What are some of the most urgent challenges facing our planet? And how can design help us meet them? With a deft hand, world-renowned curator Paola Antonelli explores this and more in her latest role as host of Broken Nature. Launched on 26 April, this limited podcast series examines humanity’s fragile but fundamental ties to the rest of nature, and asks thoughtful, surprising questions about how creatives might help repair them. The programme was inspired by the eponymous exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and is presented by MoMA Magazine.

Broken Nature proposes the concept of restorative design––a vision of design that is aware of its own responsibility in the environmental crisis and engaged in making things better for humans, other species, and the whole planet,” explained Paola. “The podcast, my first as a host, looks at systems that define our lives––from food to fashion and the law––and asks how we might redesign them to make them fairer to all.”

Guests range from filmmakers and fashion designers, to biologists and barristers. Meanwhile, the talking points are both wide-ranging and well-researched. The first episode, for example, is devoted to corn. Showing up in food, cosmetics, fuel, medicine—and, by consequence, in much of the air we breathe—corn has become one of the most ubiquitous presences in our lives. How has this happened? And what can our overreliance on corn teach us about the cultural, industrial, and economic infrastructures that support and influence what and how we eat? In this fascinating conversation, Paola is joined by Bex, a blogger, cultural anthropologist Alyshia Gálvez and Yira Vallejo and Jonathan Barbieri, community organizers based in Mexico.

Corn varieties displayed at the Feria de la Agrobiodiversidad in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. From Los Guardianes del Maíz (The Keepers of Corn). 2020.

The second episode explores the heavy cost of the fashion industry—but pins its razor-sharp focus on the design and business models that claim to offer alternatives. It pays special attention to the global secondhand clothing landscape, asking: who participates in it, who benefits from it, and who suffers because of it? Bringing their unique perspectives to the table are geographer Andrew Brooks, fashion designer Katekani Moreku, and founder of the RealReal, Julie Wainwright.

The third and latest episode of the series to be published, looks at the most intimate system in our lives: our own bodies. “Will we need to redesign our body––maybe even become less human––in order to survive climate change?” asks Paola. “Humans depend on certain viable conditions to survive on Earth––oxygen, water and food, for instance, and the atmosphere’s protection as a shield from the sun’s most dangerous rays. But what happens when these conditions start to change?” Pondering these issues are three guests, among them Sarah Henderson, Scientific Director of Environmental Health Services at the British Columbia Center for Disease Control, geneticist Christopher Mason, and astrobiologist Nathalie Cabrol.

Photo courtesy of the SETI Institute/NAI High Lakes Project.

The final episode will be available for listening on 17 May. In the meantime, you can also catch Paola’s work on Design Emergency, a collaborative initiative exploring design’s role and impact on the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath. The project currently lives on Instagram, sharing live talks and resources around the most ingenious solutions that creatives have developed to help protect the public from the pandemic and prepare us for the future.

The Broken Nature podcast is hosted by Paola Antonelli and produced by Isabel Custodio, with research and writing by Anna Burckhardt, and assistance from Alex Halberstadt, Prudence Peiffer, and Leah Dickerman. Original music by Pablo Altar. Top image: NASA. Images of Change, Three Gorges Dam, central China. August 22, 2016.