Our Blue Planet photographed by Apollo 11 astronauts on their outbound journey from Earth to the Moon in July 1969. Photo courtesy NASA
CAAS is a new way of thinking about humans and their relationships with their habitats, transporters and their environment, an intelligent way of designing future cities, such that each city can be composed of small, spaceship like closed-loop eco-systems where most resources the city consumes, are produced locally, in-situ, leveraging the power of technology to reap efficiencies through sub-systems that plug into mega grids, to share excesses, while not sacrificing self-sufficiency, or the ability to decouple from ‘the city’ in the event of a crisis. Most things these eco-systems spit out as waste gets recycled back in. This urban philosophy can lead to the design of future cities that could exemplify what Buckminster Fuller meant with “Spaceship Earth”.
CAAS believes in Earth and (Outer) Space as a single cosmic continuum. In this view of the universe, the idea of living in the challenging environment of outer space serves as a metaphor for life in modern cities – dense living in confined spaces, closed-loop systems, recycling of resources, energy efficiency and more.
Our Blue Planet photographed by Apollo 11 astronauts on their outbound journey from Earth to the Moon in July 1969. Photo courtesy NASA
“We see the spaceship, and a space habitat as completely analogous to the modern, densely packed, technology driven hyper-metros of tomorrow and ideas and technologies for space that can immediately impact the development of these cities. In return, we see these living, thriving, survival-challenging uber-cities as collections of self-contained, super-redundant microcosms that prove themselves to be reliable, and hardy over time to be directly translatable to the space colonies of the future.
We think of a wonderful, and yet obvious symbiosis - tomorrow’s space ideas shape today’s cities, and investment in today’s cities serves as the vehicle and test bed to both subsidize and implement tomorrow’s space endeavors. “The earth as a spaceship,” is not merely a metaphor – it is a tangible, viable way for the future survival of mankind. We want CAAS to be a metaphorical movement in urban planning, a new way of thinking about humans and their relationships with their habitats, transporters and their environment, an intelligent way of designing future cities, such that each city too be composed of small, spaceship like closed-loop eco-systems where most resources the city consumes, are produced locally, in-situ, leveraging the power of technology to reap efficiencies through sub-systems that plug into mega grids, to share excesses, while not sacrificing self-sufficiency, or the ability to decouple from ‘the city’ in the event of a crisis. Most things these eco-systems spit out as waste gets recycled back in. This urban philosophy can lead to the design of future cities that could exemplify what Buckminster Fuller meant with “Spaceship Earth”.
We could find many different strategies - on one hand these eco-systems could be completely independent systems with even dedicated food supply. On the other, they could have strategic interconnections with the inevitable trade-offs. Within a framework of completely self-sufficient eco-systems, there will be certain costs imposed by redundancies, and the lack of scale, minimized somewhat by technology and through the accomplishment of grid-based scale economies as discussed above. The benefits are those afforded by complete modularity. Resources would never collapse completely. The variety in technologies and eco-systems would play into security where one mode of attack, or failure, couldn’t compromise everything, or affect too large a part of the city. Interestingly, some very popular recent practices such as organic farming would work rather well for such systems because they rely on diversity and variety for their success. In the model of selective interlinking, one would sacrifice the benefits of complete closed loops in favor of some scale economies.
The implications for what we seek to address may be very significant, and urgent, especially in the present day context when global climate change is staring us in the face, the western industrialized nations are re-thinking the results of several decades of thoughtless depredation of the earth. Two of the most populous nations on the face of the planet - India and China - are urbanizing at a monstrous pace, and doing it in much the same way as the industrialized world did in the preceding decades. These parts of the world need new answers if we are to stand a chance to keep the world habitable, and sustainable.”
Archival pigment print, 44x48 inches, 2015 Image credit Rohini Devasher, courtesy Project 88, Mumbai.
CAAS arose in 2007 as a manifesto written by Susmita Mohanty and Siddharth Das and made its public debut in ‘Volume’ in 2010 as an essay titled “Mumbai as a Spaceship”. In 2012, Barbara Imhof joined CAAS and translated the CAAS concept into “Spaceship City” for the European Space Agency [ESA]. Soon after, Sue Fairburn joined and CAAS became a zone of confluence for the three creative frontierswomen.
