Design Engineering
Showcase 2020

Symbiotic Futures

Global Innovation Design
Dr Stephen Green
Humanising Technology

We are living in the Anthropocene, the current geological age in which we humans have a dominant impact on the climate and the environment. The disconnection of humans and the rest of nature is an essential part contributing to our planet’s destruction. This disconnection has to do with the concept we have of nature. The concept of nature is not objective or neutral. It is socially constructed, a specific cultural model and thus different across cultures. If stories of human exceptionalism brought us to where we are today, might stories about living in symbiosis with nature bring us to a better future?

This project explores one of those stories by using speculative design. Symbiotic futures is a vision of the future in which we explore the language of trees through fungi and live in symbiosis with the forest. Trees communicate with each other through a network of mycorrhizal fungi. The designed tools allow us to listen to this communication and see which trees are connected. Insight in the communication between trees can help us protect the forest and improve environmental health.

Symbiotic Futures. A vision of the future in which we explore the language of nature and live in a mutualistic relationship with the forest.


Trees communicate with each other through mycorrhizal fungi. Fungi have networks of long threads hidden underneath the soil called mycelium. These networks form the internet of the forest. Through these networks, fungi can pass resources and signalling molecules between trees. The trees provide the fungi with 1/3 of its carbon and fungi give the trees the nutrients it needs such as phosphorus and nitrogen. One tree can be connected to many other trees and can for example warn neighbouring trees about an aphid attack. Looking at the relation and communication between trees and fungi can provide information that can be used as a bioindicator. For example, the amount of species of mycorrhizal fungi connected to one tree can tell something about the level of pollution in the forest.

 — Symbiotic Futures
Communication between trees through mycorrhizal fungi.


The Netherlands 2035 We understand the world in a different way. Through exploring the language of nature, we know more about the complex relationships that form the ecosystems we are part of. We are re-growing nature to reduce the consequences of the climate crisis. Foresters play an essential role in collecting data and improving our environmental health.

Foresters: People who care for, look after, and protect the forest. In the interest of the forest. The forester does everything possible to understand and communicate with the forest in order to educate and inform society.

The main exploration in the forest include:

  1. Which trees are communicating?
  2. What are they communicating?
  3. What does that mean?

Tool #1 Is attached to trees. Through different points on the tree the tool traces the incoming and outgoing communication of the tree. It shows which trees are connected and whether the tree is sending or receiving information.

Tool #2 is plugged into the mycorrhizal mycelium hotspot that is connected to the trees that are communicating. The detected signals are transformed into a soundscape that can be heard and recorded.

Also see the project Instagram.


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