one with its own protocol of communication, knowledge, and values”. This is an approach to collective creation that, drawing on alternative ideas of communication and power between the participating agencies, maps the emergence and evolution of patterns of informed feedback, outlining the connections with ideas of learning and performative collaboration between human, synthetic and biological agencies. In the exploration of these new forms of authorship, designers face the challenge of orchestrating a process able to build fruitful associations between machine computation, genuine human understanding, and non-conscious cognitive agencies – a challenge that should be taken as an opportunity to construct open processes of self-reflection and learning.
The resulting Transindividualities, which are digital participatory scholarships to ecological and post-humanist theory, create the potential for the affirmation of novel mediated narratives, which, by challenging the responsibility of authorship, bring along a new definition of the Human and the need to reframe the question of the design of our cities and territories towards a Pervasive Affectual Urbanism, which points toward the urge of new ethos and new aesthetics.
The challenge will be perhaps best approached by objecting to the idea that the designer is exclusively and ultimately responsible for the design process, and by sustaining the hypothesis that the symbiosis between all the different types of ecologies inhabiting the space could welcome all sorts of different agents through a creative process that embraces indeterminacy. It will be about the belief that open-endedness, contamination, interaction, machine learning and genuine human understanding are not so much about consensus, but about layering and celebrating differences to best use all of them as resources toward the participatory project of space-making. It will be about praising quality as sophistication, by acceptance, negotiation, exploitation and rhizomatic contaminations of multiple resonances and superimpositions, where the value of the project will lie in the exchange of information which is not merely exchanged, but used to create again.
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At present, we find ourselves in a critical instance: the current rate of food production is impossible to maintain in the face of the climate threat and new forms of social organisation have not yet been implemented to solve the problem. This project constitutes a possible response to the conditions we will inevitably soon be facing if we do not develop sustainable ways of life that promote coexistence between species.
The construction of a new paradigm requires the elimination of current divisions between the concepts of “natural” and “artificial”, and consequently the differentiation of the human from the rest of the planet’s inhabitants. This post-anthropocentric vision will build a new substratum to occupy which will promote the generation of an autarchic ecology based on the coexistence between living and non-living entities.
The thesis extends through three scales. The morphology adopted in each scale is determined by three parameters simultaneously. First, climate control through water performance; second, the material search for spaces that allow coexistence; and lastly, the historical symbolism to which the basilica typology refers.
On a territorial scale, the project consists of the generation of an artificial floodable territory occupied by vermiform palaces which are organised in an a-hierarchical manner as a closed system and take the form of an archipelago.
On the palatial scale, water is manipulated to generate a humidity control system that enables the recreation of different biomes inside the palaces through the permeability of their envelope.
Finally, on a smaller scale, the architecture becomes more organic and flexible, folding in on itself to constitute the functional units of the palaces, which aim for agricultural production, housing needs and leisure; the function of each unit depends on its relationship with water and its need to allow passage and retain it.
The entire project takes form from, on the one hand, the climatic situations that each palace requires to house its specific biome, and, on the other hand, the spatial characteristics required by the protocols that are executed in it. To allow the development of a new kind of ecology, the architecture that houses the new protocols of coexistence will be: agropalatial, a-hierarchical, sequential, stereotomic, and overflowing.
In the following chapters, we will develop in depth the architectural qualities mentioned above.
Post-Anthropocentric Ecologies: Theoretical Framework
We are currently living in the era of the Anthropocene, in which humans are considered a global geophysical force. Human action has transformed the geological composition of the Earth, producing a higher concentration of carbon dioxide and, therefore, global warming. This process began with the first Industrial Revolution, although it was only after 1945 that the Great Acceleration occurred, ensuring our planet’s course towards a less biologically diverse, much warmer and more volatile state. The large-scale physical transformations produced in the environment through extractive practices have blurred the boundaries between the “natural” and the “artificial”.
In Ecology Without Nature, Morton raises the need to create ecologies that dismiss the romantic idea of nature as something not yet sullied by human intervention – out of reach today – and go beyond a simple concern for the state of the planet, strengthening the existing relationships between humans and non-humans.
In this line of thought, we reject the concept of “nature” and consider its ecological characteristics to be reproducible through the climatic intelligence of greenhouses. These ecologies should be based on a principle of coexistence that not only allows but celebrates diversity and the full range of feelings and sensibilities that it evokes.
According to Bernard Tschumi, the relationship between the activities and the shape of the building can be one of reciprocity, indifference, or conflict. The type of relationship is what determines the architecture. In this thesis, morphology is at the service of water performance, hence why the activities that take place inside the agropalaces must redefine their protocols accordingly.
Palaces are large institutional buildings in which power resides. Their formal particularities have varied over time. However, some elements remain constant and can be defined as intrinsic to the concept of a palace, such as its large scale, the number of rooms, the variety of activities which it houses and the ostentation of luxury and wealth.
In the historical study of palaces, we recognised the impossibility of defining them through a specific typology. This is because their architecture was inherited from temples, whose different shapes are linked to how worship and ceremonies are performed. It is, therefore, possible to deduce that if there are changes in the behaviour of believers, this will generate new architectural needs.
In the same way that architecture as a discipline has the potential to control how we carry out activities based on the qualities of the space in which they take place, our behaviours also have the power to transform space since cultural protocols configure the abstract medium on which organisations are designed and standards of normality are set up. The more generic and flexible these spaces are, the longer they will last and the more resilient they will be.
The agropalace carries out a transmutation of power through which it frees itself from the human being as the centre and takes all the entities of the ecosystem as sovereign, understanding cohabitation as the central condition for the survival of the planet and human beings as a species.
The greenhouse typology appears as an architectural solution capable of regulating the climatic conditions in those places where there was a need to cultivate but where the climate was not entirely suitable. Agropalaces can not only incorporate productive spaces but generate entire ecosystems, becoming an architecture for the non-human.
We take as a reference the Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace was designed for the London International Exhibition in 1851 by Joseph Paxton. The internal differentiation of its structural module, the height and the shape of its roof generate architectural conditions that shape it as a humidity-controlling container, which allows us to use it as the basis of our agropalatial prototype.
Our prototype based on the Crystal Palace is designed at first as a sequence of cross-sections. Their variables are the width and height of the section, the height and width of the central nave, the slope of the roof, the number of vaults, an infrastructural channel that transports water and, finally, the encounter with the floor. Each of these variables contributes to regulating the amount of water that each biome requires.
The territorial organisation of the agropalaces must be a-hierarchical for coexistence to take place. Cooperation between agropalaces is required for the system to function. This cooperation is based on water exchange from one palace to the other. For this to occur, vermiform palaces must be in a topography prone to flooding, organised in the form of an archipelago.
The prototype project is located in the Baix Llobregat Agrarian Park in Barcelona, which is crossed by the Llobregat river ending up in a delta in the Mediterranean Sea. The Agrarian Park currently grows food to supply to all the neighbouring cities. Our main interest in the site lies in its hydrographic network which is fundamental in the construction of the archipelago since the position of each agropalace depends on its distance to its closest water source.
