SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

 número106Animalesque: Urbanismo de coexistenciasColegio Reggio. Encinar de los Reyes, Madrid, España, 2019. índice de autoresíndice de materiabúsqueda de artículos
Home Pagelista alfabética de revistas  

Servicios Personalizados




Links relacionados

  • En proceso de indezaciónCitado por Google
  • No hay articulos similaresSimilares en SciELO
  • En proceso de indezaciónSimilares en Google


ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.106 Santiago dic. 2020 


Prototyping Coexistence: Design for Interspecies Futures

Martín Tironi1 

Pablo Hermansen2 

1 Profesor asociado, Escuela de Diseño, e investigador CEDEUS, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.

2 Académico, Escuela de Diseño, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.


In order to coexist with other species, human beings must be able to overcome the perception of being the dominant species. This article portrays how facts refuted the initial - anthropocentric - hypothesis explaining the failure of an experiment with chimpanzees. This not only shows that it is wrong to ascribe human defects to other species, but also that we have a long way to go to understand more-than-human environments.

Keywords: coexistence; non-human; design; prototyping; essay.

In January 2019, we installed in the bedroom of Judy and Gombe (J&G), chimpanzees of the National Zoo of Chile (ZNdC), a sound instrument designed especially for that place and its inhabitants.2 Its wooden exterior had 12 buttons connected to a digital system that, by means of a RaspberryPi microcomputer, a capacitive plate, a wireless router, speakers and a big amount of wiring, made sounds, recording them as events in a database. This was the 3.0 version of the system: the prototyping and iterative analysis of its use allowed, during the first four months of implementation, to redesign the hardware and software three times. In addition, a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) with four recording cameras, a high-definition audio recorder (Tascam), and several hard drives allowed for comprehensive data production and storage.

J&G did not receive any stimuli or reward that induced them to interact with the instrument; if they did, it was to play. In contrast to the anthropo-normative logic of training non-human animals, an open space for appropriation and performative interpretation is created when avoiding conditioning. After a number of controversies between the research team and the ZNdC experts, four months into its implementation we believed it possible to distinguish three stages in the evolution of J&G’s relationship with the instrument: (i) acceptance, (ii) exploration, and (iii) naturalization. The acceptance period, which lasted approximately three weeks, was distinguished by the fact that J&G combined remote observation of the instrument with sporadic tests of resistance, taste, and odor. Then, in the exploration phase, lasting approximately four weeks, each discovered and deployed different uses of the instrument. Finally, we called the daily use of the instrument naturalization, when there is a decrease in the appearance of new forms of use.

Figure 1 Gombe stares at his visitors seated on an environmental enrichment device attached to one of the tree-like structures installed in the courtyard of his enclosure. 

Given that the instrument was larger than their bodies (1.8m × 1.6m × 0.5m) and made of different materials than their room, it was not obvious that J&G would accept its presence, let alone explore, and naturalize it. However, we assumed that their curiosity would lead to them poking around, learning about, and eventually handling the new artifact. As the first two weeks progressed, the blows and distant observation were mixed with sitting, leaning, defecating, urinating, or jumping on the instrument. Thus, progressively, J&G began to explore it in detail. The fact that they understood that pressing a button produced a sound, was key for them to play with the instrument, something obvious only to regular interface users. It took them two and a half weeks to understand how to operate the buttons, later demonstrating a growing management of their use, which was manifested by pressing several of them, both rhythmically and simultaneously, for periods of up to 20 minutes.

One of the most exciting moments was watching how, while repeatedly pressing two buttons, Gombe began to vocalize, emitting sounds that rhythmically accompanied those of the instrument. The everyday use of the device maintained a considerable diversity of operations, ranging from hard knocks to the wooden frame (not the buttons) to delicate exploration; from executing ordered sounds to defecating. The different uses were amassed, constituting a rich relational space that began to challenge our preconceptions of installing a sound instrument and that, as such, could play a defined role, following its program (script).

Figure 2 Inspection of the instrument in the workshop of the National Zoo of Chile before its installment in Judy and Gombe’s room. 

