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27.08, Education

The Terraforming: Strelka announces new research program

Strelka Institute shifts its focus to urbanism on a planetary scale. Apply to its new postgraduate program by October 31.

Benjamin Bratton

Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design is launching The Terraforming, a new three-year research cycle, directed by design theorist Benjamin H. Bratton. Beginning in 2020, the program—which will be based in Moscow—will be tuition-free, include a monthly stipend, and will take researchers on field trips to the US city of Cambridge and to a remote location in Russia.

Benjamin Bratton—program director of Strelka Institute. He is the author of "The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty" and a professor of visual arts and director of the Center for Design at the University of California, San Diego. He is also a professor of digital design at The European Graduate School, and a visiting faculty at SCI_Arc (The Southern California Institute of Architecture).

 

The Terraforming: What, Why, and How

The term “terraforming” usually refers to transforming the ecosystems of other planets or moons to make them capable of supporting Earth-like life. However, the looming ecological consequences of human activities suggest that in the decades to come we might need to terraform our own planet if it is to remain a viable host for Earth-like life.

The Terraforming refers both to the terraforming that has taken place throughout the last century and millennia over the course of urbanization, and to the terraforming that must now be planned and conducted as the planetary design initiative of the next century if true catastrophes are to be prevented, says Program Director Benjamin Bratton.

The researchers will explore the implications of this proposition for urbanism at planetary scale, and look at how the technologically-mediated shift away from anthropocentric perspectives is crucially necessary in both theory and practice.

Instead of reviving ideas of nature, the program aims 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.

The vast and quickly changing expanse of Russia’s territory is the program’s site condition. From here, it looks out into space and then back down to Earth to orient what “planetarity” should mean.

 

What kind of urbanism will the program propose?

The Terraforming will consider the past and future role of cities as a planetary network by which humans occupy the Earth’s surface. It envisions an urbanism that is pro-planning, pro-artificial, anti-collapse, pro-materialist, anti-mythology, and pro-egalitarian distribution.

It starts with a different set of assumptions: the planet is artificially sentient; climate collapse mitigation and pervasive automation can converge; the concept of climate change is an epistemological accomplishment of planetary-scale computation; automation is a general principle by which ecosystems work; necessary fundamental shifts in geotechnology are likely to precede necessary fundamental shifts in geopolitics; surveillance of carbon flows is a good thing; energy infrastructures based on long term waste cycles are desirable; for ecological carrying capacity, culture costs more than science; planetarity requires philosophy in and of outer space; speculative design must focus on what is so deeply functional as to be unlikely; and, finally, the future becomes something to be prevented as much as achieved.

Earthrise. Courtesy NASA / Bill Anders

 

Who can apply?

The Terraforming is planned as a three-year research cycle, with three cohorts (30 people each) coming to Strelka Institute in central Moscow from January to July. The program is aimed at young professionals with varied backgrounds and work experience in the fields of architecture, urbanism, filmmaking, digital media, interactive design, computer technologies, social studies, physical sciences, and other fields. It is recommended that applicants have a higher education diploma (in any specialization) and no less than 2-3 years of work experience.

Half of the researchers will be Russian and half will be international. Fluency in English in required.

 

Who are the faculty?

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 philosopher Boris Groys, new 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 and engineer Xin Liu, composer and sound artist Holly Herndon, filmmaker Kodwo Eshun, 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, multidisciplinary design practice Metahaven, and others.

 

Harvard, MIT, and the Russian Hinterland

Each year, researchers will join a field trip to a remote location in Russia as part of a speculative filmmaking module, and an international field trip abroad.

In 2020, the cohort will travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard, MIT, and countless private companies and laboratories. The 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.

You can learn more about the program here and apply here. The deadline for applying is October 31.

Watch Benjamin Bratton present The Terraforming:

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