To create a humidity map to determine the location of the palaces on the territory we use a generative adversarial network (GAN). A GAN is a type of AI in which systems can make correlations between variables, classify data and detect differences and errors between them through the study of algorithms. Their performance is improved as they are supplied with more data.
The GAN is trained with a dataset of 6000 images, each of them containing 4 channels of information in the form of coloured zones. Each channel represents the humidity of a specific biome. The position of the coloured zones is related to the distance to the water sources that each biome requires. The GAN analyses every pixel of the images to learn the patterns of the position of the channels and to create new possible location maps with emerging hybridisation between biomes.
The first four biomes are ocean, rainforest, tundra, and desert. Our choice for these extreme ecologies is related to the impact that global warming will have on them and the hypothesis that their hybridisation will produce less hostile and more habitable areas.
We conclude that the hybridisation made by AI is irreplaceable by human methods. As such, we consider AI part of the group of authors, even though a later curation of its production is carried out, constituting a post-anthropocentric thesis from its conception.
Due to the hybridisation, a gradient of nine biomes and their zones within the territory are recognised in the GAN outputs. These are, from wettest to driest: ocean, wetland, yunga, rainforest, forest, tundra, grassland, steppe, and desert. The wetter palaces will always be located at a shorter distance from the water supply points while the drier ones will be located closer to the transit networks. The GAN not only expands the range of a variety of biomes but also gives us unexpected organisations without losing respect for the rules previously established.
The chosen image is used as a floor plan and allows us to define the palatial limits, which are denoted by changes in colour.
The territory, initially flat, must become a differentiated topography so that the difference in the heights of the palaces eases access to water for those that require greater humidity.
The palaces are linear, but they contort to occupy their place without interrupting the adjoining palaces, following the central axis of the zone granted by the GAN.
This territorial organisation, a-hierarchical, longitudinal and twisted, forms two types of circulations: one aquatic and one dry. The aquatic palaces tend to form closed circuits, without specific arrival points. An idle circulation, unstructured, designed to admire the resulting landscape of canyons. The other, arid, runs through desertic palaces along its axis and joins the existing motorways in the Llobregat, crossing the Oasis.
The protocols of the post-Anthropocene must exist in a stereotomic architecture, a vast and massive territory, almost undifferentiated from the ground.
As mentioned above, our agropalatial prototype is designed as a sequence of cross-sections. Each section constitutes an envelope which formal characteristics are based on that of the Crystal Palace and modified concerning its need to hold water.
The determination of the interior spaces in each section depends on the fluxes of humidity necessary for generating the biome. The functional spaces are the result of the remaining space between the steam columns, the number of points where condensed water overflows towards the vaults, and the size of the central circulation channel.
The variation in organisation according to the needs of each biome creates different amounts of functional spaces, of different sizes and shapes, allowing the protocols to take place inside of them.
The interstices where the fluxes of humidity move are organised in such a way that the forces that travel through the surfaces of the functional spaces between them reach the ground on the sides of the palace, forming a system of structural frames.
The functional spaces in each cross-section are classified into three categories corresponding to the main protocols that take place inside of the agropalaces: production, housing and leisure.
The classification depends on the size, shape, distance to light and water of each functional space, predicting which one would be more convenient to house each protocol. Every cross-section contains at least one functional space of each kind.
These two-dimensional spaces are extruded, generating the “permanent” spaces, in which the activities are carried out. These form connections with the “permanent” spaces of the same category of the subsequent cross-section, forming “passage” spaces.
Thus, three unique, long, complex spaces – one for each protocol – run longitudinally through the palaces, in which activities are carried out in an interconnected and dynamic way. The conservation protocol – the biome itself – is the only non-sequential activity, since it is carried out in the interstice between the exterior envelope of the agropalace and the interior spaces.
The need for production has made cities and agricultural areas hyper-specialised devices, making their differences practically irreconcilable. However, we understand that this system is obsolete, which is why it is necessary to emphasise their deep connection and how indispensable they are to each other.
For this reason, agropalaces work through the articulation of different scales and programs, considering the three key pillars on which we must rely to build a new post-anthropocentric way of life – ecological conservation, agricultural production and human occupation – the latter prioritising leisure.
Protocol of Production
From currently available methods, we take hydroponic agriculture as the main means of production, together with aeroponic agriculture since both replace the terrestrial substrate with water rich in minerals.
The architectural organisation that shapes the agricultural protocol in the project is based on a central atrium that allows the water of the biome to condense and be redirected to the floodable platforms that surround it. In each biome, the density of the stalls, their depth, and the size of the central atrium vary in a linear gradient, ranging from algae and rice plantations to soybeans and fruit. The agricultural protocol in the agropalaces manages water passively, by surface condensation and gravity, generating a spiral distribution added to a central circulation that generates landscape while seeking to cultivate efficiently.
Protocol of Housing
In defining the needs for a House, Banham reduces it to an atmospheric situation, with no regard for its form. However, the dispossession of formal conditions allows us to modify the current housing protocol, through the ability to project a house whose shape is the result of passive climatic manipulation and the need to generate a variety of spatial organisations that do not restrict the type of social nuclei.
The spatial organisation of the house in the project is built through circulatory axes and rooms. The position of the circulatory axes and the number and size of the rooms vary depending on the biome, this time not based on humidity, but on the type of life that each ecological environment encourages. The height and width of the spaces also vary, generating the collision of rooms and thus allowing the formation of larger spaces or meta-rooms. The protocol of habitation in the agropalaces then allows a wide range of variation in which people are free to choose the form in which they wish to live, temporarily or permanently, individually or in groups.
Protocol of Leisure
Leisure is one of the essential activities of the post-Anthropocene because it frees human beings from their proletarian condition, characteristic of current capitalism, and connects them with the enjoyment of themselves and their surroundings. The leisure protocol in the thesis consists of a series of slabs with variable depths that constitute pools at different levels, interconnected by slides, which are to varying degrees twisted or straight, steep or shallow, and covered or uncovered.
The leisure protocol is based on the behaviour of water, which varies in each biome. The quantity, depth and position of the pools decrease in quantity the more desertic the biome that houses it is. In this way, water parks and dry staggered spaces are generated in which all kinds of games and sports are developed. In the agropalaces, contrary to being relegated to specific times and places, leisure becomes a form of existence itself.
Finally, to achieve coexistence, the architecture developed must be permeable. All the layers that contribute to the complexity of the project exchange fluids – mainly water – with the environment.
Water penetrates each of them, they use it to generate the desired ambient humidity for their biome and the excess then overflows on the roof. The system works sequentially, from the wettest to the driest biomes. Once the former palace overflows its residual water, the succeeding one can use it to its advantage until it eventually overflows again.
