, Education

Design, Modeling & Governance at Planetary Scale: The Terraforming Projects

An overview of the final projects of the first year of Strelka Institute’s The Terraforming design research program.

The first cohort of The Terraforming—the design research program and three-year (2020–2022) initiative of the Strelka Institute in Moscow directed by Benjamin H. Bratton—has presented their final projects, offering insightful and provocative contributions to the discussion about viable urbanism at planetary scale. The projects form a foundation for the work that will develop over the next couple of years as this three-year initiative unfolds.

The Terraforming refers both to the terraforming that has taken place on Earth 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. It rethinks the idea of the planetary and revalorizes the artificial, understood here not as fake, but rather as designed. The program links the mitigation of climate change to the geopolitics of automation and asserts that the circumstance of anthropogenic climate change demands an equally anthropogenic response.

“Our program is positioned deliberately and unapologetically in contrast with the trend and wave of design populism and indeed thereby against reactionary populism anywhere on the political stage as well,” Benjamin Bratton says.

The program is and remains one of speculative urban futures but is so because each of those terms is undecided and therefore alive, he stresses. “The speculative as we refer to it doesn’t refer to something that’s whimsically creative and open without constraints or limitation, but rather to something in a certain sense the opposite of this, something that is so functional and necessary even, if also extremely unlikely, that it makes the conventional schemes seem insane by comparison.”

Each program cycle will run for six months and invite a group of 30 interdisciplinary researchers. Learn more about The Terraforming program, its themes, and faculty here.

A call for applications for the next research cycle in 2021 will be announced at the end of August. Sign up for updates.

See the full playlist including project introductions from Program Director Benjamin Bratton and faculty keynotes from Helen Hester, Kim Stanley Robinson, Jussi Parikka, and Lisa Messeri here.


To Bury the Sky

A plan to capture and store 1,000 Gigatons of CO2 in Siberia

By Marina Dubova, Pierce Myers, Bryan Wolff

To Bury the Sky is prototyping the inversion of the planetary carbon conveyor belt at the scale of Siberia. To reverse the process of carbon overload the researchers propose not to return to old practices but rather to re-aim the efforts that produced the problem in the first place. To Bury the Sky suggests to put the excess CO2 back from where it came—the deep geological formations of the Earth.

An investigation of the motive, techniques, locations, and possible actors lead the plan on how to bury the sky to a region holding the largest flood basalt in the world. What was once created by an extinction event known as “the Great Dying” might now help prevent just that.

Watch the presentation.



Kosmos Law

Replacing outdated space law and updating terrestrial governance

By Vlad Afanasiev, Luiza Crosman, Elena Darjania

This project suggests to see space not as an extension of the Earth, but the Earth itself as part of space—and thus adjust the legal frameworks through which the Earth is governed.

What would a governance system for climate change look like in this case? Kosmos Law addresses these issues and proposes an alternative framework. One that not only regulates future space activities, but also envisions a new model for governing Earth’s resources and climate flows. By arguing that Earth is a subset of space, Kosmos Law leverages the opportunity of the still malleable legal framework of space law and reframes it to use it as a model for Earth itself.

Watch the presentation.



Backcasting Kardashev One

What does it mean to be a planetary civilization?

By Eugenia Berchul, Yulya Besplemennova, Stuart Turner, Iani Zeigerman

This is a project about energy, civilization, and planetarity. It repurposes the Kardashev scale—a method of measuring a civilization’s level of technological advancement based on the amount of energy it is able to use—to assess what it means to be a planetary civilization.

Using the insights of Soviet astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev and others, the researchers ask: Where is our civilization on the scale, and what does that say about our level of advancement? What might be the thermodynamic and civilizational consequences of advancement on the Kardashev scale? What is the scope of our agency as we head towards many possible futures—and what might those futures look like? And finally working backwards from them, what might we learn about inhabitation of the Earth during our current anthropogenic crisis of energy metabolism?

Watch the presentation.



Pharmakon Landscape

A geodesign initiative to tackle long-term environmental threats by reinterpreting the Russian inner periphery

By Andrey Tetekin, Luciano Brina, Yu Gong

Pharmakon Landscape is a geodesign initiative for tackling long-term environmental threats by taking advantage of current misoriented, unplanned, and undeveloped economic, demographic, and ecological dynamics in the Russian inner periphery, through a “psychogeophysic” approach. In Greek, pharmakon means something that is both remedy and poison at the same time.

The project presents two specialized pharmakon landscapes: one based on the Russian Industrial-Military Complex (IMC), one of the major landowners in the world and one of the most prepared institutions for protecting ecological infrastructure; and one based on Direct Air Capture (DAC) and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) by natural and mechanical means.

Watch the presentation.



Green Military New Deal

Repurposing the military for climate change mitigation

By Eduardo Castillo Vinuesa, Iuliia Gankevich, Andrey Shevlyakov

The Green Military New Deal examines how national and transnational militaries can be effectively repurposed for the ostensible protection of ecological commons, mitigation, monitoring, preventative land management, and the development of climate intervention technologies.

The research leads toward a paradoxical provocation. In order to become feasible, the many Green New Deal-type proposals around the world should not only include the military but should also enforce its repurposing as the main means through which the proposals can become viable.

