New School News

Apocalypse Now: Designing for Existential Risk

Credit: Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

Picture this: We’re a few minutes from oblivion. An asteroid races toward earth, the oceans crash into a major metropolis, and disease spreads from village to village. These scenarios, so far restricted to the pages of science fiction novels and the frames of disaster films, could be more foreboding than we realize. The rapid growth of technology, indiscriminate consumption, and increasing scarcity of resources has left the world in a precarious position: facing existential risks of unparalleled magnitude.

In the search for a hero to save us from certain destruction, Parsons The New School for Design presents Design and Existential Risk, a discussion series on how design can predict, prepare for, and react to extreme situations like resource wars, climate change, and widespread disease. The series brings together leading thinkers, designers, authors, and educators to question how we can design for an unnerving future.

Although we use very sci-fi tools, humans have evolved very little over the past thousand years,, said organizer Ed Keller, associate dean of Distributed Learning and Technology. Through Design and Existential Risk, we expose this gap in human nature, and ask what we can do to reinvent ourselves in the face of such risk and ensure the survival of our species.,

The series, which kicked off in early October, continues through December and features a number of New School faculty members, including Ken Wark (November 4), chair of culture and media at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts; Elizabeth Ellsworth (November 5), associate provost for Curriculum and Learning and professor of Media Studies at The New School; and Joel Towers (December 2), dean of Parsons The New School for Design. For a full schedule and participant biographies, visit

Although it strikes an ominous tone, the series is more about inspiring creative solutions than doom saying. The most important thing is to get our thinking into more imaginative and interdisciplinary places,, said Keller. When it comes to engineering our own planet and our own technology, there is quite a bit that design can do.,

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