Thesis overview

The past two centuries of economic growth and prosperity, with little regard for the environment, carry an incredibly high cost, regarding water and air pollution, a loss of natural areas and biodiversity, this cost will be express as ecological debt by the future generation. Kuan Xu started his thesis Symbiosis by investigating ecological debt of the cities. Then, he introduces the concept of ecological service and its significance. The design projects embody this thesis advocate for ecological service design to drive environmental consciousness and action in the urban environment.



A quote from Kuan’s interviewee indicates that it takes the natural ecosystem a long time to regenerate itself, and it is essential for humans working in tandem with nature to pay for our ecological debts.

In the scope of Kuan’s thesis, ecological service refers to the service humans provide to help the environmental ecosystem regenerate itself at a faster pace. Within other areas on the planet, the major cause of the ecological debt comes from cities that should be responsible for leading the movement of ecological services; and for paying for our ecological debt to allow natural ecosystem to regenerate itself in a faster pace. With the mission statement of introducing ecological service into the city, and city dwellers adopting it, Kuan presents his thesis—Symbiosis, ecological services for the urban environment.

For a better understanding of the natural ecosystem, Kuan interviewed a variety of experts, including biologists, environmental scientists, and animal scientists. He curated a co-creation workshop which designers work with people with the biology background to discuss, ideate and prototype for the potential solution to mitigate the global warming effect.  Then he identifies four potential impediments that may be in the way of his mission due to the distinctive attributes of a natural environment and a city environment.

In this presentation, Kuan will propose four different potential solutions to those problems in the form of four projects.



Beecastle is a residence and art gallery for artistic bees. It utilizes abandoned infrastructures around the city and fashions them into beehive clusters due to the reason that bees thrive better in the urban environment. Beecastle frame and display beehives within as installation art to attract human visitors, and separate the active areas between bees and human to avoid accidents caused by misunderstanding.

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Theatree is an interactive theatrical experience on the life of a tree, where you can play as the almighty Kage Okami, a godlike character that can use the power of shadows. Every shadow you cast on the screen has a consequence on the life of the tree and the ecosystem around it. At the very end of the experience, the participant will receive a bonus from the shadow tree as a gesture of gratitude—a seed bomb(A tool of guerrilla gardening) so that they can actualize the experience of growing a plant in real life.

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Tip it

Tip it is simple, secure and automatic to donate based on individuals’ impact on the environment. Users sign up for the app by linking the app to their mobile banking app so that the app can get their transaction records. TIP IT ranks users' transactions from A to D according to the Life Cycle Analysis, and the lower rank that this transaction belongs to, the more money users will tip. Then TIP IT will pick an environment aspect that transaction hurts the most and automatically tip a small percentage of that transaction to the organization that works on solving that aspect.



Bloom is a biotech wearable that allows the user to incorporate bio-enhanced algae into their repository system. It is embedded with a micro-hydro pump powered by a bioreactor that ensures continuous vital flow for the algae. There is a synthetic membrane that allows user and algae to breathe in tandem. The collapsible design is a choice for both fashion and functionality.

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The Thesis book

Symbiosis refers to a long-term interaction between two different biological organisms, and there are three types of symbiosis: parasitism, commensalism, and mutualism, ranging from adverse to advantageous. If symbiosis is put into a wider lens, it begins to interrogate our relationship with nature itself. Unfortunately, our relationship with nature is still on the first stage, parasitism. Humans are like the parasite of the planet earth. Since massive industrialization, the past few centuries have seen abundant growth and prosperity for humankind, not so much for the planet. With little regard for the environment, it has led to all kinds of pollution, loss of natural areas and biodiversity among others, and this carries a cost. This cost can be expressed as ecological debt that future generations must pay. By honing into the ecological debt cumulated by cities, Kuan Xu attempts to redeem by introducing the concept of ecological service and its significance. The design interventions then take a variety of lenses to advocate for ecological service design to instigate environmental consciousness and awareness driven action in the urban environment. This book discusses humans’ relationship with nature within three lenses: the way it used to be, the way it is right now and the way it is supposed to be in the future.