Inside every palace, a sequence of overflows on an intra-palatial scale is generated. Humidity enters the agropalace through its internal channel, where it evaporates and rises until it condenses on the surfaces of the functional organs and thus penetrates them to be used in different activities. The residuary water evaporates again until it overflows. The process consists of a cyclical system with constant recirculation.
The functional spaces’ envelopes have perforations in different sizes and positions to allow moisture to dissipate or condense as convenient. The overflowing quality of the system creates communication between the different scales of the architectural system, thus generating inter- and intra-palatial dependency.
Post-Anthropocentric Architecture: Conclusion
The agropalace understands coexistence as a necessary condition for the survival of the planet and human beings as a species. This new typology presents agriculture as the principal tool of empowerment and suggests a paradigm shift in which each society can define its policies for food production, distribution and consumption; meanwhile, it produces ecosystemic habitats with specific microclimatic qualities that allow the free development of all kinds of entities.
Biomatic Artefacts proposes an architecture whose forms do not interrupt the geological substrate but compose it, being part of the planetary ecology and simultaneously forming smaller-scale ecosystems within each palace and an autonomous ecosystem.
The protocols of today disappear to make room for the formation of a single para-protocol, since, contrary to being carried out in a single, invariable way, it exists because it has the quality of always being different, vast in spatial, temporal, and atmospheric variations. And in its wake, it generates a landscape of canyons and palaces that, in the interplay of reflections and translucency of water and glass, allows us to glimpse the ecological chaos of coexistence within.
We consider that the project lays the foundations for a continuation of ideas on agropalatial architecture and post-anthropocentric architecture, from which all kinds of new formal and material realities will come about.
The following paper was developed within the institutional framework of the School of Architecture and Urban Studies of Torcuato Di Tella University as a project thesis, with Lluis Ortega as full-time professor and Ciro Najle as thesis director.
 T. Morton, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minnesota, USA: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).
 W. Steffen, P. Crutzen, J. McNeill, “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?”, AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment (2007), pp 614-621.
 T. Morton, Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press, 2007).
 A. Reeser Lawrence, A. Schafer, “2 Architects, 10 Questions On Program, Rem Koolhaas + Bernard Tschumi” Praxis 8 (2010).
 C. Najle, The Generic Sublime (Barcelona, España: Actar, 2016).
 Set of base images with which the GAN trains by identifying patterns and thus learning their behaviours. In our case, the dataset is based on a set of possible biome location maps based on proximity to water sources and highways.
 R. Banham, F. Dallagret, “A Home Is Not a House”, Art in America, volumen 2 (1965) pp 70-79.
Climate Migrants in the Algorithmic Age
Technological developments have induced the parallel discourse of the bond between ethics, exploitation and data. Advancements in technology have allowed for a contemporary form of resource extraction and appropriation, normalising the extractive practices of data resources from users, often without their knowledge. Through our increased dependence on technology and connected devices, we are faced with the ubiquitous effects of an algorithmic mode of governance operating on predictive processes that limit our options and control our choices. Indeed, data provides progress and development while simultaneously controlling, governing and abandoning. The algorithmic influence creates new concentrations of power in the hands of institutions and corporate entities that own and collect data.
“It is no longer enough to automate information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us.”
A planetary-scale disaster is looming, falling unevenly on the unprivileged of the world, displacing them due to its impacts on their territory. This catastrophic event will create large numbers of climate migrants who will simultaneously face the obstacles of our modern world’s algorithmic governance. Climate change is a planetary problem, but its consequences are felt differently around the world, creating a climate injustice, as some areas, especially in the global south, are more vulnerable than others (Figure 1). “We face the ugly reality of planetary scale ecological disaster, one that is falling unevenly on the world’s underprivileged and dispossessed populations.”
Today’s concern is about those who represent the margins of society, such as refugees and climate migrants, who struggle to function under this new mechanism of algorithmic domination. Since they are perceived as incalculable, it will place discriminatory impacts on their habitability by utilising methods of exclusion that are biased towards the system, creating controlled spaces based on an algorithm marked by segregation and surveillance. They have been exposed to extraction and predation but are later drained and excluded; reducing people who have been exhausted to mere data, as their behaviours, desires and dreams become predictable, thus making them expendable. These governance technologies produce new power instruments that facilitate modes of prediction and calculation, which treat life as an object calculable by computers.
The research will explore the necropolitical impacts of an algorithmic governance on climate migrants. It will then investigate the notion of the apparatus and how digital technologies extend Michael Foucault’s idea of the apparatus as a tool for capturing and controlling. Since technology has the quality of being planetary, this research will speculate on the role of a participatory digital system in the lives of climate migrants, following the Fun Palace principles, which aim to operate on autonomous and non-extractive policies and the opposition to surveillance and control.
Necropolitical Effects on Climate Migrants
Novel resource extraction and exploitation practices have emerged with technological acceleration, where data is considered a vital material to harness. Usman Haque asserts that the addiction of collecting more data to make the algorithm work better leaves behind a surplus of the population who are reduced to matter. Data is often extracted from people and consumed by institutions to be utilised and commodified, “reducing all that exists to the category of objects and matter”, according to Achille Mbembe’s notion of Necropolitics. The governance mode is shifting from humans to technology that can dehumanise people, turn them into data-producing tools, and reduce others who are deemed surplus into superfluous bodies, abdicating any responsibility towards them. This is a mode of authority that leaves behind a portion of the population deemed useless, including climate migrants, who are incapable of being exploited under this mode of governance that is dependent on user-generated data. Threatened by climate-induced catastrophes, these climate migrants fled, as their part of the world has become inhospitable, occupying an in-between borderland space incapable of navigating the contemporary world of algorithmic governance.
Ezekiel Dixon-Román states that algorithms examining our data shape and form our lives. The raw data extracted is analysed by processes that are owned by companies and then relayed back to humans, making them passive receptors with minimal participation. This creates a system that breaks what we perceive as necessary, reduces our perspectives, and transforms humanity into the category of matter and objects, in what Mbembe defines as Brutalisme. Mbembe draws this term from architecture to describe a process of transforming humanity and reducing it into matter and energy. As technology threatens to change people’s perceptions and turn them into artefacts through processes of exploitation, appropriation and Brutalisme, we confront the necropolitical consequence of what the algorithm deems as superfluous in the algorithmic age, which is reducing humans to a state where they are expendable. It is through Brutalisme that Necropolitics is being actualised.
Haque argues that institutions have a growing tendency to abdicate responsibility for the sake of decisions generated by the algorithm, but this poses a considerable concern when employed in necropolitical systems that decide who lives and who dies. As in the case of self-driving military drones, Rosi Baraidotti echoes the worry, stating that in the Netherlands military academy they are deeply concerned about the code of conduct of drone firing. Humans are reduced to pixels on a screen, where missiles are fired to eliminate a pixel on a grid. What happens when Necropolitics is adopted in the digital world is what Ramon Amaro describes in the process of an algorithmic design; there will always be a contingency, indicating that something or someone will be left behind. That occurs through a process of optimisation or the skilful removal of waste, whether that waste is time, effort or human. The algorithmic process will mostly fail to consider climate migrants who have been displaced due to the calamities of anthropogenic climate change on their territory, thus making it uninhabitable.
