Dr Delfina Fantini van Ditmar

Dr Delfina Fantini van Ditmar is a biologist, design researcher and Senior Lecturer at the Royal College of Art. Her practice is concerned with ecological thinking, reflective practices, epistemological paradigms and alternative futures. Delfina has been a visiting lecturer in several institutions, including The Bartlett, Architectural Association, Manchester School of Art, University of Brighton and the University for the Creative Arts among others. As a part of the Design Museum and Future Observatory's Design Researchers in Residence Programme, Delfina is responding to environmental collapse from a systemic perspective with research examining dematerialisation. Portrait by Pierre Bailly and exhibition photographs by Felix Speller.

Describe the nature around you at the moment:

I am in southern California. Around me, I have the Pacific ocean. I am quite close to La Jolla kelp forest; there is a wide variety of algae in the sea. This year I have seen several manta rays, I actually had to learn how not to step on them when entering the sea. There are steep cliffs surrounding the beach and numerous lizards. Plant-wise you can see palms, a broad spectrum of succulents and the characteristic southern California chaparral.

What lessons have you learned from nature?

There is endless knowledge to take from nature. One of the most relevant pieces of knowledge I have learned is the relevance of biodiversity in supporting ecosystems and the significance of multispecies approaches.

How does nature guide your practice?

My background in biology led me to learn in-depth about ecosystemic thinking, interrelationships and how different domains (scales) operate. E.g. evolution, molecular interaction, cellular biology, physiology, genetics and ecology. I bring the understanding and analysis of systems into my research and the curricula I develop at the Royal College of Art.

How did you become interested in dematerialisation - the act of removing unecological behaviours and materiality from the world?

As an academic shaping the next generation of designers, I believe in the necessary paradigm shift in design. Rather than focusing on techno-solutions and perpetuating current production rates by pursuing upcycling, reusing and recycling approaches, I am interested in material subtraction. This requires new lifestyles, lowering consumption and actively producing less.

Name a TV series, film, podcast or documentary that blew your mind.

The Silent World co-directed by Jacques Cousteau and Louis Malle.

Name a place where you feel most at ease.


Is there anything you're curious about right now?

I am very lucky that my position as a researcher and tutor at the Royal College of Art allows me to explore a broad range of contemporary topics. I am heading soon to do some research at the Azores. I have been investigating the volcanic origin, tectonic activity, American military trajectory, colonialism and the impact of global logistics.

Which rituals do you practice to keep you grounded?

I have the ritual of drinking mate every morning. That keeps me connected to my South American origins. And I take long walks.

What initiative have you heard of recently that you'd like everyone to support?

NGO Mining Working Group (MWG). Through the United Nations for human and environmental rights and in partnership with affected local communities, they advocate for issues related to extractive industries. Considering Earth's carrying capacity, they address unjust and unsustainable extractive practices through the lens of the rights of local communities and Indigenous peoples. They aim for improvements in international law and policy.

Could you suggest someone else or other organisations you admire that we could approach for #TheNatureKind

Biologist and architect Matthew Lutz.

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