[ISEA2023] Paper: Rasa Weber — A sympoietic ocean: Design research with/in the marine holobiont


Short Paper. Theme: Ecosystems – Climate Change Sub theme: Symbiotic Organizations

In the light of profound human impact on planetary systems, the global ocean, as a main source of life, is fundamentally transforming its interactions, flows and ecologies. These critical changes raise questions of other-than-human cohabitation on Earth, beyond the terrestrial ground also below sea level. In response to these radical ecological struggles, the design discipline seeks to reorganize its methodologies towards forms of multispecies collaboration with/in environments of anthropogenic change. In this paper, I argue for activating the evolutionary theory of Symbiogenesis, disseminated by biologist Lynn Margulis, based on the preliminary work of Mereschkowsky and Kozo-Polyansky. I am highlighting, how Symbiogenesis can serve as a point of departure for challenging and reinventing our disciplinary protocols in design. The ocean, as a prototypical space for symbiotic system relations serves as my experimental contact zone for shaping these multispecies encounters. Alongside a young generation of designers, the presented design research seeks to evade an extractivist mode of production in favor of developing process-oriented methodologies for interspecies design. A design research practice in underwater environments, together with sponges, algae, electrical circuits, marine biologists, fishes, cameras, limestone, polyps et al., gives rise to a new design strategy, which I suggest naming Sympoïetic Design.

  • Rasa Weber (designer, diver & researcher) is an experimental designer between Zurich (CH) and Berlin (DE) who explores the narrative and process-based potential of materials. Her design concepts are characterized by a strong narrative approach and critical ecological thinking. She regularly teaches at international universities and is currently a research associate at ZHdK and a Pre-Doctoral Researcher (ZHdK), associated with the Cluster of Excellence Matters of Activity. She works interdisciplinary in the fields of design, materials research, architecture, and design anthropology. In her practice-based doctoral research »Symbiocean« (supervised by Prof. Dr. Karmen Franinović, ZHdK and Prof. Dr. Karin Harrasser, University of the Arts Linz, AT) she researches on the process of underwater mineral accretion and its sympoïetic potential for the ecological formation of marine habitats. At the intersection of marine biology, anthropology, and design, she explores the notion of Interspecies Architecture within her research on sympoïetic design processes with human, animal, and microbial actors in the ocean. She is one of the founders of They Feed Off Buildings, a design and architecture collective, in collaboration with Luisa Rubisch. As founder of the studio Blond & Bieber, she collaborated with textile designer Essi Glomb on bio-based material and color concepts.