This algorithmic governance is operated by digital devices, a form of apparatus of surveillance and control. Apparatus in this discourse references both Foucault’s definition and Giorgio Agamben’s interpretation – a translation of the French word dispositif, used by Foucault in 1970 to describe “a series of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, … that work as a technology of power and subjectivation”. Agamben further describes apparatus as “anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine … the gestures, behaviours or discourses of living beings”. He does not limit it to instruments whose connection with power is evident but also includes computers and cellular telephones, amongst others.
Digital devices function as an apparatus by capturing our data and controlling our behaviours, operating as an instrument of power in the hands of the people who own this algorithmic mode of governance. In Foucauldian terms, they are a form of disciplinary tool and a biopolitical technique of “subjectivation” that appeared from the capitalist regime to place a novel model of governmentality on the people. Thus, a new form of capitalism appears, filled with control apparatuses in the hands of the powerful few, as the technologies of this capitalistic culture have the power to become embedded in our body, capturing our behaviours and controlling our actions. “Foucault claims that a dispositif creates its own new rationality and addresses urgent needs.” These needs are apparent, as capitalist institutions aim to collect more data, monetising from people’s lives, with the excuse of providing a better service.
Public Engagement in the Apparatus
Data collection and extraction is a massive profit to data collectors that sometimes comes at the users’ expense; the power of algorithmic authority should be used to facilitate justice, autonomy and transparency. The focus is on exploring a participatory system, responding to the extractive technologies and how they progressively influence the lives of vulnerable individuals such as climate migrants. Adopting these practices would allow for co-designing future digital technologies that would otherwise stand in the way of mobility. Participation should be an extensive involvement and contribution – such as in the “Fun Palace” concept by architect Cedric Price, where the users became the designers. A similar approach could be utilised in a participatory system where climate migrants could be more involved in the systems that dictate their future.
Exploring a Virtual Fun Palace
The Fun Palace is a social experiment which opposes those forms of social control that inevitably influence the usage of public spaces. Exploring a participatory system that could ensure autonomy and flexibility by analysing the application of the Fun Palace’s principles virtually is required. Its fundamentals could permit autonomy, thus undermining current structures of power and control. Digital platforms could apply the same notion of accessibility, flexibility and autonomy to the user, and oppose control and surveillance. Technologies that underpin current forms of control could allow novel methods of cooperation if their use were to transform.
Price pioneered the integration of recent technologies to inform his architecture; however, in this case, the Fun Palace can be used to inform technology. Price’s concept aimed to use a bias-free technology that learns solely from its users, not for profit gain but for participation and transparency – creating a participatory architecture with the ability to respond to its users’ needs and desires: “His design for the Fun Palace would acknowledge the inevitability of change, chance and indeterminacy by incorporating uncertainties as integral to a continuously evolving process modelled after self-regulating organic processes and computer codes.”
Cybernetics and Indeterminacy
Price enrolled Gordon Pask, an expert cybernetician, whose involvement in the Fun Palace allowed Price to achieve his goals of a new concept that integrated his interest in change and indeterminacy. Pask was interested in underspecified and observer-constructed goals that oppose the goals of technologies of control. The Fun Palace program accommodated change, as it could anticipate unpredictable phenomena that did not rely on a determined program. These methods of granting freedom, participation and sharing scientific knowledge to the users were meant to overrule authoritarian control for the sake of an autonomous one.
Adaptability and flexibility in responding to users’ needs required cybernetics for participants to communicate with the building (Figure 2). Pask’s conversation theory was the essence of the program, moving a step closer to authentic autonomy in a genuinely collaborative system. Underspecified goals oppose systems where the designer initially programs all parts and behaviours of a design, limiting the system’s functions to the designer’s prediction of deterministic goals. Predetermined systems keep the user under the control of the machine and its preconfigured system, since they can only respond to pre-programmed behaviour. These systems eliminate the slight control users have over their surroundings and necessitate that they instead put their trust in the assumptions of the system’s designers.
Currently, as Haque states, “Pask’s Conversation Theory seems particularly important because it suggests how, in the growing field of ubiquitous computing, humans, devices and their shared environments might coexist in a mutually constructive relationship”. A model that ensures the collective goals of users are reached through their direct actions and behaviours – and that those goals are desired and approved by the users – is the kind of model that digital technologies should aim for. The program of the Fun Palace was autonomous in that there was no authoritative hierarchy that dictated the program and space usage.
Transparency, Control and Participation
Designed as a machine with an interactive and dynamic nature, the Fun Palace implemented novel user participation and control applications. Cybernetician Roy Ascott proposed the “Pillar of Information”, which was an accessible electronic kiosk placed at the entrance that could search for and reveal information. “This system was among the earliest proposals for public access to computers to store and retrieve information from a vast database.” As implemented in the Fun Palace, “a cybernetic approach does not reject or invalidate the use of data; instead, it suggests that a different role for data needs to be perceived in the process of intervening in disadvantages and creating social change”.
Price’s concern related to the effect architecture had on its users. He was convinced that it should be more than a shelter containing users’ activities, being also a supporter of them, with the users’ emancipation and empowerment as its true objectives. The control is thus shifted from the architects to the users, allowing the users to be responsible for constructing the world around them. Digital technologies should not divert their objective of ensuring convenience and empowering the people for the sake of data extraction for profit, surveillance and control.
Climate Migrants in a Participatory System
A platform cooperative for climate migrants that aims to ensure the interest of all, and to increase transparency and democracy, would be a departure from the extractive and authoritative system. A participatory and open digital design would allow the freedom of climate migrants from the restraints of their preconceived, biased, incorrect digital profiles created by algorithms. This system would contribute to the rise of autonomy, privacy and freedom for climate migrants. It would be a cooperative, transparent and user-centred approach for seeking common objectives that minimises concerns about profiling, collection of personal data and surveillance.
The implementation of a virtual participatory platform for climate migrants was explored in the design project “Climate Squatters” by The Bartlett AD Research Cluster 1, 2021-22, Team 2. Climate migrants from the village of Happisburgh would utilise a participatory digital platform that enables them to travel intelligently as modern squatters, allowing them to be active agents in their relocation, habitation and migration process. A non-extractivist and autonomous communal unity without fixed habitation, the project forms around the idea of granting climate migrants autonomy, flexibility and empowerment in their continuous relocation process triggered by the existential threat of coastal erosion. Climate Squatters’ platform aims to address the issues of decreased ownership and control by reconceptualising the user’s roles, acting as an active contributor in the process.
