B U R N

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The Amazon breathes carbon in, and breathes oxygen out. Climate change is slowed by the world’s forests, and hastened by their destruction.

By 2050 thousands of tree species will disappear. Some will be logged or cleared into extinction; others won’t be able to move to new habitats fast enough to survive. Tropical forests with their narrow thermal tolerances will be particularly vulnerable.

Trees are just not valuable enough. An illegal logger cuts down one tree to feed his family for a week, then goes back for more. Ecuador and the UN tried to raise money to prevent the clearing of 10,000 square kilometres of Amazon jungle for oil, and the world refused to donate.

But we’re naturally drawn to burning wood. For at least 400,000 years humans have used fire to control our environment, to deter predators, to make tools and to cook our food. Our large brains, fed by complex cooked calories not available to other animals, have developed advanced cognitive abilities. Many religions feature burning rituals in their sacred practices, and human cremation can represent purification or punishment, depending on your beliefs.

The last survivor of any species is inherently priceless. But what if we did place a price on it? A price that would allow for the conservation of, say, 10 other species? What if we viewed impending extinction as a unique opportunity, instead of as a threat? What if we sold the right to chop that last trunk down? Had the timber shaped into boxes of beautiful wooden cigars? Designed a firepit that allowed each cigar to burn upright, independent and alone; the ultimate luxury campfire experience for the 1%?

Could we live with that?

A design response to the Bye Bye Homosapiens brief March – June 2014

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T H E – E N G I N E E R S

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‘Big data’ provides us with an opportunity to meaningfully model environmental data – to understand where crisis points lie, to predict when we will reach them, and to propose viable interventions for averting or mediating threats to humanity. In the absence of a single political force to monitor and control global challenges such as population growth, temperature levels, carbon emissions and freshwater availability, there existed an opportunity for a powerful consortium to assume this role.

In the year 2100, a secret society called ‘The Engineers’ (comprising both scientists and philosophers) formed to confront this global and political inertia. By capitalising on advances in epigenomics, they began releasing engineered viruses into the water supply, designed to modify the human genome. Each virus was programmed and colour-coded according to a specific environmental issue.

Once per year, the Engineers consulted their oracle – an algorithm driven light source – to identify which intervention would be of greatest benefit.

Babies born in the years of yellow could metabolise saltwater, arguably the most positive epigenomic modification, responding to a lack of fresh water.

Babies from the years of green were allergic to meat proteins, addressing the environmental issue of deforestation for food.

Babies in the years of blue were born with sensitive inner ear pressure, encouraging them to remain close to their home altitude, and lessening their desire to travel.

And, as overpopulation of the planet reached crisis point, all babies born in the years of red were born without reproductive organs.

Project video: Born in the first year of red
Above text includes excerpts from the Big Data: Designing with the fabrics of life project catalogue

In collaboration with: Roisin Johns, Zuzana Lalikova, Sunny Han, Ipek Kuran


This speculative design scenario was developed during a live science and design project run in the Lethaby Gallery of Central Saint Martins in January – February 2014. 

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H Y P E R F E E L

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In October 2013, Central Saint Martins MA Material Futures students were invited to take part in a one day workshop organised by Nike, to celebrate the launch of their new Hyperfeel trainer.

Working with Dutch designer Bart Hess we aimed to visualise the haptics of footwear, and the meditative ritual of the run.

Our cushioned packages of permeable fabrics, shaving cream, baby oil and feather down simulated the ‘feel’ of running barefoot over urban tracts of grass.  — at Nike1948.

In collaboration with Rebecca Cooper.
Photography credit: Bart Hess, 2013