Anthropocenic Futures in Singapore: An Investigative Bureau / N.A.

Submitted By Justin Noah Chua


As part of my graduating final year project, the Anthropocenic Futures in Singapore: An Investigative Bureau, is a realisation of the dissertation paper in the specific context of addressing Anthropocentric climate change. It explores the argument of Critical Design as a methodology, positing that such, as argued by researchers like Bardzell and Bardzell, would require the means of a framework to establish itself. By examining different forms of Critical Design theories alongside design research frameworks that align with its speculative nature, the paper informs an optimised guided workflow that best fits designing for a speculative future. This introduces to designers malleable guided workflows that could be applied to futures thinking in the format of Participatory Imagining.

In the specific context of the Anthropocene, the workflow was considered and tested in greater detail via means of physically held Participatory Imagining workshops, which culminated in designed outcomes as a result.


One crucial way in which designers can be involved in generating awareness is through cultivating a critical dialogue with the audience. Critical Design provide designers the autonomy to exercise foresight, in other words to be perceptive of design's impact on designers and society as a whole. This challenging of current and often misconstrued ideological barriers add to the design discourse, expanding design opportunities and possibilities. Designers can latch on to unlock the potential of design for the betterment of society. Therefore, Critical Design can then be taken as an outlook in encouraging the process of personal confrontation with real world issues, propelling the growth and maturity of designers in the industry. This idea is brought together by Jakobsone, who mentions how designers who are more invested in critical thinking are more able to deliver more conscious products.

In her book Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene, Joanna Zylinska, Professor of New Media and Communications at Goldsmiths University of London, called the Anthropocene a "crisis of critical thinking," suggesting that "thinking is the most political thing we can do with regards to the Anthropocene before we go and do anything else."

The project hopes to encourage such through critical design that addresses the Anthropocene, making use of critical and “non-instrumental modes of thinking” to avoid “easy solutionism” and what some theorists have called the “derangement of scale” that plagues Anthropocene discourse, especially within the techno-corporate sphere. A designer must furthermore undertake the role of a reflective practitioner - where design reframes a problem or obstacle in order to have a reflective conversation with the situation in which the designer is able to appreciate, before elevating implications to a whole new idea.

As a follow-up from the dissertation paper, the design project uses optimised guided workflows as research models for future thinking, with means of Participatory Imagining workshops to create fictional and speculative outcomes in Singapore, in hopes of bringing light to the current issues of Man's impact on Earth today within a local context within the Anthropocenenic era.

The project realises that this is not in attempting to solve current issues that deal with climate change or to save the world, but instead bring forth discussion within people living in Singapore to provoke deeper arguments and radical thoughts about their current actions onto the Earth, starting with the Millennials, in the form of Participatory Imagining in the setting of a workshop.

Technical Challenge

While the workshop appears as very much grounded in factual research at almost every step and is a fine balance between imagination and feasibility, the key takeaway should be the ethos of not being bound by circumstance, that ideas should manifest in a way that may be considered healthy for both the designer and audience. While ideas of criticality are fluid and differ from person to person, the workshop uses specifications as sensible limitations to make sure that ideas and outcomes are specific to a context; it is more about how participatory modes of design may exist, especially so in the strain of futures thinking and positing.

Participants have also highlighted that their thoughts after the workshop, which is really looking at and thinking about possibilities and how to overcome certain hurdles through thinking via imagining and making. They do this in realising that while not everything is possible or feasible, they can still imagine solutions for them, and being comprehensive in terms of what is feasible or possible and writing down certain assumptions allow us to keep those things in mind but it does not limit us from thinking further out of the box. This in itself is a manifestation of an alternative and guided approach to Critical Design in the format of Participatory Imagining. They have also realised that multiple perspectives on an idea in critical design is important, so that one does not remain too focused on self-validation, and that constructive and vested conversations and idea sharing really helps build ideas.

As a result, there is a consequential shift in initial assumptions versus current thoughts – critical thinking in design shouldn't be limited by current possibilities but as long as it provokes thought, it is still fruitful to a certain extent. For some participants, the process of coming up with imaginings was very helpful - having read on speculative projects has astounded them to question how designers come up with ideas like that: this workshop provides a a more concrete way of speculating about design. They added on that if it was an individual effort, it might be difficult to start if they simply read about it online – reaffirming the research objective of the workshop, which is to establish a resource or guided nuance for people to have an easier start with Critical Design, specifically so in the strain of Participatory Imagining.

Anthropocenic Futures in Singapore: An Investigative Bureau










Justin Noah Chua




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