Happisburgh is a village on the eastern coast of the United Kingdom. It lies in one of the most dangerous areas of coastal erosion in the UK, where it is estimated that Happisburgh will lose around one hundred metres of its coastal land during the next twenty years (Figure 5). The erosion rate has significantly increased due to rising sea levels and climate change. The current governmental coastal management plan is No Active Intervention, which means no investment will be made in defending against flooding or erosion. This plan signifies that there is no sustainable option for coastal defences, due to current coastal processes, sea level rise and national policy, which fails to respond to the people’s needs and makes them feel disregarded.
Using Climate Squatters’ platform would empower the climate migrants in the various aspects of the migration process. The platform allows autonomy by granting the users the option to participate in the process and vote on where they would like to relocate from a list of suitable land options. Placing a heavy value on the community, the platform starts by decoding the village’s typology, material and identity using machine learning. Happisburgh is “decommissioned” by disassembling what is salvageable from the houses into voxelised masses. The constant migration of the climate squatters requires a unique construction that optimises space and material and allows for easy assembly and disassembly. The recoding of the future habitat of climate migrants operates by utilising wave function collapse to generate their new typologies. The live platform will also sustain the community by analysing relevant incentives and taking advantage of them, giving the users a live view of their performance and future expectations to maintain or enhance their position.
The platform aims to instil trust in the user and grant them autonomy and flexibility by operating as a non-extractive tool, without predetermined goals, that will empower the user in their journey and ensure their secure habitation in a world of uncertainties. It also aims to learn from the users’ behaviours and to operate on a method of buildable knowledge, continuously evolving based on users’ objectives. By redistributing the roles between the users and the platform, the model ensures that the platform will function as an enabler and supporter of the user. Following Price’s model, the employment of uncertainty and indeterminacy would help climate migrants navigate a journey filled with unpredictable events, thus advancing the dialogue between users and the digital platform. Climate Squatters’ platform seeks to enhance autonomy, flexibility and freedom, and to create a community of climate squatters that represent a response to an ever-changing world due to the consequences of climate change.
Digital technologies could challenge traditional models that place a dichotomy between designer and user. Instead, a method can be realised where the user can take a primary role within the system in which they participate, contrasting the prevailing approach of predefined and predetermined systems that restrict the users. “It is about designing tools that people themselves may use to construct – in the broadest sense of the word – their environments and, as a result, build their own sense of agency.” The control is then transferred to the users, where the users are responsible for constructing the world around them.
Utilising the Fun Palace principles in digital technologies will benefit climate migrants by delivering them a neutral and virtual space to navigate the world without the intrusion of biased algorithms. Non-extractive technologies will prove helpful for climate migrants as they aim to be mobile once climate change has rendered their current home unfit for habitation. Giving the users control of their data will create a transparent digital platform to counter the current extractive and control apparatus.
A new platform cooperative for climate migrants should be considered to protect their future with transparency, empowerment and equality. Centred around bias elimination and avoiding the harvesting of personal data, this new system would prove more beneficial than capitalism’s current apparatus. This method could enable new modes of freedom, security and emancipation for climate migrants; a system that reduces data extraction, exploitation and bias, promoting a safe, flexible and autonomous approach. A participatory method could potentially alter the biased and surveillance-ridden systems that dominate the digital world.
 A. Mbembe, Theory in Crisis Seminar “Notes on Brutalism” (online), 2020 (accessed 22 November 2021). Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc34afvyL68.
 S. Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (London: Profile Books, 2019), 8.
 L. Likavčan, Introduction to Comparative Planetology (Moscow: Strelka Press; 2019), 11.
 J. Confavreux, “Long Read | Africa: Strength in reserve for Earth” (online), New Frame, 2020 (accessed 26 November 2021). Available from: https://www.newframe.com/long-read-africa-strength-in-reserve-for-earth.
 A. Mbembe, Theory in Crisis Seminar “Notes on Brutalism” (online), 2020 (accessed 22 November 2021). Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc34afvyL68.
 U. Haque, “Big Bang Data: Who Controls Our Data?” (online), Somerset House, 2016 (accessed 25 November 2021). Available from: https://www.mixcloud.com/SomersetHouse/big-bang-data-who-controls-our-data-usman-haque-debates-the-implications-of-the-data-explosion.
 S. Bangstad, T.T. Nilsen, A. Eliseeva, “Thoughts on the planetary: An interview with Achille Mbembe” (online) New Frame. 2019 (accessed 26 November 2021). Available from: https://www.newframe.com/thoughts-on-the-planetary-an-interview-with-achille-mbembe.
 A. Mbembe, Necropolitics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), 97.
 E. Dixon-Román, “Algo-Ritmo: More-Than-Human Performative Acts and the Racializing Assemblages of Algorithmic Architectures”, Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies, 2016, 16 (5), 482-490. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1532708616655769.
 A. Mbembe, Theory in Crisis Seminar “Notes on Brutalism” (online), 2020 (accessed 22 November 2021). Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc34afvyL68.
 U. Haque, “Big Bang Data: Who Controls Our Data?” (online), Somerset House, 2016 (accessed 25 November 2021). Available from: https://www.mixcloud.com/SomersetHouse/big-bang-data-who-controls-our-data-usman-haque-debates-the-implications-of-the-data-explosion.
 R. Braidotti, “Posthuman Knowledge” (online), Harvard GSD, 2019 (accessed 24 November 2021). Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CewnVzOg5w.
 R. Amaro “Data Then and Now” (online), University of Washington, 2021 (accessed 29 November 2021). Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEX8JI6Xntk.
 P. Preciado, Pornotopia (Zone Books, 2014).
 G. Agamben, “What Is an Apparatus?” and Other Essays (Stanford University Press, 2009).
 S. Lee, “Architecture in the Age of Apparatus-Centric Culture” (online) TU Delft, 2014 (accessed 2 February 2022). Available from: https://repository.tudelft.nl/islandora/object/uuid:fa31ddf9-a227-48e8-a3eb-1f5ca7e39010/datastream/OBJ1/download.
 M. Lawrence, “Control under surveillance capitalism: from Bentham’s panopticon to Zuckerberg’s ‘Like’” (online), Political Economy Research Centre, 2018 (accessed 29 January 2022). Available from: https://www.perc.org.uk/project_posts/control-surveillance-capitalism-benthams-panopticon-zuckerbergs-like.
 S. Mathews, “The Fun Palace as Virtual Architecture” (online), Journal of Architectural Education, 2006, 59 (3), (accessed 8 February 2022), 39-48, 40.
 Ibid, 40.
 Ibid, 44.
 U. Haque, “The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask”, Architectural Design, 2007, 77 (4), 54-61, 58. Available from: https://www.haque.co.uk/papers/architectural_relevance_of_gordon_pask.pdf.
 Ibid, 60.
 Ibid, 55.
 S. Mathews, “The Fun Palace as Virtual Architecture” (online), Journal of Architectural Education, 2006, 59 (3), (accessed 8 February 2022), 39-48, 45.
 G. Bell, M. Gould, B. Martin, A. McLennan, E. O’Brien, “Do more data equal more truth? Toward a cybernetic approach to data,” Australian Journal of Social Issues, 2021, 56 (2), 213-222, 219.
