Cross-Species Test Sites

Columbia University | GSAPP | 115 Avery | Spring 2019 | Tuesdays, 7-9pm

Instructor: Chris Woebken hello (at)

In this course, students will study urban animal wildlife, indicator species, and microbial communities and work with biologists and ecologists to identify new design opportunities for the built environment. Through the process of constructing and testing design probes, we aim to create a reflective space for deeply considering the details of these new interactions, and to discover unforeseen opportunities, twists and challenges. Possible project outcomes encompass infrastructure interventions, bio-receptive materials, and cross-species interfaces. The goal of this work is to seed ideas for more inclusive narratives and to innovate on new approaches in designing for biological systems.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

• Introduce speculative thinking as well as rigorous experimental design to their practice

• Materialize concepts with new strategies for rapid product prototyping

• Explore new roles for design and new forms of critical engagement through collaborative work across disciplines

• Draw on aesthetic innovations developed in fields of fine art and tactical media

• Critical evaluation and design iteration

• Introduce speculative thinking as well as rigorous experimental design to their practice




Wk 1 (1/22)

Speculative Design Intro

Design Sprint


Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby (Chapter 1-3)

Wk 2 (1/29)

Workshop - Sourcing from Biology Journals

Sourcing from biology journals:

Sketch a concept habitat, perch, or interface that would allow for bio-monitoring and enable a cross-species communication.

Readings: A stroll through the worlds of animals and men by Jakob von Uexküll (1934), pp.320-328

What Is It Like to Be a Bat? by Thomas Nagel (1974), pp. 435-450

Wk 3 (2/5)

Group work: Share-out of original research & 3 concept sketches

Brief: ‘Cross-species interface’

Readings: Invisible Inhabitants by Elizabeth Hénaff, The Journal of Design and Science (JoDS)

Wk 4 (2/12)

Guest speaker: Elizabeth Hénaff

Project 1 - Iteration 1

Tutorials / Roundtables

Wk 5 (2/19)

Studio Visit / Field Trip - New Lab

Project 1 - Iteration 2

Tutorials / Roundtables

Wk 6 (2/26)

Project 1 - Iteration 3

Tutorials / Roundtables

Wk 7 (3/5)

Mid-term Crits

Project 1 due: ‘Cross-species interface’

Wk 8 (3/12)

Project 2 - Brief

Guest Lecture - TBA

Wk 9

Spring Break

Wk 10 (3/26)

Project 2 Implementation - Iteration 1

Wk 11 (4/2)

Project 2 Implementation - Iteration 2

Wk 12 (4/9)

Project 2 Implementation - Iteration 3

Wk 13 (4/16)

Project 2 Implementation - Iteration 4

Documentation and Synthesis

Wk 14 (4/23)


Project 2 due

Class Rules


Everyone does their best to show up to class on time. If you’re going to be late, let me know in advance. If you need to miss a class for a real reason, you must also let me know in advance.


Everyone does the readings. For the most part, they’re short, fun, and useful. You’re expected to be prepared and ready to participate in the discussion.


All assignment work is due at the beginning of class. Everyone gets a free pass for one late assignment. After that, any assignments not ready for the start of class will be counted as incomplete. Assignments must be posted to our shared Google Drive in the appropriate folder (your name), along with the documentation.


We will be making things and building objects. Expect to spend $200 on physical fabrication and prototyping materials.


Every student is expected to participate in critiques and class discussions. Critiques are essential to the design process inside and outside of this class. You are expected to apply critical thinking, ask questions, and formulate and explain your opinion. The more active the discussions we have the more rewarding and ultimately fun the class will be.


The assignments in this class will include two multiple week deliverable focused projects. All work assigned in this class will have the potential to be portfolio work. Student's overall grades will be a mixture of assignments (30%), two project presentations (50%) and participation (20%).


Students are responsible for all assignments, even if they are absent. Late assignments, failure to complete the assignments for class discussion and/or critique, and lack of preparedness for in-class discussions, presentations and/or critiques will jeopardize your successful completion of this course.


Class participation is an essential part of the class. To fulfill the Participation requirement (20% of final grade) students must be active in class discussions and group work, asking or responding to questions. For participation to be meaningful, it is important to keep up with reading, assignments, project development, and actively participate in group work, as well as come to class on time.

Electronic Devices

Use of electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops) is permitted when the device is being used in relation to the course's work. All other uses are prohibited in the classroom and devices should be turned off before class starts.

Inclusive environment

I am 100% dedicated to an inclusive, harassment-free experience for everyone regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, appearance, or religion. I will not tolerate harassment of class participants in any form.

Inspiring Readings

  • Keim, Brandon, “The Eye of the Sandpiper”, Cornell University Press, 2017.

  • Dunne, Anthony & Raby, Fiona “Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming” MIT Press, 2013.

  • Tsing, Anna, & others, “Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene” University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

  • Peter Godfrey-Smith, “Other Minds: The Octopus and The Evolution of Intelligent Life”, Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2016.

  • Hughes, Howard C. "Sensory Exotica A World beyond Human Experience", MIT Press, 2001.

  • Hénaff, Elizabeth ”Invisible Inhabitants”, The Journal of Design and Science (JoDS), 2017.

  • Nagel, Thomas. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” The Philosophical Review, vol. 83, no. 4, Oct. 1974.

  • Shanahan, Murray. “From Algorithms to Aliens, Could Humans Ever Understand Minds That Are Radically Unlike Our Own?” Aeon Magazine, Oct. 2016.

  • Ursula K. Le Guin Keynote Talk at the Anthropocene Conference: "Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet", 2014

  • Tsing, Anna. “The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins”, New York: Princeton University Press, 2015.

  • Sanderson, Eric. “Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City” Harry N. Abrams, 2009.

  • Shotwell, Alexis. “Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times” University of Minnesota Press, 2016.

  • Cabinet #25, “Insects”, 2007.

  • Sullivan, Robert. “Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants”, 2005

  • Gissen, David. “Subnature: Architecture and Other Environments”. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009.

  • Kirksey, Eben. “Emergent Ecologies”. Duke University Press, 2015.

  • Morton, Timothy. “Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence”. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.

  • Zacks, Stephen “Other Voices, Other Worlds” ArtInAmerica, 2018.

  • Gould, Stephen Jay. “An Evolutionary Perspective on Strengths, Fallacies, and Confusions in the Concept of Native Plants.” Arnoldia 58, no. 1 (1998): 2–10.

  • Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Milkweed Editions, 2015.

  • cj Lim, “Devices: A Manual of Architectural + Spatial Machines” Routledge, 2005.

  • Manaugh, Geoff, “Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions”, Actar, 2013.

Further Resources

Research repository on

Course presentation slides

Sourcing from biology journals on

iNaturalist App -