Notes on Design the end of the World – Split


In March I was asked to run a workshop broadly around speculative design in Split, Croatia. It lasted 5 days, with half a day of presentations at the end. The workshop asked the students to design new end of the world fictions and to re-design elements of the city for a new, ‘post-apocalyptic’ society. In preparation for the workshop the students were asked to watch as many disaster movies as they could and to start gathering newspaper headlines and statistics that might indicate a shift in the world as they/we know it. We used these statistics and headlines (taken as truth and accepting of their exaggerations, misinformation etc) as a springboard to develop new fictions that would give us a space, or a world to design in.

On the first day I was asked to give a short intro, where I talked about the end of the world and gave a few examples of convincing/interesting fictions. It jumps around a bit, but the aim was to introduce why I wrote the brief and to give a framework for us to think about design in. Below are some of the slides I showed with notes:


This is the first time in history where we can put a number on when the world will end. Relatively recently science has given us a definitive number – approximately 5 billions years from now, the sun will expand into our orbit and the world ends.


This is the trinity test at 0.016 seconds, July 16th 1945

The cold war represented a time when we could end huge swathes of life seemingly at the push of a button. As a race we have the power to end everything. This is also reasonably new.

The tiny shapes on the horizon are trees.

Its also design.

Kubricks Dr Strangelove presents us with a fiction where bureaucracy could ultimately end all life on earth.

Also of our governments ideological stand-point on global equality


The term Anthropocene, the current epoch in which humans have become a global geophysical force (Crutzen 2006) was coined to describe a time when humans began to make a significant impact to the eco systems on earth.

Though the date that the anthropocene started is still being debated, we are now in this epoch and have been for several years (Morton 2013).

Design did this – the tools that have been made for us to make changes to our planet have been designed and made, these tools have become enablers to grow populations, extract energy, travel, spread disease, industrialise farming etc.

The end of the world in film – This is Armageddon

The world almost always ends with an explosion, this seems unlikely.


Normally a hunky male character will somehow save everyone and life goes on. I think it’s about time we re-think this trope.


Dominant ideology in survivalism and post-EOTW worlds is hobbesian – human nature as self-interested cooperation. Lord of the flies, explored this most obviously.

The Road is the most recent version of this – Good guys and bad guys – cannibals and non cannibals.

Every man for himself.


The social/utopian version is – the Swiss?

Since 1978, when a law was passed stipulating that all new buildings must incorporate a shelter, over 300,000 have sprung up across the country, providing the possibility of protection for every Swiss citizen (and one million more besides).

The Swiss government have for the past 40 years been preparing for these kinds of catastrophes. Their solution is to build bunkers for everyone. Now these bunkers are being re-purposed as homeless shelters.


This is a Highway into Chernobyle. On the lines of filmic explosive end. Disaster in Chernobyle enabled ‘nature’ to return, everything is overgrown. But it’s still totally inhabitable.

The absence of people make you imagine new possibilities – what would you build here?

See Pripyat (1999) movie.


Napyidaw in Burma – This is an end of the world town, without any explosions or apocalypse – a purpose built new city with no one in it.

A space that was built empty. It’s a city built by for street cleaners to clean.


Imagine being in the Mayan metropolis – would be hard to imagine it ending. As a citizen imagine it now teeming with tourists after being uncovered, it’s a new re-imagined architecture.

Maya depleted one of their principal resources – trees – and this led to a series of other problems, including soil erosion, decrease of usable farmland, and drought. The growing population that drove this overexploitation was then faced with a diminishing amount of food, which led to increasing migration and, eventually, bloody civil war.”


Lots of people have said it – A term that has been attributed to a number of different people in the past few years, Zizek etc.

“There is no alternative” – The idea that we were given no alternative to capitalism and neo-lib policies by Thatcher and Reagan – now we are stuck with it, one way to get out of it is to imagine the EOTW.

Fight club end scene – End of the world can be utopian – Fight Club and project mayhem imagined a new society set within modern day capitalism, a new way to experience the world around us.

It had a uniform, a manifesto, a leader and a site.

“In the world I see… you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.”
— Tyler Durden – Fight Club

The end scene is everything that Tyler had been working towards – he wanted to “set the credit score to zero”, by blowing up the headquarters of the worlds major banks we start again from nothing. Tylers Utopia is to start from zero – no possessions etc.


Utopia project, Dylan Evans – He didn’t just imagine it, he acted it out with others. It became a real life design fiction.


Dark Mountain manifesto – The Dark Mountain Manifesto was written by a group of ex-environmentalists who ‘gave up’ trying to save the world and instead have chosen to embrace the changes that they feel are inevitable, rather than escaping from disaster, they want to produce new cultures and societies that transcends the EOTW – the EOTW becomes an opportunity to imagine new worlds.

They call it ‘un-civilising’. They write a book every 6 months with new writing and visual art dealing with or exploring the fundamental changes that are going to happen to our world.


Kenji Yanobe Japanese artist

Post-catastrophe banalities

Make suits that talk about how you might go about your daily lives after some kind of catastrophe – how do you walk the dog in a nuclear holocaust?


Dunne and Raby’s micro kingdoms imagines new societies based on their chosen production of energy and their political systems formed around this. Splitting the Uk into four different societies. They designed vehicles as a communication method to talk about how new societies could work based on their energy production.


Accelerationist manifesto – aim to accelerate capitalism to generate a radical social change.


Speculative design/design fiction is all design at certain points. Drawings and sketches & proposals are fictions. The difference is time line. This is a Microsoft Fiction (via Tobias Revell’s Lighthouse talk) – advertising is a design fiction. It doesn’t seem particularly exciting to us but for Microsoft shareholders it would be.

Game – shout out when you know what it’s advertising. (Luxury flats) Takes marketing to breaking point – this was pulled by the company after twitter outrage. Anyone seen american psycho?


Difficulty is finding a middle ground between fantasy and believable. I’ll loose friends – I hate LOTR. LOTR doesn’t have the believability that good science fiction does.

For me it’s a bad fiction because the universe feels as though it changes, magic means there are no constants – where did those walking trees come from? None of it is plausible so it doesn’t sit well with me, I don’t leap into believability.

This is an amazing design ficton. Japanese zoo-keepers rehearsing a snow leopard escape. It’s all straight faces and drills.


Zero-G Toilet is an excellent design fiction because of the detailing – the toilet doesn’t exist and doesn’t need to exist – the instructions alone give us enough information to suspend disbelief.

More on detailing in fictions – Kubrick hats from 22:50 to 23:09 in boxes. Looking for the perfect ‘sinister hat’, as soon as you see the chosen hat it works.


From fiction to reality – new objects and rituals designed for new context for design – in space.


Super studio proposals as a reaction to architecture at the time. They’re fictions to embody a manifesto. Using collage to build new worlds by ripping up our current one, bulldozing it and starting again.

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