Watch the presentation.




Flux, metabolic transformation, and the current state of lifecycle modeling

By Remote Fellow Luke Jones

Metabolism in its most banal sense—as an epistemic project focused around the quantification of material and energy flows between systems and processes—is increasingly central to the ecological governance of the contemporary technosphere of human cities, products, and technologies. When a product or project is assessed as having certain environmental impacts or “embodied carbon,” that association is a scenario grounded in institutionalized fluxometrics. This project explores the centrality of metabolism as the governing abstraction of early twenty-first century environmental bureaucracy, and attempts to identify what is at stake in its continued development.

Watch the presentation.


Black Almanac

31 steps to produce a viable food system by 2050

By Andrea Provenzano, Philip Maughan, Nikolai Medvedenko

Born from the tradition of farmers’ almanacs reaching back as far as ancient Mesopotamia, Black Almanac embraces artificiality and the chemical-material potential of food as a locus for planetary transformation. From the dark, fertile soil of the Nile River Delta—from which the words “alchemy” and “chemistry” descend—Black Almanac is a plan for 2050 that outlines thirty-one fundamental shifts—from infrastructure to institutions, one per growing season—that will construct a viable food system by autumn of that year.

By eating we translate the world—and the world, in turn, translates us. Black Almanac’s goal is not only the piecemeal replacement of outmoded tools, malfunctioning chemopolitics, and a reactionary food culture. It is the production of a new Earth.

Watch the presentation.




Re-imagining the concept of waste

By Eleanor Peres, Anastasia Sinitsyna, Tigran Kostandyan, Tim Nosov

This project deals with the problem/concept of waste through the larger framework of planetary metabolism. Daleko argues that waste must be encountered and accommodated in other ways.

Daleko is a common future world that reimagines the concept of waste over a deeper time scale and expanded frames of value by carefully dissolving the concept of externality. This world is composed of nine science fiction stories centered around sites of obsolescence in the Russian territory, narrated from the future. The sites and stories reveal various detailed perspectives of an interconnected future.

Watch the presentation.




A planetary ecological connectivity framework with a focus on the Russian territory

By Ani Dalal, Liudmila Gridneva, Tatiana Lyubimova

Veha is a landscape design project that is based on the design of landscapes not for human use and occupation. This project explores the Half-Earth concept through global connectivity corridors as a framework for ecological sustainability and biodiversity protection.

As a planetary strategy, this approach is applicable at different scales, and it requires a general action plan for ecological service system development as an infrastructure.

The focus on the territory of Russia allows for revealing its aspects, taking into account local natural and anthropogenic specificities.

Watch the presentation.




Climate narratives that are written before climate projections and after climate modeling

By Laura Cugusi, Chiara Di Leone, Anastasiia Noga

Cassandra imagines a different way of conceiving the future habitability of Earth. It is an attempt to conceptualize and model futurity as a technology and examine the role of simulation within the context of climate change.

The project departs from the existing frameworks of scenario planning, which governmental and corporate entities use to strategize in the face of unfolding climate change. It addresses the climate narratives that are written before climate projections and after climate modeling.

Watch the presentation.



Automation & Resilience: COVID-19 Crisis in China

How automation is enabling resilience in China’s urban and socio-political systems

By remote fellow Jie Shen

Risk management and resilience from crisis might be impossible without automation, which is an assemblage of technologies, methods, and plans. Not only can technologies transform infrastructure to reduce and prevent damage, but also the technological shift and new abstraction can trigger in-depth socio-political transformation to prevent eco-crisis. Present-day China has one of the world’s most complex social-technical assemblages. Many technical approaches are being used or were developed for resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic. This presentation will use four Chinese case studies to examine whether and how automation generally enables resilience in urban systems, socio-political systems, and perhaps in ecosystems. It asks what lessons might be learned from the Covid-19 experience for preventing approaching eco-crisis.

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What does it mean to inhabit an artificially extending, cyborgian planet?

By remote fellow Rachel Hill

Cosmoplanetarity argues that it is only through incorporating and accounting for our planet’s artificial expansiveness—i.e. growing population of microgravity infrastructures, such as satellites and space stations—that a truly planetary scale design, with its substantive interventions, can be attempted. Cosmoplanetarity emerges from the need to present a properly, cosmically contextualized understanding of the Earth and its Earthlings, which is incorporative of the planet's burgeoning boundaries. Taking the space station as its primary site of investigation, Cosmoplanetarity asks: What does it mean to inhabit an artificially extending, cyborgian planet?

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The Macro-Engineering Reader

Reconciling engineering and science fiction

By remote fellow James Boyd

Macro-engineering is a design field with a colossal range that includes everything from large civil engineering projects and innovative techniques in geoengineering, to architectures in orbital space and astroengineering pursuits requiring advanced technological capabilities.

Methodological divergences tend to increase as one moves toward the astroengineering extrema of macro-engineering. Such works are motivated by science fiction. If astroengineering is to be part of macro-engineering, however, it must adhere to common design principles. If macro-engineering can reconcile engineering and science fiction, perhaps it can develop into a consistent field.

Watch the presentation.

Cover image: still from Kosmos Law

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