Irruption Into Utopia

The fluidity of this process was radically interrupted at the beginning of the fifth month of implementation. The alarm came from the wildlife guard in charge of J&G who, after spotting them walking through their yard with wires, plates and boxes obtained from inside the instrument, announced by radio the probable destruction of said system. As we arrived at the site, we saw that the nervous signals that the wildlife guards made to J&G to release the parts made them treasure their conquest even more jealously. The day before there was a system adjustment; while J&G stayed in their yard, the research team entered their room, opened the instrument, and made adjustments, repairs, and upgrades. As we verified when entering, one of the bolts of the structure was not fully tightened, leaving a slight space between one of the plywood plates and its frame. By observing the dismantled instrument, we were certain that it had been violated. This idea, empirically supported, put into crisis the previous hypotheses regarding the instrument as a support for the evolution of our coexistence and the fact that J&G had valued and incorporated it into their daily life, inhabiting it as a space for play in a mutual relationship, as with the surrounding humans. Emotionally, we felt startled by that “more-than-human” us, we believed, had been installed.

The civilizational illusions underlying our work were evident in our impression that J&G had broken our pact of coexistence. With J&G in the yard, we removed the destroyed parts and closed the instrument. We then proceeded to watch the video log to learn how the breach and takedown took place. With surprise - and with no less emotion - we realized that our interpretation of the event, based on its material traces, was wrong. The open and dismantled instrument precipitated a misunderstanding based on our humanization of this non-human couple: we interpreted the scene as an act of violence and uncivilization. However, what we saw in the videos was rather a careful probing, in which J&G methodically explored the artifact.

The scene begins with both sitting quietly in front of the device. Judy, more interested and attentive to detail than Gombe, noticed that the lower left corner of the wooden front cover was slightly separated from the frame. Patiently, silently and systematically, both of them explored the slit with their fingers, slowly increasing, in orderly turns, the gap between the lid and the frame. Without shouting or fussing, they gained ground. After about 8 minutes of cooperative work, while Judy poked around in the opening, this gave enough to insert three of her fingers, put her foot on the instrument and pull the door, a task that, after a few turns, allowed Gombe to make the final opening.

Later, the couple surprised us again with their calmness. With the instrument door opened, rather than lunge at the now-available pieces of hardware, they both sat down to gradually observe and explore its interior. Before pulling out the internal pieces, they looked around interrogating each of the boards, microprocessors, speakers, and wires without a hint of aggressiveness, violence, or special interest in destroying. Although both were interested and manipulated the different types of objects, Gombe showed a preference for boxes, such as the router or the speakers. For her part, Judy was interested in plates connected to wire bundles, which she rearranged and braided at will. This pace of exploration continued until Gombe left his room and went to the yard carrying the semi-disassembled subwoofer box, sparking public interest, which alerted the wildlife guards, who raised the alarm signal. The operations of their caregivers added anxiety to the J&G’s exploration and increased its intensity, which provoked that in this last part of the experience they treated the parts obtained less carefully and dispersed them throughout their enclosure.

Prototyping as a Relational and Cosmopolitical Practice

Both in architecture and design, prototyping has the usual function of testing the behavior of certain elements before stabilizing a final product or model (Sanders & Stappers, 2014), making the project status tangible and reflecting on its formal qualities. In turn, functional prototypes allow us to recognize how a certain aspect of a project will behave or how its future recipients will relate to it. In this sense, the use of this technique often aims to reduce the risks of failure, turning the prototype into a learning strategy (Kimbell & Bailey, 2017).

Figure 3 Gombe jumps up and hits the front door of the instrument with his feet. 

Figure 4 Judy explores the function of the instrument’s buttons to produce sounds. 

However, from the Science and Technology Studies (Jiménez, 2014), anthropological design (Gunn et al, 2013) or speculative design (Dunne & Raby, 2013; Young & López-Dinardi, 2019), the notion of ‘prototype’ is displaced, placing the focus on that of ‘prototyping.’ Putting the verb at the center instead of the noun, suggests an emphasis on the relational process, on the performative construction of a meeting space, rather than the object and its qualities. Expanding the attention from the prototype (as a thing) to the prototyping (as a process) allows the development of matters of care (De la Bellacasa, 2017). In other words, prototyping refrains from any universality claims and, instead, asserts a careful and situated action, becoming a sensible way of entering into correspondence with the singularities of the agencies at stake.

