Extrapolation Factory

Climate Futures, 2021

“What kinds of climate action do the next generation envision?”

This is the question that led the CLIMATE FUTURES project. A group of roughly 30 youth from Bronzeville and Rockford were invited to take part in a future-visioning program, inspired by techniques used by professional futurists. Through the project, they dreamed up social and technological inventions that respond to climate change in ingenious and resourceful ways.

Each student group was first introduced to fundamentals of climate science, and then heard from experts in climate justice and energy technology. Following that, students looked for signals of change, mapped out consequences of those signals, and depicted their imagined futures as quotidian streetscapes in their neighborhoods.

The Extrapolation Factory translated the student visions into the life-size objects. The project aims to increase awareness about the consequences of climate change, empower youth to express their hopes and dreams for the future of their community, and engage the community in a new conversation about climate change and energy transitions.

Project credits:

Photography: Daris Jasper (Bronzeville) and Martín Hernandez (Rockford)

Site design + 3D Texturing: Albert Johnson

Concept designers: Youth at Boys & Girls Club of Rockford and Chicago (Bronzeville)

Design Assistance: Heer Mehta

Generous support by ComEd

Facilitation + Production: Extrapolation Factory

Metro Test Zones, 2019

Through Metro Test Zones, The Extrapolation Factory is prototyping future imaginaries for the city’s green urban commons with the help of a multidisciplinary group of scientists, public servants, designers and actors. This living experiment uses methods from academic futurism and performative simulation to shape and animate hypothetical city infrastructures and social dynamics 20-40 years from now. Through this process, we're shaping important discussions about how New York's green spaces could look, feel and function differently as a result of the social, technological, ecological, economic and political changes afoot.

In the first of two phases, participants collaboratively envisioned speculative scenarios using futures methods; scanning for disruptors, developing scenarios and visualizing touchpoints. The Extrapolation Factory synthesized and refined the resulting scenarios for use in a public-facing performative simulation. Our group of experts was led by actors as they attempted to embody their future scenarios at The Shed, a performing arts space in the new Hudson Yards development. These live-action simulations took place in a highly interactive custom-built set and invited a public discourse about policy and design of city parks. The Metro Test Zones project demonstrates the value of performative simulation as a necessary step for envisioning social futures, building on a rich history of theatrical prototyping such as Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed.

Produced by: Elliott P. Montgomery, Chris Woebken

Design Assistants: Heer Mehta, Natalie Tillen, James Ryan Westphal

Actors: Zenzele Cooper, Benjamin Holbrook, John Peery, Jasmine Schutt-VanMeveren, Candance Thompson

Participants: Sam Adelberg, Eduarda Aun, Alisha Bhagat, Wendy Brawer, Clarisa Diaz, Jeffrey Geiringer, Alice Gong, Elizabeth Henaff, Christine Kim, Neba Noyan, Ayodamola Okunseinde, Leticia Oxley, Oscar Salguero, Alice Shay, Tara Smith, Jonas Voigt, Hanna De Vries, Marina Zurkow

Photo credit: Andy Jackson for The Shed

This project was commissioned through The Shed Open Call and supported by a Graham Foundation public programs grant. Special thanks to Jesse Firestone and Claudia Norman.

What if Columbus, 2019

“What if Columbus” invites members of the public to propose visions for local city infrastructure in Columbus, Indiana. A kiosk installed on the sidewalk where Washington Street meets 2nd Street at an active corner right across from City Hall encourages members of the public to use the kiosk to contemplate, articulate, and share future visions for Columbus. Each vision generated by members of the public, depicted as a short sentence and image, will be digitally shared with the mayor's office with the intention that this database of visions offers decision-makers inspiration and insight into the public's desirable futures.
Comissioned by Exhibit Columbus as part of the ‘Washington Street Civic Projects’
Produced by: Elliott P. Montgomery, Chris Woebken
Design Assitance: Ryan Westphal
Development: Mike Heavers
Photo credit: Hadley Fruits
Drone footage: Brodie Kerst
Fabrication: Ignition Arts

Transition Habitats, 2017

The Transition Habitats project helps the public listen to non-human indicator species, and then to interpret their messages as proposals for the future. The project grew out of Extrapolation Factory's residency at the Walker Art Center, beginning in the fall of 2016.

