emergency - the new normal?

In an ever changing environment, what constitutes emergency, if dealing with emergency becomes part of our everyday lives?

With the growing threat of global warming and the lack of action from governmental institutions and industrial complexes to mitigate it, natural disasters are becoming increasingly more common. Our current emergency protocols are designed to deal with sporadic unexpected events, which usually involve the deployment of people, goods, and funds. However, as such disasters are more frequent, traditional protocols will be unable to respond, thus forcing communities and individuals to learn from and adapt their behaviour to new conditions. In building resilience against these threats, will we still consider them emergencies? In an ever changing environment, what constitutes emergency, if dealing with emergency becomes part of our everyday lives?


This project takes place in a near future where dealing with emergency becomes entrenched in our daily routines. Through re-imagined everyday objects, the project suggests new ways of adapting to potentially life-threatening conditions. The three artefacts and their respective supporting narratives deal with water amidst speculative conditions about how we may develop and eventually normalize response mechanisms related to scarcity, flood, and disease.


The behavioural normalization these three ideas seem to suggest should not be regarded as a decrease in the danger these water conditions offer. On the contrary, it reckons their life-threatening character as well as the need for vital and quick responses to cope with them. In working through this, the project raises questions about the future of health and well-being when individual and collective survival becomes ever more imperative.

For the past decades there has been a commonly shared belief that technological breakthroughs could save us from the threats of global warming and provide new ways to develop essential resources. As we come closer to critical planetary thresholds that may bring the earth beyond irreversibility, how can technology remain a trustworthy beacon? This scenario plays with a hyper-connected world where technology is used to manage, preserve, and distribute the few natural resources we may still have available. With larger periods of severe drought and the associated water scarcity, clean water becomes fully accounted for, and only available for drinking purposes. Being no longer a commodity, water for households is collected at central points, through the use of terracotta vessels. Unlike normal water recipients, these are sealed at the top to ensure no tampering or contamination. The amount allowed to drink is based on an algorithm that calculates hydration levels, weather and climatic conditions, and any external occurrence that might have priority over personal water needs. Water quotas not used are controlled through automated evaporative cooling.

Fresh Water: scarcity

With extreme climatic conditions leading to more frequent and increasingly dangerous weather phenomena, checking for possible hurricanes and sudden floods, becomes a mundane task. Similar to current weather forecasts for cold or rain, this scenario plays with a new understanding of how we can safely plan our daily activities amidst more intense weather conditions. The expected rise of sea levels is and will continue to affect the more than forty percent of the world’s population living near coastal areas, for whom floods may become a given for most part of the year. Planning the day may start happening around the impacts of high and low tides, the dangerous consequences of which begin to be taught to children from a very early age. Children used to be offered playful watches to learn about time; in this scenario similar these artefacts no longer measure time chronologically, but rather to the rhythms of tides and flood periods. By measuring water levels based on location, this watch guides its owner to the closest flood shelter along a safe evacuation route.

Sea Water: floods

With the planetary increase of temperatures and rainfall patterns, mosquito-spread diseases generated by viruses such as malaria and Zika will be more common in large portions of the globe, previously outside of their influence and thus defenseless about their effects. This scenario plays with the failure in controlling mosquito populations worldwide by hopeful advances in biodesign, proposing instead reactive mechanisms to seek to control their presence by feeding them in controlled locations. Ponds, marshes and other water stagnant pools and puddles become equipped with artificial skin vessels containing modified human blood to attract the mosquitoes and avoid them looking for a host where to fertilize the eggs. In dense urban areas where people will have to stay indoors at dusk, swarms of bug-sized blood carrying drones scan the city attracting mosquito swarms through heat and light. Their luminosity and ubiquitous presence at night make them allusive to the now extinct fireflies.

Stagnant Water: disease

These speculative narratives were developed in the context of London Design Biennale’s challenge Design in an Age of Crisis, and were exhibited at Somerset House in June 2021.

DESIGN IN AN AGE OF CRISIS: emergency - the new normal?2020-2021

Copyright © 2020 Luis de Sousa. All rights reserved.