 U. Haque, “The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask”, Architectural Design, 2007, 77 (4), 54-61. Available from: https://www.haque.co.uk/papers/architectural_relevance_of_gordon_pask.pdf.
Prologue: From Disabling Epistemologies to Composting-with-Care [1,2]
In George’s Orwell dystopia 1984, “Newspeak” is the “proper” means of communication for society. It is a reductionist language, characterised by the proliferation of binaries and technical concepts that eliminate ambiguity and nuance from communication, to the point of preventing people from thinking. The instrumentalisation of thought, and therefore the incapacity of thinking, is also the main argument of Arendt’s analysis of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem and her insight on the banality of evil.[3,4] The same language logics that once justified crimes against humanity, today rationalises unsustainable anthropogenic activity and the persistence of human entitlement over all things living and otherwise.
The welfare state, heavily relying on the model of permanent growth linked to technoscientific progress, is drifting further and further away from the so-called material world. Current climate and societal crises impose a radical reconnection with the reality of the materiality of life in the biosphere on which we depend. A work-in-progress, this paper outlines an exploration of the possibilities of new languages and practices as alternatives to current disabling hegemonic architectures of knowledge production based in oversimplifications and black boxes. It contends that when we alter human centrality and subvert the language of capitalist production logic that defines life in a closed, subservient way, a myriad of new possibilities of existence unfold. It speculates with the practice of composting-with-care, which reflects in the act of producing (knowledge; praxis) itself. This approach feeds from the scraps of hegemonic waste in an endless recycling action; giving new life, fertilising the ways in which we think and act as “bodies of knowledge”.
The basis for this epistemological bifurcation can be found in transdisciplinary groundwork standing at the nexus between embodiment, the sciences and the arts; in particular, the crossovers between the work of Lynn Margulis on symbiogenesis, feminist critical posthumanism, ecofeminism, critical animal studies, and indigenous cosmologies. On the one hand, Margulis’ concept of symbiosis crucially destabilised the theory of evolution by unveiling the complex network of organisms (holobionts) forming any kind of life, including humans. Margulis’ revelation puts a radical question mark on the principles of individuality and human exceptionalism. On the other, the feminist and indigenous critique of the centrality of the individual allows for an understanding of the human as placed among a consortium of techno-scientific-biological arrangements. Feminism has been fundamental in bringing situated knowledges to the fore, in making visible what Braidotti calls the missing people’s humanities (black, poor, women, queer, disabled, animals, the environment etc.), echoing indigenous cosmologies such as Sumak Kawsay that reject hierarchies of relation between humans and others, thus presenting suggestive alternatives to mainstream technoscientific anthropocentric frameworks.
In this vision, the future(s) is possible through the ecological balance in which the human – including culture and technology – is part of a network of intra-actions and care.[11,12] There is a need to move towards a world in which the paradigm is symbiogenesis, as expressed by Lynn Margulis, with responsibility and collaboration that guarantees not growth but the permanence of life and the conditions of habitability in the planet. This vision adheres to Donna Haraway’s proposal of a multispecies compost society in which she advocates for a sympoietic “becoming-with” of the world as her stand beyond posthumanism. In Haraway’s figuration, life appears as a complex entanglement of more-than-human ecologies, which include culture and technology. She proposes speculative fabulation as a way of using storytelling to create alternative worlds (worlding). Since the stories we produce are already situated within structures of power such as knowledge systems, it matters what stories we use to tell stories of the future.
In this paper, compost is predicated upon the principle of symbiogenesis applied to epistemology, with the purpose of opening up the possibility of exploring the limits of human-centred knowledge, in a multi-species world and through the process of embodying symbiotic alliances with more-than-human knowledges, as curative steps towards overcoming these limitations. For example, exploring the possibilities of mutualism and/or commensalism in relation to technology or shared habitats. In this context, compost is proposed as a generative tool for a curated (with care) epistemodiversity and ethical praxis. Compost is an inclusive speculative tool for imagining/designing-with-care alternative futures while imbuing them with the condition of possibility through processes of making-thinking.
As Bruno Latour notes in his Compositionist Manifesto, “It is time to compose – in all the meanings of the word, including to compose with, that is to compromise, to care, to move slowly, with caution and precaution” and, still quoting Latour, “we might need to draw our attention […] toward the crucial difference between what is well done or badly composed”. As he stresses, “what is to be composed may, at any point, be decomposed”. In terms of knowledge production, and following Latour’s suggestion, I draw my attention to how certain origin stories such as human centrality or its separation from nature define everyday life and threaten planetary viability. In this analysis, questions of ethics and ecology are inescapable.
Since the predictions in the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth have proven correct three decades later, if we are to continue with our current behaviours, it is not difficult to imagine that challenges in living conditions on Earth will only increase and manifest in large(r)-scale climatic events, uninhabitable areas, hydric stress and impoverishment of crops. According to a 2019 ACNUR report, more than 1 billion people live in regions with water difficulties and up to 3.5 billion will experience water scarcity by 2025. Consequences of this are an increase in disease, hunger, loss of biodiversity and social conflict (e.g. climate migrations).
Researchers, educators, policy makers and professionals designing systems for society (e.g. ideas, habitats, food production, transport and communications etc.) must take these issues into account in their work. What is badly composed must be decomposed and recomposed with quality ingredients to ensure the permanence of life on the planet. Like constant gardeners, we must integrate different knowledge communities, decomposing anthropocentric onto-epistemologies that define our present myths and methodologies and re-composing them into emancipatory stories of permanence.
One of the possible applications of this approach is expressed in the hypothesis that the intersection between arts and humanities and engineering and design might allow for a questioning of designers’ visions and current design practices. This questioning process takes stock of the state and limits of knowledge within a given sector of activity and places value in a diversity of perspectives, giving access to new epistemic vocabularies and thus alternative ways of thinking and doing. For example, the paradigm of smart cities is predicated upon “speed” and “efficiency” but it could very well be predicated upon “tranquillity”, “sense of humour” or “aesthetic appreciation”. (In this scenario, an application which provides navigation guidance, for example, instead of indicating the quickest route to a point on a map, could show the safest or most pleasant one.)
In another example, a disabling epistemological framework such as the persistence of the human/nature split can be counteracted by bringing in local knowledges. This is most evident in the Galapagos islands, where the gazes of both tourist and scientist are crucial in the production and reproduction of signifiers that feed this separation. This dynamic allows the creation of imaginaries (e.g., pristine nature), resulting in the exploitation of the territory to fulfil the expectations that it creates. These imaginaries are currently being fed by sustainability discourses (green marketing), tying up nature with its “responsible exploitation-consumption”, which is an oxymoron. In contrast, some local grassroots initiatives (e.g. Geco Galapagos), call for an inclusive pedagogy of care for the islands promoted through emancipatory integrated action-research that brings together citizens, researchers and professionals to produce new knowledge about issues identified locally and without hierarchies of contribution. This is to say, producing knowledge in true horizontal processes of deliberation. It matters what matter thinks matters.