The above relates to a renewed interest in understanding the prototyping potentialities of world-making (Escobar, 2018; Tsing, 2013) or worlding (De la Cadena & Blaser, 2018), and its ability to make us reimagine our ways of relating both to the environment and between worlds. Various authors have argued that the prototyping process does not address pre-existing subjects and objects, but rather that the characteristics of those involved emerge in the same process of prototyping, testing, and failing (Wilkie, 2014). In turn, DiSalvo (2014) this recognizes as a distinctive quality of prototyping its potential to detonate - through ‘critical making’ - renewed practices of collaborative political action. Along the same lines, for Michael (2012), the appearance of these new forms of material politics is related to the cyclical nature of prototyping and its capacity to accept the mistake or the idiotic misbehave, which is despised by the practical desire of ‘problem-solving design.’ Following Isabelle Stengers (2010a, 2010b), for Michael the responses that emerge from the prototyping amplify the idiotic murmurs. The question “what if ...?,” slows down the consolidation of certainties, generating what Michael calls “inventive problem making,” that is, speculations that allow twisting the usual connotations of the problem in question.

Other corpus of literature have emphasized the potential of experimental prototyping to compose hybrid spaces between humans and non-humans (Binder et al, 2015; Jönsson & Lenskjold, 2014; Yaneva & Zaera-Polo, 2017), and experiment with methods that allow the deployment of alternative political scenarios (Domínguez Rubio & Fogué, 2017), expanding the debatable worlds and problems (Galloway and Caudwell, 2018). Particularly interesting are the works around the idea of ‘more than humans futures’ (Granjou, 2016; Granjou & Salazar, 2016), which question whether coexistence can be limited to the ‘human club.’ If modern-colonial design has traditionally been oriented to achieve more human worlds, based on a linear, instrumental and extractive logic, these works advocate mobilizing prototypes to move towards more sustainable forms of life on the planet or to generate interspecies scenarios, shared and designed with technological agencies, viruses, telluric forces, environment, and so on.

Figure 5 Judy explores the function of the instrument’s buttons to produce sounds. 

Figure 6 Gombe defecates into the instrument sitting on its upper surface. 

These prototyping efforts to generate potential coexistence scenarios claim an ontological policy of design (Fry, 2011; 2017). This means taking seriously the ways in which design precipitates in particular ways of being and making worlds (Escobar, 2018; Fry, 2017). For Fry, we must overcome the limits of a modernity that has generated a process of ‘defuturization,’ where futures are predetermined by hegemonic models of thought. Following De la Cadena & Blaser (2018), we believe that the critical practice of prototyping can be a way to build a world formed by multiple worlds.

The challenge is how to generate experimental and critical devices that contribute to formalize and make alternative futures visible, to deploy possibilities that allow us to weave together knowledge and practices in order to rethink our ways of relating and creating environments. Thus, we consider the prototyping practice as a privileged tool to generate ‘cosmopolitical’ encounters. This last concept, developed by the philosopher Isabelle Stengers (2005) and later taken up by Bruno Latour (2010), seeks to extend the notion of coexistence, giving non-humans a place in the political arena. Unlike the Habermasian public sphere (a figure inherited from cosmopolitanism, where the protagonist is a literate, humanistic, and rational citizen willing to build consensus through a dialogic practice), in the cosmopolitical proposal, doubts and ontological clashes prevail. The cosmopolitical exercise invites us to conceive specific spaces where different entities, such as mammals, volcanoes, software or viruses, can exercise original forms of citizenship (De la Cadena, 2015).

Far from the pretense of an anthropo-normative consensus, cosmopolitics allows us to open ourselves to a polyphony of narratives and voices beyond human limits (Latour, 2007a, b; Stengers, 2010a, b; Larsen & Johnson, 2017). Cosmopolitics is, thus, an interrogation regarding how we want to compose our world (Latour, 2010). We do not know how this world should be or where it should point to because it is yet to be imagined and defined. In this context, our work with prototypes seeks to develop empirical instances that allow diverse, sometimes incommensurable, ontologies to relate and participate in the composition of a common world.

