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Futuring: A Conversation



"In this moment of seemingly compounding global crises and existential concerns about the future of the planet, LA+ pauses to consider the values and implications of speculation." This conversation between foresight practitioner & design professor Stuart Candy (Carnegie Mellon University) and transdisciplinary practitioner & architecture professor Aroussiak Gabrielian (University of Southern California) appears in LA+ SPECULATION, edited by Christopher Marcinkoski. SPECULATION is the 16th issue of LA+, the Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture published by the University of Pennsylvania's Weitzman School of Design. <>
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Recommended citation: LA+ Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture, no. 16 (2022).
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ISSN: 2376-4171
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Special thanks to Javier Arpa Fernández and Jing Qin
Copyright © 2022 University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design
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LA+ Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture
University of Pennsylvania stuart weitzman School of Design
Editor in Chief
Dr Tatum L. Hands
Creative Direction
Prof. Richard J. Weller
Issue Editor
Christopher Marcinkoski
Production Manager
Colin Curley
Production Team
Helen Yuchen Han
Bosheng Wang
Zihan Zuo
Colin Curley
Editorial Assistants
Madeleine Ghillany-Lehar
Andreina Sojo
The discipline of landscape architecture
oen speaks of its unique capacity for
engaging with considerations of time, be
it unearthing the lost histories of a site,
elevating the concerns of a culture, or
embracing the tangible transformation of
materials—particularly living materials—
over time. Yet one thing with which
the discipline is rarely associated is the
future – at least in terms of projecting
possibilities or oering unfamiliar
realities. The principal material media of
the landscape discipline are not oen
understood in terms of innovation or
technological novelty, but rather are
associated with authenticity, natural
systems, and embedded culture. Within
the public imagination, invention in
landscape is hidden behind seemingly
familiar images of the natural.
On the other hand, futuring—or future
studies, foresight thinking, or scenario
design among its many other descriptions
is concerned, as the name implies, solely
with possibilities beyond today. As a
method of inquiry, futuring plays out
plausible situations and circumstances
that might emerge from weak signals,
strengthening trends, or new data. It
concerns itself both with what is and
what is not desired. Notably, however, it
is rarely spatial in its elaboration, instead
manifesting its work in the form of white
papers, workshops, and what-ifs. Futuring
is not in the business of predicting, but
rather provoking reflection.
Yet despite these seemingly divergent
concerns, there is a great deal of potential
in the notion of futuring landscape—
that is, in the rigorous consideration of
landscape futures—both as a method
of practice and a form of engagement.
This is particularly true as it relates
to concerns around climate change
and the recentering of culture. In the
conversation that follows, Stuart Candy—
associate professor in the Carnegie
Mellon School of Design and an award-
winning foresight practitioner—talks with
Aroussiak Gabrielian—a transdisciplinary
practitioner working across the fields of
landscape architecture and media arts—
about the possibilities and potentials of
intersecting landscape concerns and
capacities with the methodologies and
possibilities of futuring.
stuart candy + aroussiak gabrielian
a conversation
LA+ speculation/fall 2022
Stuart Candy So, we’re meeting for
the first time, which is an exciting
chance to bring ideas together! You
were saying that the encounter
between futures studies and
landscape architecture has barely
begun. Tell me more.
Aroussiak Gabrielian I think an
encounter between the fields
of landscape architecture and
futures studies has not yet entered
pedagogy or practice in any
systematic, structured, or serious
way. Yet, there is a lot of anity
between the two fields that I think
could provide productive ground
for conversation, particularly as
it relates to the climate crisis and
social and environmental justice.
Landscape architecture is
fundamentally a temporal discipline.
It works with ecologies that shi
and change over time, it negotiates
a multiplicity of timescales –
geologic, biologic, and cultural.
And so, this engagement with
temporality—or thinking through
time—is already embedded in
and very much part of the core of
the discipline. However, I think in
practice, and at times in pedagogy,
landscape architecture oen gets
trapped in the methodological
limits that it has inherited from
the engineering fields – whereby it
identifies a problem to be solved,
and then pursues, or is driven by
finding solutions to, the problem.