The Communities of Compost
Proposing composting-with-care as a way of testing the limits of the concept of symbiogenesis as an epistemic practice is quite challenging. As opposed to constructing dichotomies between knowledges, the idea is to form dialectics bringing together different perspectives in a transdisciplinary exploration. However, the difficulty of advocating for symbiogenesis in epistemology is that it risks remaining in the abstract. In this sense, this section is conceived as an experiment on the constraints that this approach brings about. It is based on a “dérive” (drifting) experiment during a secondment in Paris for the Real Smart Cities project (February–April 2022), and predicated upon active observation and casual encounters with communities of composters in the city.
I conceive research in a composting scenario as a (necessarily) nomadic practice. A form of becoming-with by co-creating knowledge in action. Nomadism is rhizomatic, since it invites multiple ways of experimenting with thought, thus allowing for “happenings” or previously unthought linkages. In this scenario, thinking amounts to experimenting. In this vein, I considered rather than putting a question to the city, listening to what the city had to say. Thus, I began wandering about different districts, from Plaine Commune (one of our partners on the project) to the Centre Pompidou, where our other partners are based. I use here the word “wandering” with the full intention of avoiding the term flâneur, so tied to Paris, which I associate with the bourgeois habit of wandering the city without a purpose. The wanderer, unlike the flâneur, has a very definite purpose; in my case, it was to think of the city in another way, not as an object of study but as an embodied ally. As a wanderer, instead of imposing my criteria, I allowed myself to be surprised by what the city whispered to my ear, or simply threw at me without any kind of delicacy. I suppose I was aiming for the “punctum” of the city as expressed by Barthes. In this scenario, a stroll becomes a nomadic transit through smooth space, where the city is a patchwork. Both the flâneur and the wanderer are constantly crossing borders and transgressing space, resisting any static representation. To leave a place, you must create another one. In this flow, nothing is ever resolved; transgressions also take detours, and bifurcate. It is like a symmetry-breaking form of chaotic dynamics; entropy overtaking existence.
This kind of urban experiment based on dérive can be traced back to the Situationist movement in the 1960s. The Situationists promoted “drifting” as a form of creation of the city. Drifting challenges the rationality of urban planning and therefore opens spaces of possibility for new urban utopias. As a wanderer and composter, my transit through the Parisian smooth space went hand-in-hand with thoughtful and protracted observation. Breaking pre-traced routes, both physically (through the act of walking/doing) and onto-epistemologically (through the acts of thinking and feeling), enabled me to pay attention to other possibilities, other origin stories – like, for example, planetary viability in place of progress based on growth.
The aim of this dérive was to “compost” an epistemodiverse glossary (still a work-in-progress), as the first practical step towards the longed-for epistemological shift. The compost glossary is not necessarily logocentric; in this sense, pictures, diagrams and even conversations with people (or cats) also have a place in it.
This activity brought me to connect with several urban garden initiatives and their peoples (Tous-au-Compost, Le Paysan Urbain, Jardin Folies Titon and Nature Urbaine). I won’t recount the different experiences here since this work is part of a collaboration that is still ongoing and evolving; it would be premature to analyse its intricacies. Nevertheless, I will discuss some initial insights and personal revelations.
In Paris, composting is a thing. When the world is falling apart, people look for another way to live, and urban people in Paris looked for community and connection in the compost movement. After the hiatus in physical contact (both with humans and the world more broadly) brought about by COVID-19, neighbours craved intradependence, and the experience of working outside on small things while thinking of the big challenges of life. Like constant gardeners, they made compost with selected ingredients to build good soil and good relationships in the neighbourhood for a better future(s). Some transformed a barren plot into an ornamental garden; others, a wasteland into a thriving circular economy project.
Since soil has the capacity for regeneration, humans – and more-than-human alliances/frictions – can contribute to creating the conditions for renewal. These conditions, rather than emerging from technosolutionism, are possible through processes of caring with and caring for what is already there. For this condition to take place, what is needed is appropriate technics and ethics. Tools such as the “serpentine” allow air to enter the compost mixture and manage toxic outcomes like in a pharmakon. The equivalent of the serpentine in our broader manifesto is care. And thus, the glossary began to take shape, with every turn of the serpentine; the new and old, big and small, serious and playful, dead and alive were turned and returned. If anything, the renewed paradigm we crave is a thing of melting pots, dirty hands and compost bins.
Communities of compost are particularly interesting from the perspective of care, as they are based on principles of the repair and maintenance of interdependent relations, in both the compost pile and in the neighbourhood where the composting activity takes place. In the process of caring, these communities learn to fine tune to the rhythms and needs of the environment, while the environment also “learns” and adapts to their human practices. This alters the human position as the centre and sole beneficiary of an objectified environment, since all (from human to orange peels, to gas to virus) participate in the life-death-decay cycle embodied in the compost pile. These symbiotic entanglements are not always mutually beneficial at an individual level. For example, predation or parasitism are also symbiotic associations. Rodents looking for heat inside the compost pile don’t necessarily contribute to the process, although they gain from it. The key element here is that all forms of life, whether carbon or silicon, exist in a web of intradependencies.
In a thick version of care, composting-with-care is an everyday praxis rather than a performance. It is neither caring as a commodity nor care as a virtue stemming from empathy. It is far beyond that: this vision of care is a prerequisite for collective thinking and acting in interdependent worlds with interdependent epistemologies. This idea is connected to Donna Haraway’s concept of “tentacular thinking”, in which she stresses the sympoietic (making-with), intertwined quality of existence. As in Margulis, in Haraway the singular “I” cannot exist, since we are all thinking parts in a system. Compost is a perspectivist, speculative approach to forms of thinking and praxis, articulated around the notion of care through concrete moves of making-thinking. As expressed by Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, it is a form of care work that is affirmative, situated and political.
Epilogue: The Cyclops and the Mantis
“It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories”.
Donna Haraway imagined multispecies compost societies working together in political alliances to subvert both the technoapocalypses and technofixes of the Anthropocene. Like a symbiotic body politic, compost communities stay with the trouble. It is vital to have a complete appreciation for the profound interconnectedness of the elements in an ecosystem. This ecological thinking is at the basis of the composting-with-care scenario, in which knowledge, research and practices pay attention to other theorisations of the “postnatural” condition (understood as the critique of the artificial distinction between human and nature) as an experimental remedy. In this approach, the critique of de-futuring epistemic habits (those that deprive us of alternative futures) becomes the “cure” that allows for the reconfiguration of cyclopic models of knowledge production.
