Jenna Witzleben

MFA Thesis Blog

This blog contains experiments, project and reading reflections, unanswered questions, and more relating to my year-long thesis as part of my Master's design program. From Sept. 2016 to May 2017, I explored rewilding human beings and the environments we inhabit at multiple scales including investigation around individual fears of nature, regional food production systems, and global overpopulation. The final works of this thesis can be found in my portfolio.

What does Rewilding mean?

As I learn more about breaking barriers between humans and "non-human" nature, I have been expanding my vocabulary. One particular concept that seems to have a lot of resonance with my ideas and vision is rewilding. I was first introduced to this in JB MacKinnon's book "The Once and Future World" and have been further investigating through internet searches and my current book: Rewilding Our Hearts by Marc Bekoff.

Rewilding has different definitions, and there are many initiatives that could forward this movement. To give it a little more tangibility, as I start designing in the next few weeks, I've decided to map/list out some of what I think would be the key elements of a rewilded world. (No particularly order).

1. Contiguous "Wild"/Natural Spaces: This seems to be a common thread amongst most people in the rewilding movement. All of our "green" spaces need to be connected so that other species can roam freely.

2. Closer encounters with plants and other animals: As we make room again in our towns and cities for other living things in addition to humans, we will likely have more frequent encounters with them. We will need to increase our knowledge of these plants and animals, to how to treat them with compassion but also how to keep ourselves safe. 

Image Credit : StonyPlain

Image Credit : StonyPlain

3. Increased support of wild plant life: In addition to gardens and small farms, a more resilient use of land is often allowing and supporting the growth of wild plants. Fields of wild plants are usually much more diverse, than a field of a planted crop or two. Again, further education and diet adaptation will accompany this.

4. Minimal powered transportation: As we transition into a rewilded and more sustainable society, our transportation methods will adapt, focusing more on walking and biking, with mass transit when needed. Our roads can begin to be transformed into dirt, grass, and plant space to further accommodate other species. We will therefore need to begin designing things like bikes (as well as shoes) for these conditions. 

5. Sensing, Resourcefulness, Commons, and Compassion: These four human capabilities will likely need to adapt as well. We will need to be more aware of our surroundings: both to avoid harming other beings as well as to be capable of acquiring food and protecting ourselves. In some ways we will need to be more individually capable - being able to make things from the materials around us, forage for food, pay attention to our impact, etc. In other ways we will need to be more respectful of the community - both of humans and non-humans. How will we make sure that wild food is available for everyone? What happens if people become greedy with the food on wild plants?

6. Infrastructure symbiotic with plant life and weather patterns: Rewilding and increasing our resiliency will mean adapting our methods of architecture and urban design. We will need to ensure symbiosis with plant life, with other animal life, and with weather patterns. 

Image Credit: Inhabitat

Image Credit: Inhabitat

7. Alternate forms of entertainment, fashion, and food: How will retail stores, movie theaters, amusement parks transform to exist in a rewilded world or will they become obsolete? How will our clothing change as we spend more time in "natural" or "wild" spaces? 

8. Increased acceptance of natural human phenomena and behavior: As we grow more comfortable with other species - their biology and behaviors, is it likely we will grow more comfortable with aspects of our own species that have been discarded or denoted "uncivilized", including breastfeeding and body hair.

9. Embracing dirt, rain, sun, and bacteria: Our fear and disgust around these natural elements of our environments will need to be reduced heavily. This should come as part of the transition, and be furthered by our new ways of living - by relying more on wild food, we deeply respect the roles that the dirt and sun and rain play in the production. 

There are still however some difficult and unanswered questions - grey areas where it is unclear what transformation might occur as we rewild. These grey areas include health and healthcare, jobs and occupation, and computation and technology. The intersection between modern science/technology and rewilding is not discussed in detail in the literature I have been exposed to. What I do know is that rewilding does not mean a complete return to a pre-historic way of life. And I think I'd like to explore through design sketches/exercises what these areas might actually look like in a realistic rewilded future.

Jenna Witzleben