Charlotte McCurdy is an interdisciplinary designer and researcher whose work focuses on making existential threats, such as climate change, more tractable and addressable through design. Her goal: counteract pessimism and paralysis through tangible visions of livable futures. She advances more ambitious and systematic goals for sustainability through charismatic objects. Her work has been featured in The Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, won the Experimental category in the 2019 Fast Company Innovation by Design Awards, and has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Wallpaper, Dezeen, and beyond.
Based in New York City, McCurdy partners with private, public and non-governmental organizations on projects that advance the evolution of narratives, norms, and collective goals around existential threats.
She works at the intersection of climate change, material innovation, and design and she marries systems thinking with human, emotional experience. Rooted in innovation, she creates experiences which cut through preloaded rhetoric, embody alternative status quos in viscerally accessible ways, and allow new conversations about the world we want to live in. She is a parter of the ONExONE initiative of Swarovski and the UNOfP, a member of The New Museum’s NEW INC, a PopTech Fellow, and a cofounder of cofutures.
What is an Alternative Thinker for you?
Alternative Thinkers are suspicious of the seemingly self-evident.
I am attracted to the edges and constraints. I am attracted to experimenting with what happens when you take thought experiments literally and push hard on what seem like safe assumptions. How does the unimaginable become imaginable? How does the impossible become possible? How do we draw out the subtext and get x-ray vision on the structure of the system? An Alternative Thinker is not someone who questions common heuristics; an Alternative Thinker is someone who has different heuristics and mental models because they actively seek out the outliers that are poorly explained by dominant paradigms. If your point-of-view is orthodoxy, do you have a point-of-view?
What are you bringing forward in your work?
My practice is built on the hypothesis that the most forceful driver of the emergent outcomes of society’s institutions is culture and that the most forceful driver of the nature and expression of a culture is its tools. Everything that has been made can be unmade and remade; new tools allow new things.
Why did you highlight this/these specific project(s) below?
The projects below highlight a range of outcomes of my process and approach to design. Individual projects can be investigative or solutionist, descriptive or inventive. Discovery, sincerity, and hope are through lines that connect them all.
Tell us what your vision of the new world – post COVID-19 – is like?
When Hubei Province was locked down in January 2020 such a step seemed unimaginable to many other countries. Living through a pandemic and its economic consequences seemed unimaginable. Can we strengthen our capacity for imagination on climate change so that we don’t have to live through the worst in order to catalyze transformation?
This pandemic needs to make us more serious, hard, determined, and deeply creative. With what feels like the whole world being shut down and industry-crippling drops in travel and industry, we are projected to only see a 5.5% reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions this year. For context, we need emission to be dropping 7.6% every year if we are to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. This should be sobering. Giving up is not an option. Getting to work is.
What are the questions you have been thinking of for years and never had the time to answer?
Ideas shape lives. Technological evolution forces us to re-evaluate our understanding of what it means to be human. Art and design help us to process those revolutions in our self-conception. Which of the many revolutions happening right now will be most disruptive to our current intuitive sense of self? What revolutions have already happened that we have not yet processed and internalized? What revolution in ideas do we need to come over the horizon next if we are to better describe our reality and act on it?
Who would you like to collaborate with in terms of brands / institutions / property developers / other Alternative Thinkers?
I am addicted to the spark of understanding. I collaborate with smart people with complex problems on which they need to make a dent in order to improve or protect the human condition. The results of these processes can be internal and introspective or external and engage the public. I bring a process of inquiry and experimentation that casts light on new facets of the challenge and unexplored interventions in its resolution.
Carbon Negative Algae Plastic Raincoat
This carbon-negative raincoat composed of Charlotte McCurdy’s plastic-alternative is made entirely from marine macro algae and is entirely petrochemical-free and readily compostable.
Carbon Negative Algae Plastic Raincoat, New York, (2018 – 2019)
Material Design / System Design, New York, (2018 – Ongoing)
Material Design / System Design
The raincoat is merely a tangible proof of concept for a much larger proposal for the future of materials and material systems in a climate-changed world.
Living with Algae
This series of porcelain vessels, inspired by Earnst Haeckel’s illustrations of diatoms from the turn of the last century and designed to showcase macroalgae as houseplants, probes our willingness to invite algae, the most efficient natural carbon sequesters, into our homes and lives.
Living with Algae, Providence, (2018)