The case shows the capacity of prototyping - as a projective, iterative, and open-to-failure tool - to bring out a cosmopolitical moment (Hermansen et al, 2015) that contributes to generating situations of more-than-human assembly, where divergent worlds meet and confront.

Post-Anthropocentric Design for Coexistence

When defining the program for the device, we set out to carefully consider the bodies and subjectivities of J&G. Beyond physical considerations, our principle was to avoid any conditioning or induction in the way the instrument was to be used. However, its implementation revealed a certain civilizing, anthropo-normative will, evident in our desire to install an interspecies dialogue mediated by sound waves. In this sense, the multiple forms of appropriation that J&G developed challenged our research program. While in our experimental space for interspecies coexistence we set out to implement a game open to the multiple agencies involved, its underlying rules, constantly destabilized by J&G, were proved anthropocentric.

On the other hand, we interpret J&G’s experience with the instrument as a teleological progression that, we believed, functioned as a kind of more-than-human pact of coexistence in constant corroboration. Consequently, the dismantling was immediately read as an act of destruction, not only of the artifact, but also of the very pact that we believed we had sealed with J&G. We thought that the iterative process of prototyping could lead us towards authentic interspecies encounters.

However, J&G’s deployment of their bodies forced us to a radical reconsideration of what we thought we knew. On the one hand, the dismantling implied a withdrawal of the investigation’s material conditions, stopping in its tracks the linear progression of the experimentation that, from our perspective, pointed towards an incremental sophistication of the equipment of the room, the instrument, and the use that J&G perform on it to produce sounds. Then, this event evidenced J&G’s demand for an environment, program, and materiality capable of incorporating multiple modes of action, relationship, and mutual exploration. The care displayed by J&G during the dismantling forced us to rethink their interaction with the device: what was initially considered residual, proved to be constitutive of an environment in which humans and non-humans coexist without subjecting their ontologies to pre-established programs. It became clear that we should have considered these forms of relationship as demands capable of bringing together dimensions of coexistence that were impossible to formulate a priori.

Figure 7 Judy and Gombe in their yard examining some of the newly dismantled parts of the instrument. 

This prototyping experience demonstrated that friction is constitutive of coexistence. It was a lesson in modesty that taught us that in order to design the material conditions of interspecies coexistence, we must co-create open environments, based on questions rather than programs, and available to open discussions rather than close ones. Today we find it essential to distance ourselves from hasty formulations that close possible futures. The prototyping process that we analyzed shows the emergence of that other who resists a stable subjectivation, where its identity is always unfolding. For this reason, we emphasize the ability of prototyping to bring up possibilities of counterpart participation between the actors involved (Hermansen and Tironi, 2018; Tironi and Hermansen, 2020), situations of uncertainty where misunderstandings and disagreements contribute to vitality, movement and new possibilities of relationship. The process was an invitation to recognize the value of unstable knowledge, giving rise to other actions and wisdom required to think about interspecies coexistence. The premise is that building a horizon beyond the human is not a purely theoretical and epistemological question but requires developing project tools for inquiry and materialization.

The value of prototyping a sound instrument with chimpanzees does not lie in the agreements reached or in the technical qualities of the artifact, but in the mistakes, problems and destabilizing aspects that the prototyping process generated. The failure of the experimentation program created a radical doubt about the type of design that was being conducted. The misunderstandings and frictions that arose with the intervention forced us to move towards a real de-centering of the design practice to create and put ourselves in the presence of an interspecies coexistence. The misconception regarding the instrument’s destruction resulted in an invitation to stay with the problems (Haraway, 2016) implied by projecting a coexistence with and from radical heterogeneity and incommensurability. It is an invitation to avoid colonialist and anthropo-normative solutionisms, and open the space to ask ourselves what we are doing.

