Designing Better Planetary Conversations: Letting the Earth Answer Back

Joining the 2023-24 cohort of Morningside Academy for Design Design Fellows has provided Chen Chu MArch ’21 with a unique chance to explore the potential of design as an innovative problem-solving approach.

Upon completing a master’s degree in architecture at MIT and working as a researcher for an environmental nongovernmental organization, Chu opted to pursue a PhD in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning to delve deeper into the ethical dilemmas spurred by climate change.

Under the mentorship of Delia Wendel, assistant professor of urban studies and international development, Chu’s doctoral research concentrates on the application of traditional floodplain agriculture practices to advocate for sustainable food production in the face of climate change challenges.

Floodplains, typically situated near rivers or streams, are enriched by seasonal floods, nurturing diverse ecosystems and fostering ideal conditions for agriculture. They have historically been the cradle of civilizations such as Mesopotamia, the Indus River Civilization, and Ancient Egypt. However, floodplain communities must contend with environmental risks like high waters, droughts, and ecological imbalances.

Chu gravitates towards the dynamic nature of floodplains, describing them as “unsure and uncontrollable,” offering fertile ground for innovative thought. His dissertation explores the complexities and collective efforts involved in establishing extensively irrigated agricultural sites within floodplains.

In shaping his dissertation and research methods, including archival research, fieldwork, and interviews with floodplain inhabitants, Chu seeks to deeply understand the socio-political dynamics at play.

In the fellowship’s weekly seminars, Chu engages in thought-provoking dialogues with colleagues and experts from diverse fields, discussing issues ranging from how to coexist harmoniously on shared land to creating political structures that foster inclusivity.

Chu is cautious about the conventional problem-solving mindset and acknowledges the limitations of economic and political reasoning in addressing complex challenges. He emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary design thinking to unlock new perspectives and solutions.

The MAD Fellowship’s structure, emphasizing mutual learning and interaction with guest speakers, encourages Chu to explore meaningful dialogues across academic and professional realms.

Chu underscores the importance of incorporating perspectives from the environmental humanities in discussions around climate change and highlights gaps in acknowledging the Earth as a significant stakeholder in global decision-making processes.

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