In the Anthropocene era, primeval elements have been increasingly a point of political contention. Toxic air, corrosive soil, black water and environmental violence have been mediated with different degrees of consistency and success in policy making. If public policies alone can’t resolve the crisis, it rests upon human capital to confront the environmental change through the agency of design to extend human survival.


Volatile Ecologies is a design expedition examining environmental degradation in the post-industrial waterfront of Tonawanda New York through the lens of scenario planning and prototype making. Since its use in 1910s, the Tonawanda site has been contaminated for decades with oil spills, benzene run-offs, coal tars, ammonia liquors, waste water, and toxic airborne emissions. Bringing together design thinking, technology, and material culture, the exhibition depicts an alternative future of the heavily polluted site through four design prototypes and four sets of speculative drawings. With each viewing from the perspective of air, earth, climate, and labour, the prototypes and the world they inhabit explore ideas of reparation, production, and cohabitation across spatial and temporal scales. From an air filtrating wearable jacket to a pneumatic wall assembly, the prototypes offer material evidence and suggest the results of changing working relationships between designers, engineers, scientists, politicians and other stakeholders. As visitors explore this exhibition, they will discover and exploit narrative, practices and aesthetic—scientifically informed and materially substantiated.


In a world of quickly changing environments, Volatile Ecologies does not offer solutions but a platform for conversation by providing observations and speculative alternatives on the table.

Expedition Members:

Zherui Wang, 2020-21 Peter Reyner Banham Fellow at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Daedalus Guoning Li, Ji Shi, Albert Chao 

Research Studio Participants:
Alfred Cai, Hua Xiu Chen, Thomas Cleary, Camilo Copete, Cristian Copete, James Feind, Rebecca Flanagan, Rossella Giangreco-Marotta, Olivia Xuan He, Yaliana Hernandez, Xiaofeng Jiang, Xing Hua Lin, Jennifer Persico, Xuwen Zhang.

Exhibition Seminar Participants: Mitchel Mesi, Timothy Zeng, Brian Kwong.