Since its conception in 2007 in San Francisco, CAAS has manifested itself in the form of a traveling lab and has popped-up around the world - Amsterdam, Mumbai, Cologne, Liechtenstein, Paris, Vienna, Ahmedabad, Como, Toronto, and New Delhi, thus far - in different avatars – as essays, lectures, technical papers, workshops, design studios, residencies, art installations and exhibitions.
Susmita, Barbara and Sue have episodically come together over the last 15 years to explore notions of habitability and to generate creative modes of engagement for sharing their perspectives with others. Individually, their backgrounds all depart from Earth – Space Architecture + Habitability Design, Environmental Physiology + Design for Extreme Environments, Spaceship Design + Aerospace Entrepreneurship.
Collectively, their efforts have informed a new genre of (aero)space architecture that takes a multidisciplinary approach to designing future systems. Their outputs include a book [Transcripts of an Architectural Journey], feasibility studies, articles, public lectures, installations, and more. Supporters of their work have included European Space Agency [ESA], the Austrian Chancellery of Art, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics [AIAA].
The CAAS Collective converges in different locales to exchange ideas, trigger discussions, meet up with other thinkers-doers, immerse themselves in local realities and absorb local wisdom. While doing so, it expands its knowledge base, challenges its relevance and responds by positioning its growing repository of knowledge and analyses. As architects and designers, the Collective uses critical and systems thinking skills to apply the philosophy that CAAS represents. It plays the role of a catalyst to sharpen and refresh individual and collective perspectives.
We are curious, restless, thoughtful designers and engineers, makers and growers. We have the skill set and tool set to think, formulate, implement and promote the philosophy that CAAS represents.
We see the space world exists in isolation. We don’t see why one should draw a line between Earth and Space. The commonalities and crossovers between terrestrial and extra-terrestrial living are so obvious to us that we cannot stand back and let that pass by. We feel both responsible and inspired to integrate and share. We are manifestations of past generations and embodiments of future generations.
We are the children of Apollo and the space race. And the children of early awareness of competing ideologies of exploration, industrial achievement and environmental crises.
We arrived on this planet when the environmental and peace movements and social experiments were at their prime. We are now at a stage in our lives where we have seen the dismantling of our ancestral homes and we choose to use our knowledge and experience and connections to inform and nurture future conceptualizations of how to live and thrive without damaging the planet we are on now, or in the future.
Susmita Mohanty is a spaceship designer and serial space entrepreneur. She launched India's 1st space think tank Spaceport SARABHAI in October 2021. Susmita has co-founded three other space ventures, EARTH2ORBIT, Bangalore (2008-2020), MOONFRONT, San Francisco (2001-2007) and LIQUIFER Systems Group, Vienna [2005-ongoing]. She is the only entrepreneur in the world to have started space companies on 3 different continents. Prior to turning entrepreneur, she worked for the International Space Station Program at Boeing (1998-2000) in California and did a short stint at NASA Johnson (1997) where she worked on Shuttle-Mir projects.
In 2019, Susmita was selected as one of BBC’s 100 Women laureates inspiring and influencing a female-led future. In 2017, she was featured on cover of Fortune Magazine. In 2012, she was voted into Financial Times’ list of “25 Indians to Watch”. In 2016, she was nominated to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Future Council for Space Technologies. In 2005, Susmita was honored on Capitol Hill in Washington DC with the International Achievement Award.
Educated in India, France, and Sweden, Susmita holds multiple degrees including a PhD. Susmita seamlessly straddles the worlds of technology, business, design, architecture, and art. An ardent traveller and explorer, she is probably the only person in the world to have visited the Arctic and Antarctica, on invitation. She hopes that someday, she can take long sorties on the Moon, even sit back, relax and watch the Earth float by.