We can no longer afford the anthropocentric paradigm, and this necessarily connects with a nomadic vision of the world. This perspectivist proposal is rooted in feminism and earth-bound cosmologies to respond to the challenges posed by the Anthropocene. In this work, I have attempted an outline of a way of thinking capable of responding to the challenges of a posthuman era. This thinking doesn’t seek identity with what it is trying to understand, but rather coalition and affinity. Through the act of composting, it articulates an array of possible connections and bifurcations between entities and non-entities, therefore leading to new configurations and epistemic vocabularies in a perspectivist universe.
Compost pleads for knowledge to be drawn from the careful “arrangement of correspondences” and “quality ingredients”, which results in a configuration emerging from the interlacing friction between materialities and perspectives – including those that are often undervalued (other-than-human, feminist, queer, indigenous) – and from the continuous re-examination of this state of affairs.[34,35] It is a speculative tool of ecological thinking that explores ways of activating discussions of care, both between humans, and between humans and other-than-humans. It questions how humans relate with the other-than-human and the ecologies we all co-form.
Building a glossary while making compost places value in praxis, as well as in thinking in terms of theory. In the thinking and acting as compost, the materiality of living systems, of planetary alliances, of living bodies and otherwise is re-introduced as a valid form of knowledge, challenging and subverting the disciplinary languages of capitalism production logic, by making them relevant (e.g., de-territorialising “royal science”). This is the world of the Mantis. A world of stories rooted in the revelations of science and technology, but unflattened into a multi-perspective worldview. Stories in which, just as with the compost ingredients, it matters what matters we use to tell stories.
 This research is funded by the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action (MSCA) RISE project Real Smart Cities (http://realsms.eu), funded through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program, grant agreement No. 777707.
 This title is a nod to Bruno Latour’s 2016 essay “An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto’”.
 In relation to his actions during the Third Reich.
 H. Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of Evil. (New York: Penguin Books, 1994).
 Some humans.
 Knowledge is produced when people make sense of their world. It is based on their experiences in everyday situations as they envision approaches, and construct methods and tools to face them. By “black boxes” I refer to the lack of transparency regarding how we have come to certain “truths” and assumptions deeply engrained in our culture(s) like, for example, that of human exceptionality.
 Wordplay between “body” as a set of disciplines and “body” as the material structure of a person or animal.
 Originally from Ecuador and Bolivia, Sumak Kawsay defines how to live in harmony and balance with all forms of existence. It proposes a different kind of relationship between humans and other-than-human in which individuality must submit to a principle of social responsibility and ethical commitment, including nature as a fundamental part of human sociality. The Sumak Kawsay strategy is to cultivate a series of “saberes” (pieces of knowledge); for example, knowing how to eat, how to think, etc. In 2008, Ecuador’s transformation began, with the institution of a new constitution establishing the concept of Sumak Kawsay or Buen Vivir, which grants nature constitutional rights.
 D. J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).
 M. Puig de la Bellacasa, Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019).
 There are several definitions of posthumanism. In this instance I refer to the critique of anthropocentrism that extends subjectivities beyond the human species.
 D. J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).
 This possibility is currently being explored through a performative piece, Mantis, in collaboration with fellow artists and researchers Sinead McDonald, Jye O’Sullivan (Dublin), and Lucía Alvarez, La Piñona (Seville). The piece is a performance bringing together academic research, dance, and poetry in an attempt to explore the limits of human language. Mantis embodies what Donna Haraway has defined as tentacular thinking. Mantis is the many-eyed and the Were-Thing. The performance creates a relational space allowing the flow between multiple perspectives (human and other-than-human) and frameworks inviting novel epistemic vocabularies and practices.
 B. Latour, “An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto’”, New Literary History, 41, 3 (2010) 471-490, available at Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/408295 (accessed 3 May 2022).
 By origin stories I refer here to the myths we live by that justify certain elements of the status quo (e.g., human superiority justifying its entitlement above all things).
 H. M. Donella et al, The Limits to Growth; a Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind (New York: Universe Books, 1972).
 ACNUR, Comité Español, Escasez de Agua en el Mundo: Causas y Consecuencias, 2019, https://eacnur.org/blog/escasez-agua-en-el-mundo-tc_alt45664n_o_pstn_o_pst/ (accessed 27 May 2022).
 I was on secondment in the Galapagos from February to May 2020, doing research on behalf of the Real Smart Cities project.
 D. J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).
 R. Braidotti, Writing as a Nomadic Subject. Comparative Critical Studies. 11.2, 3 (2014) 163-184 (accessed 16 August, 2022) https://doi.org/10.3366/ccs.2014.0122.
 The term “punctum”, defined by Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida (1980), refers to the sensory and deeply subjective “accident” that “moves” you in a picture. The poignancy of the picture.
 A smooth space is fluid, open-ended, nonlinear, haptic and nomadic as opposed to the striated space which is linear, gridded, metric, optic, state space. In G. Deleuze & F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Squizofrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 479.
 The Situationist International movement (SI) was a group of left-wing artists and activists whose practices were designed to disrupt the system of consumerist homogeneity characteristic of 20th century Western society. Dérive, or aimlessly walking the city, and cut-out maps facilitating wandering were reimagined as statements against the capitalist order and corresponded to real political and social action leading to the 1968 protests. SI has widely influenced Rave and Punk subcultures and in the 21st century “subvertising” approaches and movements such as Occupy and Extinction Rebellion. Source: https://www.theartstory.org/movement/situationist-international/
 As part of the Mantis project, previously mentioned, and a joint secondment for the Real Smart Cities project with fellow researchers Sinead McDonald and Jye O’Sullivan (TU Dublin).
 Plato deploys the concept of the “Pharmakon” in Phaedrus Dialogue as a technology which is the source of both good and ill and therefore introducing ambiguity into life.
 D. J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).
 M. Puig de la Bellacasa, Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019).
 One-eyed cyclops, many-eyed Mantis shrimp.
 D. J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).
 By “postnatural”, I refer to the critique of the concept of nature as not an environment outside humans that must be either managed or adapted to but rather as a cultural construction. Recent developments, such as the constatation of the consequences of anthropic action, and the realisation of the loss of centrality of the human (e.g., through the COVID-19 pandemic), call for a re-examination and problematisation of nature in terms of aesthetics, ethics and politics. This is where the compost approach is useful from an onto-epistemological point of view, because it rejects both human exclusivity and human/nature separation. In this vision, the human is nature, the human “becomes-with” a symbiotic relationship with other-than-human entities (e.g. the human gut). This switch in perspective means re-situating the human within the environment and what is other-than-human within cultural, technical, political and ethical domains.
 T. Ingold, The Life of Lines (London: Routledge, 2015).
 J. M. Hamilton & A. Neimanis, “Composting Feminisms and Environmental Humanities”, Environmental Humanities, 10, 2 (November 2018) 501–527 (online, accessed 9 January 2022), doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/22011919-7156859.
 Reference to the distinction between nomadic embodied production of knowledge as “minor science” and the “royal science” of institutions and the state as expressed by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Squizofrenia (1987, 361). While royal science aims for constants and laws, the model of minor science is fluid and thus experimental.
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