The book’s greatest strength is its insistence that more-than-human beings be taken seriously as co-habitants of human habitations, and that human design schemes reflect this co-habitation. This is an important intervention, and Avila makes it with creativity and passion. Instead of simply making the case for his thesis in words, the author has practiced and built experiments in creating interspecies co-habitations, which add a very interesting dimension to the piece, just as a tactile “show-and-tell” model adds levels of depth and understanding to a verbal description. Avila does not romanticize or demonize interspecies relations, but treats them with the nuance they deserve, giving due respect to the complexities of our relations, our attractions, our revulsions.
This book is about a poetics of relating, a biocentrism through the practice of the artificial that can support the necessary rewilding that must happen if we are to contribute to the stabilization of planetary dynamics and the affirmation of biodiversity. It is about a design practice that can make us more explicitly dependable on life and communication across species, a designing for interdependence.
To deal with these, the author develops the notion of alter-natives, which indicates the alterity of a thing, its degrees of foreignness to environments by being artificial, fabricated by humans. This alterity also demands thinking how some-thing alters the relations to those living in an environment, and how these things may be designed for co-adaptation by acknowledging multiple species’ capabilities.
The biocentrism advocated here is an effort to remain sensitive to power differentials and the responsibility that this entails. It is also about grasping the seemingly paradoxical in design, making explicit the indivisibility in all making of hospitality and hostility towards other species; (particularly in artefacts of the dominant anthropocentric culture of design) but also showing how designing can be the agency of transforming hostility to the other into hospitable mutual interdependence.
Martin Avila is a designer, researcher and Professor of Design at Konstfack, the School of Arts, Crafts and Design, in Stockholm. He holds a PhD from HDK, the School of Design and Crafts in Gothenburg. His doctorate —Devices. On Hospitality, Hostility and Design—was awarded the 2012 prize for design research by The Swedish Faculty for Design Research and Research Education. His postdoctoral project Symbiotic tactics (2013-2016) has been the first of its kind to be financed by the Swedish Research Council. Martin’s research is design-driven and addresses forms of interspecies cohabitation.