May 29, 2014

Learning to let go with nature at Living Future 2014

At this year’s Living Future unConference, Jennifer Preston co-led a workshop that merged the built and the natural.


According to Jennifer Preston, one of the best things about the Living Future community is how hands-on everyone is. And the energy at their annual “unConference” is no different. Earlier this month, Jen collaboratively led an unConference workshop with Alexandra Ramsden and Ilana Judah, entitled “Creating the Exquisite through Natural Inspiration.” Below, she shares the details of the session and her biggest takeaways.

Q: Walk us through the session. What happened when attendees first arrived?
A: After welcoming everyone, the three of us spent a few minutes speaking to the crowd about beauty, nature’s capacity to adapt to its context, the building industry’s growing interest in biomimicry, and finally about problem solving. We specifically touched on the method of the “exquisite corpse,” in which components are collectively assembled step-by-step to form a greater whole. That last part – coupled with the fact that everyone was sitting at a shared table with two small, mysterious boxes – probably tipped them off as to what was coming next.

Q: What came next?
A: We had each table open the first box, which was filled with a variety of natural objects such as leaves, crabclaws, and feathers. We asked the groups to reflect on the qualities and functions of these objects, and then consider how they could be applied to the built environment. After that, they opened the second box, which was filled with a variety of manmade materials that could support small-scale construction and crafting: objects like rubber bands, natural wool, and binder clips. We told each group to use any or all the objects available to build something, but provided minimal instruction beyond that.

Q: How did the attendees respond to the challenge?
A: Watching the different dynamics at each table was really interesting, but the best part was watching people get increasingly open, playful, and collaborative. Most of us are conditioned to think that if we are enjoying ourselves, then we must not be working hard. It’s important to remember that that doesn’t have to be the case.

Q: Did you throw any other twists their way?
A: Of course! After the groups finished building, we surprised them by asking everyone to pass their creation to the neighboring table. Each group then had five minutes to consider the purpose of their inherited object, and then present their best guesses to the room.

Q: Did any of the groups infer correctly?
A: In many cases, yes. That said, the groups that were technically “incorrect” offered some really interesting insights and proposed very logical ideas for what the mystery creations could be. It was a great reminder of the value in reimagining function – something that nature consistently does with great success.


BKSK_2014-05-22 13.22.25
A happy participant shares her group’s creation, consisting of both natural and manmade materials.
BKSK_2014-05-22 13.24.50
Each group ultimately handed off their creation, trusting that the new group would correctly infer the object’s purpose.