The first phase of the residency resulted in a four-day participatory visioning exercise in which visitors were asked to propose urban infrastructure modifications that could support species being impacted by changing climates. Visitors to the Walker developed scale prototypes of their ideas, such as rooftops for butterfly feeding, rabbit telecommunications, and bat mating stations. These miniature models were presented on an illuminated map of the areas surrounding the Walker to provide visual context for location and environmental factors.

The resulting proposals ranged from the familiar (ant farm) to the inconceivable, (salamander game station) totaling over 100 designs in all. In an effort to filter and develop the list of concepts, Extrapolation Factory shared these ideas with a community of biologists, ecologists and other researchers to garner expert feedback on the selected species groups, as well as providing insights into climate and ecology data. Conversations also touched on the ethics of intervening with natural systems in urban contexts; an unresolved but provocative line of inquiry.

The subject of ‘communication’ was a recurring theme throughout the discussions; communication between non-human organisms, but also between species. Though interest in inter-species communication is far from novel, the current political posturing toward ecological issues might re-open speculation around this hypothetical. What messages would non-human organisms send to decision makers? If a non-human individual messaged a politician, would they be considered a constituent? How could the nation’s communication infrastructure be redesigned to serve non-human organisms?

Handwritten letters are still considered to be among the most persuasive form of political messaging despite the prevalence of digital communication. Extrapolation Factory began envisioning a postal system that allows non-human individuals to send their messages as hand-written messages to decision makers. The iconic US mail collection box served as a starting point for an inter-species postal service. What if the nation's mail collection boxes were redesigned as dual-purpose message collection stations, for humans as well as another species group? Extrapolation Factory posed this question to a group of about 30 ecologists at University of Minnesota, and collected a broad range of suggestion for how this could work.

Three mail collection boxes have been designed based on these conversations, each focused on a group of indicator species which can be used to infer environmental conditions. First, a migratory bird mail collection box serves as a birdhouse that listens to the calls of birds such as warblers and simultaneously allows us to track shifts in their migration patterns in the spring and fall. Second, a pollinator mail collection box photographs monarch butterflies and other insects by alluring them with an artificial flower. These indicators can signal environmental stressors such as pollutants and radiation. Third, a lichen mail collection box straddles a boulder covered in lichen, enabling viewers to observe growth patterns and color changes. Lichens are good indicators of air quality.

These three mail collection boxes will be on view in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden for its re-opening on June 2017. Accompanying the collection boxes, visitors were finding the Inter-Species Postal Service office, allowing the public to observe the types of data that could be captured by these devices over time. The post office will help visitors interpret messages from non-human individuals as hand-written letters to local representatives.

Made possible with the generous support of The Walker Art Center. Special thanks to Jackie Stahlmann, Nisa Mackie, Ashleigh Wood, Frannie Kuhs and Ben Schwartz as well as our education facilitators. Many thanks to our fabricators, Allan Salmi and Street Factory Media. Funding for this project was provided by the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization.
As of September 2017, the mailboxes can be visited at the Franconia Sculpture Park, Mississippi Watershed Management Organization and the UMN Ecology Department building.

Alternative Unknowns, 2015 

The Extrapolation Factory, in partnership with New York City Emergency Management, assembled a group of New York City-based practitioners to create a simulator for pre-enacting possible emergency scenarios. The team was invited to a conversation with NYC Emergency Management, focusing on critical issues facing the city. The team members used the content of the discussion to inspire a fictional emergency script, seven speculative artifacts for emergency preparedness and a theatrical simulation space for enacting an emergency. The objects created were installed in the simulation space, which served as a stage for a series of four improv performances by actors who interpreted these emergency preparedness objects and the multiple potentials for how they could be used.
Commissioned through the apexart Open Call
Curational Team: Elliott P. Montgomery, Chris Woebken
Design assistant: Emma Verhoeven
Simulation Script: Tim Maughan
Artists & Designers: Nanu Al-Hamad, Isaac Blankensmith, Fabien Caperan, Fernando Cremades, Matt Delbridge, Sam Hart, Dr. Natalie Jeremijenko, Matt Jones, Clay Kippen, Lost Cause Inc., Miriam Simun
Performers: Kevin Alvir, Zenzele Cooper, John Peery, Candace Thompson