DEVELOPMENT OF NATURE MANIPULATED BY HUMANS SUCH AS CROPS AND LIVESTOCK IS DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF SYSTEMS CREATED BY HUMANS SUCH AS THE FINANCIAL WORLD OR TRANSPORT WHICH ARE NO LONGER PREDICTABLE BUT, CONTRASTINGLY, DISPLAY NATURAL BEHAVIOURAL TRAITS. SPECULATIVE DESIGN DRAWS ON THE IMAGINATION AND ON INFORMED CONJECTURE TO CRAVE OUR VISIONARY POSITIONS FOR THE FUTURE.
Illustrations by KAROLINA KORYL
Design student Pauline Alt has created a hand axe, or prehistoric stone tool, by layering plastic. In doing so, she has mimicked a transformation brought about by centuries of climatic effects and geological processes by using plastic refuse to imitate the Earth’s strata. In the distant future, such a transformation may well lead to plastic becoming a natural raw material which could then be mined and utilised in product manufacturing. Pauline Alt’s design object represents a speculative examination of the waste we humans leave behind and its impact on the environment, while at the same time debating what is synthetic and what is already natural. The new hand axe might also be interpreted as a symbol of a broader understanding of nature, according to which everything, irrespective of whether we are dealing with a living organism or dead matter, real or artificial, designed or natural, might be regarded as part of a single holistic ecosystem.
A new generation of designers is casting a critical eye over the capitalist value system, its related consumer behaviour, and our contemporary belief in progress which, by its very nature, inevitably leads to conflict between mankind and nature. Instead of creating technology-based solutions for environmental problems, these designers are opening up new perspectives and action plans for how human beings deal with nature, with the aid of notional and prototypical scenarios, rules and systems. This article hypothetically presents ideas related to where such speculative approaches might lead us and the degree to which they could fuel our imagination with regard to the Next Nature concept.
In his book How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow’s World Today, the author John Thackara illustrates a number of grassroots projects which scrutinise the way in which we deal with soil, water, nutrition, clothing, mobility and health. He highlights soil restorers, river keepers, seed savers, de-pavers and cloud commuters, and defining them as signals of a new history. As Thackara explains, “The crux of our problems today lies in the fact that there is no longer a connection between the world fashioned by humans and the biosphere, of which we are, after all, a part. Either we don’t give any thought at all to rivers, soil or biodiversity, or we treat them as available resources, whose sole purpose is to drive our economy. That’s why I am an advocate of design which restores connections not just between human beings, but with all manner of ‘ living systems’ on which our lives depend.” He believes that opportunities for innovation and new forms of business might emerge in the context of these deliberations, such as the restoration of rivers, urban farming, food cooperatives, collective kitchens, communal eating, edible gardens and new distribution platforms all possibilities offered by urban design approaches.
Potential for change is based on sophisticated networking and on sharing resources such as time, knowledge, services and needs. Designers, artists, strategists and activists are charged with linking all these bits and pieces in a meaningful way and generating change together. The object of the exercise is to gradually change the economy from the ground up so that it is no longer contingent on growth. “As we have learned from systems theory, transformation can happen silently over time as a combined result of changes, interventions and minor shifts. At a certain point in time and it is hard to predict exactly when a turning point or phase shift will be reached and this will transform the entire system.”