It therefore forgets, at times, to
question the actual structures and
systems that might have put that
problem on the ground in the first
place. While the solutions might
be designed with the long term in
mind, the approach is actually a kind
of short-term thinking. And I think
one area that the futures field can
help push landscape architecture
toward, is to break free or avoid
these solutionist methodologies by
borrowing, instead, methods used in
futures studies that give landscape
architects the permission to engage
with a less deterministic idea of the
future and a longer time horizon in
our work.
Methods that you’ve been
developing with Je Watson,
and also in your own work with
performance, provide helpful
pathways to get us to snap out
of the bounds or limits of thinking
in the short term. You’re trained
to understand these kinds of big,
governing systems through patterns
and are somehow able to engage
more freely with alternatives, at
least more freely than we are
trained to do. The multiplicity and
plurality of possibilities that you
move toward is both fascinating
and relevant, and, I would say,
desperately needed in the field of
landscape architecture to help bring
about more transformative change.
So that realization happened
during my PhD studies, when I was
studying with Je and working with
Alex McDowell in the Worldbuilding
Media Lab at the School of
Cinematic Arts at USC. I was
building out my PhD work, which is
speculative in nature, and both
Je and Alex were exposing
me to all these thinkers in the
futures field, as well as to methods
that might help build a kind of
scaold for the work that I was
engaging in. Among that material
was your dissertation and the game
that you and Je codesigned, as
well as the other methods that Alex
worked with in his lab. Prior to the
exposure to these methodologies,
I had felt like speculation was
perhaps more of an experiment in
imagination, and what I’ve realized is
that there is a structured framework
that guides this kind of work. And I
think that was really interesting and
useful to understand: that this was
something that could be taught,
reproduced, and applied in dierent
situations and contexts.
SC What are ways in which
landscape architecture is maybe
coming up short, in view of the types
of challenges you’ve alluded to?
AG Too oen landscape
architectural practice relies on
problem-solution frameworks for
physical fixes to the multi-scalar and
multi-dimensional challenges we
are facing as a species, as a society,
and as a planet. So, for instance,
what I have my students do is not
only propose designs, but also the
kind of mechanisms that might
allow for certain kinds of systemic
change to take shape. I tend to have
my students start with a landscape
system instead of a site. And I ask
them to discover the site of their
intervention through a close study
of those systems.
SC So, the modes of speculation
involved in that kind of work, what do
they look like? How does the thinking
about future states manifest?
AG Well, it’s definitely a dicult task
for students because even aer
they land in their sites, they oen
forget all the research that got them
there and revert back to what feels
more comfortable to them as a
working method: solving problems.
And some of the methods I have
them work through to overcome this
utilizes the tools used in the future
field: engaging in gameplay and
performance, like the game you and
Je invented.
SC Oh, you mean The Thing from
The Future?
AG Yes! And when students have
to really consider these various
dierent timescales that the game
pushes them to think about, be it 10
years from now or 100 years from
now, and the four future scenarios
that might define their topic, it helps
them rethink their initial instincts.
And it was from practicing with
these methods in both my doctoral
studies and in the classroom that I
thought, there’s so much usefulness
in these for our field to work with.
From my work with Je and Alex, I've
probably been exposed to, I don’t
know, four or five dierent methods,
but I’m sure there are many others
that could potentially prove to be
productive for landscape architects.
SC That’s interesting. I was having
a conversation yesterday at the
Berggruen Institute in our working
group on creative futures. My
colleague Johanna Homan ran a
super stimulating workshop that
used a kind of live action roleplaying
approach, imagining ourselves in
the year 2045, in a hypothetical
megacity similar to Los Angeles or
São Paulo, with a complex layered
mixture of elements both real and
imaginary to respond to. In the
debrief aerwards, what came to
mind was something that the jazz
musician Charles Mingus once said:
“You can’t improvise on nothing.
Whenever you’re trying to imagine
any future, even if you don’t
provide any deliberate prompts,
people’s brains are still bound to
find something to think with – their
assumptions, their experiences,
or perhaps the sci-fi movies or
books that happen to be called
up by whatever the theme might
be. But it’s also possible to set
ourselves up to try to respond to
too many things at once, like trying
to improvise in multiple keys or
time signatures simultaneously.
And so there are some practical
psychological limitations to account
for. This recognition is also a point
of departure for the framework of
a creative prompt-based game
like The Thing from The Future: the
idea is, let’s use these particular,
finite ingredients to both constrain
and enable imaginative responses.
