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Conference paper

The Seeds of Design Fiction

This invited Keynote to the joint Conference hosted by ISPRA and Arizona State University and hosted by the project A Year Without a Winter engages with a number of connected questions:

What is it that design fiction as a conceptual design enterprise can do to inform our senses and sensibilities of techno-cultural imagination and co-design production? How might conceptual, design fiction positioned, conceptual and imaginative work open out possibilities for thinking chronotopically about climate futures? What place might there be for such an approach in the wider socio-technical discourses around climate change and cultural landscapes? How might design fiction offer HCI new techniques for opening out complex temporal matters of context and culture?

Climate change is a scientific near certainty yet future material transformations are hard to appreciate. In the year 2050, temperatures have risen, ice melted and changes in habitation and biology occurred. Yet, knowledge has been lost of the Global Seed Bank on Svalbard from the early 21st century built as a physical repository of biodiversity. In winter of 2050, inhabitants of Longyearbyen, the capital, investigate a blue light projected over the fiord from inside a mountain. They explore and reconstruct a CATAVAULT – a massive cloud database of informational and cultural landscapes of the changing arctic. The ‘prospective’ vault had been built to complement the physical seed archive that was buried by an avalanche and largely forgotten.

This design fiction work on seeding conceptual design began on site in Longyearbyen in 2015 with two master’s studios in urbanism and landscape. As part of the Future North Research project into cultural landscapes of the arctic, funded by the Research Council of Norway. Within a techno-cultural frame, I discuss ways design fiction may inform our imaginative sensibilities on the projective recovery of a repository located in biodiversity informatics. Central are the concepts of anticipation, foresight and un/natural fiction. Key issues are raised concerning relations between physical-digital archives.

Image: Kari Tonseth



Morrison, A. 2016. 'The Seeds of Design Fiction'. 17.11.2016–18.11.2016. Available: http://ayearwithoutawinter.org