Jenna Witzleben

Ecology School blog

Welcome to the Ecology School blog, where I document my ongoing self-education in ecology, landscape design, and urban design.

XXII Triennale di Milano Broken Nature NYC Symposium

Last Monday, January 14 I had the pleasure of attending the symposium at the Museum of Modern Art as part of the XXII Triennale di Milano: Broken Nature. The event, hosted by the Triennale’s curator Paola Antonelli, was a great immersion into a multitude of projects and works across sectors and design languages, all with the common theme of repairing our broken relationships with nature and with each other. If you weren’t able to attend or watch the livestream, the entire symposium is recorded on YouTube (below).

In attempts to summarize my key takeaways and continuing reflections, I’d like to share some of the Terminology & Concepts, Project highlights, and People & Organizations from the symposium that any budding ecological urbanist should be familiar with. I also share at the end some references and ideas that, at least personally speaking, require further reflection and research.

Terminology & Concepts

Multi-species justice

This is a term that Ursula Heise used in her presentation, and I believe is extensively discussed in her book. I couldn’t find a definition to share online, but I liked the Sydney Environment Institute’s description:

“More recently, the grave harms inflicted on non-human animals and the environment have come to be understood as injustices, demanding that we ask, ‘what would justice across the human-more-than-human world look like and entail?’ … it requires our imagining and including modes of representation and other political practices equipped to appreciate and accommodate the justice claims of all ecological beings – individuals, systems, and their relations.” (Source: The University of Sydney)

Respectful design and Decolonizing design

Both Dori Tunstall and Heather Davis opened their presentations by acknowledging the indigenous history of our location in central Manhattan and the traditional Lenape ownership and stewardship of this land. Dori specifically spoke about respectful design and decolonization of design in her speech. She had a slide that read:

“Decolonizing is indigenous land sovereignty, which requires liberating design from the modernist project.” (Source: Dori Tunstall)

She went on to describe modernist design as bringing luxury to masses (accompanied by ecological devastation) and dropping of “national and ethnic baggage, which in the context of BIPOC people is colonization 2.0.” I also found a snip from an interview with Dori, where she further describes these terms:

“Respectful design asks how you can understand and respect the fact that everything in the world needs to exist and be recognized for its own existence, and not just for its benefit to humans. This is linked to decolonization in design, which is partly based on indigenous principles around respect for all other living creatures. Specifically, it is about seeing your own existence as being relational to those living creatures.” (Source:

For further discussion around indigenous acknowledgement, I recommend this article from Chelsea Vowel’s blog âpihtawikosisân.

Seventh generation Principle

Dori Tunstall also spoke about the Seventh Generation principle, which is related to respectful design, and is part of OCAD’s efforts to deconolize design. The Seven Generations International Foundation provides the following definition:

“The Seventh Generation takes its name from the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee, the founding document of the Iroquois Confederacy, the oldest living participatory democracy on Earth. It is based on an ancient Iroquois philosophy that: ‘In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.’” (Source: Seven Generations International Foundation)

The Seven Generations International Foundation also describes how this principle can be used to make decisions about water and energy, as well as relationships.

Project highlights

There were many inspiring projects showcased as part of this symposium, and it was hard to select just a handful to include in this post. The following six stood out as great examples of new models of restorative architecture and urban design, as well as a few delightfully provocative speculative design works.

Image: Ground Works Sand Diego

Image: Ground Works Sand Diego

UCSD Cross-border initiative / Political Equator / Community stations

Image: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

Image: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

Image: Broken Nature XXII Triennale di Milano

Image: Broken Nature XXII Triennale di Milano

Image: Sputniko!

Image: Sputniko!

People & Organizations

All of the presenters and debaters, as well as the entire curation team, are magnificent and I’d definitely recommend reading more about them here. I’ve highlighted a few of people and organizations, either who contributed to the symposium or were mentioned in it, whose work is most directly relevant to the content of this blog:

Design Earth

Design Earth is “a collaborative practice led by El Hadi Jazairy and Rania Ghosn. The office’s work engages the geographic to open up a range of aesthetic and political concerns for architecture and urbanism .” (Source: Design Earth)

Website | Instagram

Ursula Heise

Marcia H. Howard Chair in Literary Studies at the Department of English and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA; her research focuses on contemporary literature and the environmental humanities.

Website | Book

Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies at UCLA

LENS is the research lab at UCLA where many of Ursula Heise's projects are based. They are “an incubator for new research and collaboration on storytelling, communications, and media in the service of environmental conservation and equity.” I am particularly interested in following their work looking at Los Angeles as a Multispecies City, as part of a collaborative series with KCET.


Schwegler products

Schwegler is a company that has been making and selling minimal, beautiful bird and nature conservation products for over 65 years. This is definitely a great company to be familiar with both for professional design projects and for your own home.


Vishaan Chakrabati and PAU

Vishaan contributed a short video segment to the symposium, during which he spoke about having streets without curbs and bringing back the humanity into cities. His practice, PAU, is more focused on humanist cities rather than ecological urbanism and designing for more than human beings. However, they seemed to be critiquing the standard ways of designing cities, softening the edges of urban spaces while increasing resiliency, and hopefully will continue to expand their language beyond humanist design towards ecological design.


Maurice Cox and Detroit Planning and Development

Maurice is the Director of Planning & Development Department in the City of Detroit and is leading the incredible restoration projects I touched on briefly above in the Project highlights section.

Website | Twitter

Susannah Drake and dlandstudio

Susannah is the founding principal at dlandstudio. Her firm has led many restoration and resiliency projects throughout NYC, as I mentioned above in the Project highlights section.

Website | Instagram

For further consideration…

Many of the speakers and presentations touched on additional topics and references that I need to further research / consider / attend.



qapirangajuq documentary

Ursula Heise included this documentary in her presentation. It presents a different perspective on polar bears than we’re used to having in white western mass media. The indigenous people in this film discuss the challenges of the presence of polar bears near their villages. While both non-indigenous scientists and indigenous people may agree that climate change is a problem, they can have different views on the need to “save the polar bears”. It is critical that we listen to the indigenous perspectives on climate change and ecological issues. Watching this documentary is just one small step in doing this.

Image: Quote Fancy

Image: Quote Fancy

Deep Ecology

I can’t remember who brought up deep ecology in the symposium. This is a concept I’ve heard of a few times, but haven’t truly explored. There was specific mention of Fritjof Capra. I found a couple of his writings here and here.


Cooper Hewitt Triennial: Nature

At the opening of the symposium, Paola mentioned that this theme of nature-centered, reparative, restorative, and ecological design is common amongst many art and design showcases this year, including the Cooper Hewitt’s Triennial. The exhibition titled ‘Nature’ is set to open May 10, 2019 and be open through January 20, 2020.


Synthetic Biology

I’ve seen Neri Oxman present a few times now and am familiar with her work. She is engaging, visionary, dynamic. However, something about her work also makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. And I think it is because I haven’t formulated my opinions on synthetic biology. I need to do some further reading and research to understand the ethics and impacts of this field of work. I will start with the short documentary SYNBIOSAFE.


Sitting with brokenness

This was a theme that was discussed at length in the symposium, particularly by Heather Davis. She spoke about how, even with the best intentions, we often keep acting and acting on the problems we face, not spending enough time sitting with the brokenness, and we end up in cycles of constantly fixing more problems we ignorantly created. Or we end up not addressing the root problem, because we acted too fast on what we thought we knew. In the face of a shortening timeline to prevent complete ecological collapse, we need to find a balance between sitting and acting, on both micro and macro scales.

Jenna Witzleben