Design Strategist
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Futuring; engaging the public with migrating species

Engaging the public with the impacts of a changing climate on migrating species

‘Transition Habitats’ correspondance

‘Transition Habitats’ correspondance

 
 

PROJECT OUTCOME

‘Transition Habitats’, an exhibit and participatory futuring workshop that engages the public with the impacts of a changing climate on migrating species, driving visitors to take immediate political action.

GENERAL INFO

Partners: The Extrapolation Factory, Walker Art Center
Team: Elliott Montgomery, Chris Woebken, Daniela V. Sánchez
Location: New York
Role: Design Strategist, Communication and Exhibit Designer.


 
 
 

CONTEXT

The ‘Transition Habitats’ project helps the public listen to non-human indicator species, and then to interpret their messages as proposals for the future. The project grew out of Extrapolation Factory's residency at the Walker Art Center, beginning in the fall of 2016.

The first phase of the residency resulted in a four-day participatory futuring exercise in which visitors were asked to propose urban infrastructure modifications that could support species being impacted by changing climates. Visitors to the Walker developed scale prototypes of their ideas, such as rooftops for butterfly feeding, rabbit telecommunications, and bat mating stations. These miniature models were presented on an illuminated map of the areas surrounding the Walker to provide visual context for location and environmental factors.

The subject of ‘communication’ was a recurring theme throughout the discussions; communication between non-human organisms, but also between species. Though interest in inter-species communication is far from novel, the current political posturing toward ecological issues might re-open speculation around this hypothetical. What messages would non-human organisms send to decision makers? If a non-human individual messaged a politician, would they be considered a constituent? How could the nation’s communication infrastructure be redesigned to serve non-human organisms?


MY ROLE

My role focused on two core areas:

  1. Design Strategies - developing communication and interaction strategies for the ‘Transition Habitats’ exhibit at the Walker Art Center.

  2. Communication & Exhibit Design - exhibit, artifact, and communication design of the Inter-Species Postal Office at the Walker Art Center.


OUTCOME

‘Transition Habitats’, an exhibit and participatory futuring workshop that engages the public with the impacts of a changing climate on migrating species, driving visitors to take immediate political action.

‘Transition Habitats’ exhibit at the Walker Art Center

Handwritten letters are still considered to be among the most persuasive form of political messaging despite the prevalence of digital communication. Extrapolation Factory began envisioning a postal system that allows non-human individuals to send their messages as hand-written messages to decision makers. The iconic US mail collection box served as a starting point for an inter-species postal service. What if the nation's mail collection boxes were redesigned as dual-purpose message collection stations, for humans as well as another species group? Extrapolation Factory posed this question to a group of about 30 ecologists at University of Minnesota, and collected a broad range of suggestion for how this could work.

Three mail collection boxes have been designed based on these conversations, each focused on a group of indicator species which can be used to infer environmental conditions. First, a migratory bird mail collection box serves as a birdhouse that listens to the calls of birds such as warblers and simultaneously allows us to track shifts in their migration patterns in the spring and fall. Second, a pollinator mail collection box photographs monarch butterflies and other insects by alluring them with an artificial flower. These indicators can signal environmental stressors such as pollutants and radiation. Third, a lichen mail collection box straddles a boulder covered in lichen, enabling viewers to observe growth patterns and color changes. Lichens are good indicators of air quality.

‘Transition Habitats’ correspondance

‘Transition Habitats’ correspondance

These three mail collection boxes were on view in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden for its re-opening on June 2017. Accompanying the collection boxes, visitors were finding the Inter-Species Postal Service office, allowing the public to observe the types of data that could be captured by these devices over time. The post office will help visitors interpret messages from non-human individuals as hand-written letters to local representatives.