This prototyping experience puts us in the presence of ‘equivocation’ as an opportunity for coexistence (Viveiros de Castro, 2004; De la Cadena, 2015). By considering this concept, it is possible to say that prototyping mobilizes the generative capacity of mistakes, allowing failure to become a source of information to design post-anthropocentric futures. In the material fragility of prototyping and its equivocal condition lies its main strength: from its failures it manages to make inventive events and situations available. In other words, it makes it possible to problematize the norm of consensus-oriented design and the logic of problem-solving, and, in turn, to immerse oneself in a problem-making dynamic open to the questions it generates about design with non-human entities. As a catalyst for accidents and failures, prototyping puts us in the presence of eventualities that are beyond prediction. Thus, as a tool for experimenting with interspecies situations, prototyping contains a vulnerability that allows activating an ethic of care, now so necessary to develop and to (re)make more inclusive worlds.


BINDER, T.; BRANDT, E.; EHN, P.; HALSE, J. «Democratic design experiments: between parliament and laboratory». CoDesign vol. 11, no. 3-4 (2015): 152-165. [ Links ]

DE LA BELLACASA, M. Matters of care: Speculative ethics in more than human worlds. Posthumanities vol. 41. Minneapolis, Mn: University of Minnesota Press, 2017. [ Links ]

DE LA CADENA, M. Earth beings: Ecologies of practice across Andean worlds. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015. [ Links ]

DE LA CADENA, M.; BLASER, M. «Introduction». En: DE LA CADENA, M.; BLASER, M. A world of many worlds. Durham: Duke University Press , 2018. [ Links ]

DISALVO, C. «Critical making as materializing the politics of design». The Information Society, vol. 30, no. 2 (2014): 96-105. [ Links ]

DOMINGUEZ RUBIO, F.; FOGUE, U. «Unfolding the political capacities of design». En: YANEVA, A.; ZAERA-POLO, A. (eds.). What Is Cosmopolitical Design? Design, Nature and the Built Environment. Machester: Routledge, 2017. [ Links ]

DUNNE, A.; RABY, F. Speculative Everything. Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. Cambridge, MA: MiT Press, 2013. [ Links ]

ESCOBAR, A. Designs for the pluriverse: Radical interdependence, autonomy, and the making of worlds. Durham: Duke University Press , 2018. [ Links ]

FRY, T. Design as Politics. Oxford; New York: Berg, 2011. [ Links ]

FRY, T. «Design for/by ‘the Global South’». Design Philosophy Papers vol. 15, no. 1 (2017): 3-37. [ Links ]

GALLOWAY, A.; CAUDWELL, C. «Speculative design as research method: From answers to questions and ‘staying with the trouble’». En: COOMBS, G.; MCNAMARA, A.; SADE, G. (eds.). Undesign: critical practices at the intersection of art and design. Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge, 2019. [ Links ]

GRANJOU, C.; SALAZAR, J. F. «Future». Environmental Humanities, vol. 8, no. 2 (2016): 240-244. [ Links ]

GRANJOU, C. Environmental Changes: The Futures of Nature. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2016. [ Links ]

GUNN, W., OTTO, T., & SMITH, R. C. (eds.). Design anthropology: theory and practice. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2013. [ Links ]

HARAWAY, D. Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press , 2016. [ Links ]

HERMANSEN, P.; NEIRA J.; TIRONI, M. «El prototipo como dispositivo cosmopolítico: Etnografía de prácticas de diseño en el Zoológico Nacional de Chile». Revista Pléyade 14 (2015): 61-95. [ Links ]

HERMANSEN, P.; TIRONI, M. «Pedagogical Impugnation: Interspecies Prototyping and Cosmopolitical Encounters». Diseña 12 (2018): 196-227. [ Links ]

JIMÉNEZ, A. «The right to infrastructure: a prototype for open source urbanism». Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 32, no. 2 (2014): 342-362. [ Links ]

JÖNSSON, L.; LENSKJOLD, T. «A foray into not-quite companion species: design experiments with urban animals as significant others». Artifact: Journal of Design Practice, vol. 3, no. 2 (2014): 7.1-7.13. [ Links ]

KiMBELL, L.; BAILEY, J. «Prototyping and the new spirit of policy-making». CoDesign vol. 13, no. 3 (2017): 214-226. [ Links ]

LARSEN, S. C.; JOHNSON, J. T. Being together in place: Indigenous coexistence in a more than human world. Minneapolis, Mn: University of Minnesota Press , 2017. [ Links ]