Barbara Imhof is an internationally active space architect and her projects deal with spaceflight parameters and thus include aspects of sustainability. The designs deal with living with limited resources, minimal and transformable spaces, resource-conserving systems and the spatial implications of related socio-psychological factors. Barbara Imhof is the co-founder and CEO of LIQUIFER Systems Group, an interdisciplinary team consisting of natural scientists, engineers and designers. She is currently leading applied research projects in the field of bionics, spaceflight, robotics and architecture. In a trans-disciplinary team with Prof. Petra Gruber she is developing GrAB – Growing As Building, which deals with the translation of growth processes in nature into architecture. Imhof also directs the LIQUIFER team in the EU FP7 project SHEE Self-deployable Habitat for Extreme Environments, a prototype that is being developed for the moon and Mars, and also for terrestrial extremes such as disaster areas. Internationally renowned institutions and space agencies are partners and clients in her work.
Since 15 years Barbara Imhof has been teaching at various prestigious universities, such as the ETH Zurich, Chalmers University, Gothenburg, University of Applied Arts, Vienna and Vienna University of Technology (VUT). She received her education in architecture at the VUT, the Bartlett School, London, SCI-ARC, Los Angeles, and she graduated from the University of Applied Arts in the studio of Wolf Prix. Barbara Imhof has a Master of Science from the International Space University, Strasbourg, and received her doctorate from the Vienna University of Technology.
Sue is new to the Wilson School of Design (2018) after teaching design studio (3D Design, Design Futures) and theory (Critical and Contextual Studies) in Scotland for the past 10 years. She is an established Design Educator and Researcher who draws from her knowledge of the body (science) and takes critical inspiration from challenging environments (design).
Educated in Canada, Sue holds post-graduate degrees in Environmental Physiology (MSc. in Kinesiology, Simon Fraser University) and Industrial Design (MDes, University of Calgary). She co-founded a Social Enterprise, Design for Development [DFD 2005-2012] which applied design as engagement and problem solving. Sue is a co-Pilot in City As A Spaceship (CAAS); an all women collective applying closed-loop system thinking used in spaceship design onto extreme urban realities. Since joining KPU she initiated research into Materials and Objects in Extreme Environments (MOEE).
The artist and amateur astronomer Rohini Devasher has chased solar eclipses -- literal dialectics of negative and positive. Her current research focuses on the twin aspects of the Earth’s skies: its celestial constants on one hand and the mutable objects of the atmosphere on the other. Most recently she spent 26 days on board the High Trust an oil tanker which spanned the Pacific Ocean. This journey reinforced the role of ‘observation’, and the ‘field’ or ‘site’ in her practice. Her films, prints, sounds, drawings, and mappings of the antagonism of time and space; walk the fine line between wonder and the uncanny, foregrounding the 'strangeness' of encountering, observing and recording both environment and experience. In August 2021, Devasher and Pallavi Paul co-founded Splice, an artistic and curatorial collaborative practice.
Devasher’s work has been shown at the Rubin Museum, New York (2021), the Sea Art Festival, Busan (2021), the 14 th Sharjah Biennial Leaving the Echo Chamber (2019), Kaserne Basel (2019) Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) (2018), 7th Moscow Biennial (2017), the Spencer Museum of Art USA (2018,16), MAAT Museum of Art and Technology, Lisbon (2016), ZKM, Karsruhe (2016), Bhau Daji Lad City Museum in Mumbai (2016, 2018) Singapore Art and Science Museum (2016), Whitechapel Gallery, London (2016), and the 5th Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial (2014), the 1st Kochi Biennale (2012), among others.
Projects with Splice include Wilted Time as part of the Alserkal Fall program, Dubai (2021) Hungry for Time, curated by Raqs Media Collective at the Vienna Academy of Fine Art, Not an Imitation, Project 88, Mumbai Devasher is currently the Embedded Artist in Residence at The Open Data institute (ODI)
Jennifer is an experienced Researcher and Educator with a demonstrated history of working in commercial and academic environments. Her research specialities cover design futures, design anthropology, collaborative and participatory working methods, closed-loop systems and concepts of anticipation, trust and resilience.
Jennifer holds a Master of Arts (MA) focused in Materials, Anthropology and Design from UCL. In a professional setting, Jennifer is skilled in Research Design, Communications, Event Management, Ethnographic Studies and Copywriting.