A group of postgraduate researchers have come to Strelka Institute to start The Terraforming, the new design research program directed by design theorist Benjamin H. Bratton.
The diverse group of professionals—among them philosophers, filmmakers, coders, and architects—сomes from thirteen countries, including Brazil, China, and Georgia. Throughout the intensive five-month program they will attend workshops and lectures by leading international experts, go on field trips, and develop original research projects.
Planned as a three-year research cycle, The Terraforming refers both to the terraforming that has taken place in the past over the course of urbanization, and also to the terraforming that must now be planned and conducted as a planetary design initiative to prevent future catastrophes. “The looming ecological consequences of what is called the Anthropocene suggest that in the decades to come, we will need to terraform Earth if it is to remain a viable host for its own life,” says The Terraforming Program Director Benjamin Bratton.
Bratton invites the researchers to explore a “renewed Copernican turn”—a paradigmatic shift away from anthropocentric perspectives both in theory and practice. The concept of climate change became evident through the planetary scale scientific apparatus (satellites, sensors, servers in sync), therefore planetary scale-computation must also be used for climate change mitigation, he argues.
Instead of reviving ideas of “nature,” the program suggests to reclaim “the artificial”—not as in “fake,” but rather “designed”—as a foundation which links the mitigation of anthropogenic climate change to the geopolitics of automation. For this, urban-scale automation is seen as a section of an expanded landscape of information, agency, labor, and energy that is part of a living ecology, not a substitute for one. As such, the focus of urban design research shifts toward the governance of infrastructures that operate on much longer timescales than our cultural narratives.
“We have to think of geoengineering not just in terms of changing the cloud albedo, but the process of reformulating a planet. This process, no matter what we do, will constitute an act of deliberate management, or deliberate care at this scale. In order to orient the strategies and tactics for this, understanding of the artificiality of that initiative is a necessary prerequisite,” says Bratton.
Each year, the researchers will join a local field trip within Russia and an international field trip abroad, both of which are selected for their relevance to the specific research themes explored in the program. In 2020, the cohort will travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard, MIT, and countless private companies and laboratories, where researchers will meet with diverse faculty from both universities for lectures, seminars, working groups, and studio visits in areas ranging from architecture to Earth sciences and media arts.
Over the course of the initiative, The Terraforming will host contributions from multiple faculty and experts from around the world at different stages of the program. Apart from Benjamin Bratton, the program will be joined by media theorist Jussi Parikka, writer Nick Srnicek, environmental journalist Angelina Davydova, philosopher Elie During, author and member of the Laboria Cuboniks feminist collective Helen Hester, cartographer Robert Pietrusko, science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, architect and CEO of Strelka KB Denis Leontiev, artist, composer and sound artist Holly Herndon, artist Mat Dryhurst, writer and author of BLDGBLOG Geoff Manaugh, Design Earth collective, anthropologist of science and technology Lisa Messeri, speculative architect and filmmaker Liam Young, geographer and artist Sofia Gavrilova, philologist Artem Zubov, architect and design tutor Nicolay Boyadjiev, multidisciplinary design practice Metahaven, and others.