LATOUR, B. «From realpolitik to dingpolitik». In: B. Latour, & P. Weibel (eds.). Making things public: Atmospheres of democracy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005. [ Links ]

LATOUR, B. «Can We Get Our Materialism Back, Please?» Isis 98 (2007(a)): 138-142. [ Links ]

LATOUR, B. «Quel cosmos? Quelles cosmopolitiques?» En: L’émergence des cosmopolitiques. París: La Découverte, 2007(b). [ Links ]

LATOUR, B. «An attempt at writing a compositionist manifesto».New Literary History, vol. 41, no. 3 (2010): 471-490. [ Links ]

MICHAEL, M. «’What Are We Busy Doing?’: Engaging the Idiot». Science, Technology, & Human Values, vol. 37 (2012). 528-554. [ Links ]

SANDERS, E. B. N.; STAPPERS, P. J. «Probes, toolkits and prototypes: three approaches to making in codesigning» CoDesign, vol. 10, no. 1 (2014): 5-14. [ Links ]

STENGERS, I. (2005). «The cosmopolitical proposal». En: LATOUR, Bruno; WEIBEL, Peter (eds.). Making things public: Atmospheres of democracy. Cambridge: MiT Press, 994, 1003. [ Links ]

STENGERS, I. Cosmopolitics I. Minneapolis, Mn: University of Minnesota Press , 2010 (a). [ Links ]

STENGERS, I. «Including Nonhumans in Political Theory: Opening Pandora’s Box?» En: Political Matter. Technoscience, Democracy, and Public Life, 3-33. Minneapolis, Mn: University of Minnesota Press , 2010 (b). [ Links ]

TIRONI, M.; HERMANSEN, P. «Cosmopolitical interventions: prototyping inter-species encounters». En: Prototyping Across the Disciplines. Bristol, UK: Intellect Books, 2020. [ Links ]

TSING, A. L. «Unintentional design in the Anthropocene». AURA Working Papers, vol. 1 (2013): 43-53. [ Links ]

VIVEIROS DE CASTRO, E. «Perspectival Anthropology and the Method of Controlled Equivocation» Tipiti: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America vol. 2, no. 1 (2004): 2-22. [ Links ]

WILKIE, Alex. «Prototyping as Event: Designing the Future of Obesity». Journal of Cultural Economy vol. 7, no. 4 (2014): 476-492. [ Links ]

YOUNG, L.; LÓPEZ-DINARDI, M. «The risk of not speculating». ARQ 102 (2019): 14-29. [ Links ]

YANEVA, A.; ZAERA-POLO, A. (eds.). What Is Cosmopolitical Design? Design, Nature and the Built Environment. Manchester: Routledge, 2017. [ Links ]

Martín Tironi

Sociologist, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2006. Master in Sociology, Sorbonne V, 2010. PhD, Center de Sociologie de l’Innovation, École des Mines de Paris, 2013. Post-doctorate, Center de Sociologie de l’Innovation, École des Mines de Paris, 2014. Visiting Fellow, Center for Invention and Social Process, Goldsmiths, University of London, 2018. His research areas are anthropology of design, digital devices and technologies, and urban infrastructures. His work has been published in The British Journal of Sociology (2020), Journal of Cultural Economy (2018), Environment and Planning D (2018), among others. He exhibited the installation “Ashes of coexistence” at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Biennial of Medial Arts 2019) and is currently preparing the curatorship of the Chile Pavilion for the London Design Bienale (2021).

Pablo Hermansen

Designer (1991) and PhD in Architecture and Urban Studies (2013), Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. His lines of research are the material conditions for interspecies coexistence, the prototyping as a more-than-human cosmopolitical device and the performative strategies of political visibility of counter-hegemonic groups. His work has been published in the Journal of Cultural Economy (2018), Prototyping Across the Disciplines (2020), Dearq, no. 26 (2020), among others. He exhibited the installation “Ashes of coexistence” at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Biennial of Medial Arts 2019) and is currently preparing the curatorship of the Chile Pavilion for the London Design Bienale (2021).

Creative Commons License Este es un artículo publicado en acceso abierto bajo una licencia Creative Commons