People have a lot of capabilities,
but we’re also limited. We need
to find ways to make these tasks
manageable for ourselves.
LA+ speculation/fall 2022
futuring: a conversation
AG So how did you bring design
into the futures field? How did that
happen for you?
SC By the time I got to grad school,
I’d worked for the Australian and
British governments on wonky
white paper-type research with a
futures bent, but largely expressed
in words, statistics, and charts.
These types of projects are very
responsible, playing it straight, but
in the process almost kneecapping
ourselves by not doing anything
very visual or embodied, or even
memorable, let alone inspiring. I
have a history in theater, and so
while studying futures in grad
school, at the University of Hawaii at
Manoa, my colleague Jake Dunagan
and I found ourselves asking: what if
we physically immersed people into
the scenarios we wanted them to
discuss? What if we put charismatic
pieces of those futures in their
hands? What if we took these worlds
of tomorrow and overlaid them on
the world of today, in places where
people live and work? If these
ideas about the future could be
made to land in the gut, and in the
heart, then they might have a shot
at actually being remembered, at
changing behavior, at infiltrating
institutions and public life.
And aer I started blogging about
this stu in 2006, I soon came
across people in other fields,
especially design, who, as I saw it,
were groping their way toward the
same intersection but coming from
the other direction. These fellow
travelers, people like Julian Bleecker,
or Tony Dunne and Fiona Raby, and
some of their protégés, were using
their design tools and training in
service of exploring bigger picture,
more far-reaching, more imaginative
vistas. And perhaps a reason why
design futures, design fiction, and
speculative design have exploded in
the way that they have over the last
10 years or so is because the desire
of people—particularly students,
and there’s a generational factor
here too, I think—to do something
meaningful, addressing the
planetary predicament in its many
dimensions is given a much-needed
outlet by the embrace of the right
to speculate.
AG I’m wondering how you feel
about the pitfalls in speculative
design, given the criticism it has
received for being speculation for
speculation’s sake or that its focus
has been very techno-scientific, or
product driven – pushing forth the
same capitalist system by inventing
objects that we might consume in
the future.
SC Yeah, I think that those are
definitely ways the work can fail to
live up to its potential. Sometimes,
especially early on, practitioners
might find themselves using an
excess of whimsy on one hand, or
an excess of capitalist realism on
the other. To me, both are ways of
missing the mark, but I think it would
be unfortunate if that were to lead
some observers to think that the
whole enterprise of using design and
the arts to explore futures is without
value. That would be a grand-scale
throwing out of the baby with the
bathwater. It’s possible to write bad
poetry, too, but that doesn’t mean all
poetry is bad.
I would say that some of the
criticism drawn during the recent
wave of speculation in design, while
fair enough, is really responding
to a sort of belated unleashing of
creative energy that was previously
stifled by a so-called human
centered, but, let’s be honest,
capital-centered, paradigm where
the use of imagination is highly
constrained, and aspirational only
within tightly defined limits. You take
those constraints o, and people
go wild. That is actually kind of cool
to watch, but is it the end state for
the practice? I don’t think so. Once
people have gotten some of that
initial rambunctious energy out
of their system, there is a sort of
getting of wisdom in play. You can
see this with The Thing from The
Future. To start with, many players
revel in the license to run free, be
silly, and have fun. Then, aer a
while, they start to get a little bit
more critical and search for ideas
with more substance. The novelty
of the very idea of something
ostensibly coming “from the future,
perhaps exciting enough in itself to
begin with, wears o, and players
start to want to know more about
what future it’s from, and how it
might work, and how it’s dierent
from what they’ve heard before,
and whose interests it represents.
This is part of why, having created
the game, Je and I kept adapting
and modifying it, and using it with
dierent groups to help push the
general vogue for speculation past
this initial flare-up of excitement and
crappy ideas that we all tend to have
when first invited to roam freely in
the space of alternative futures.
To try to make the year 2050 matter
right now is an important but
dicult task. There’s no objective
referent for a 2050 scenario – in
contrast to trying to bridge into the
shoes of someone historically or
in the present, where you can at
least partially ground-truth things.
The inbuilt speculative challenge
of futures is that they are not just
epistemically but ontologically
indeterminate. They are up for
grabs. So we need to realize that
when we’re making a hypothetical
world specific enough to wrap our
body-minds around, we’re making
it artificially specific, just in order
to be able to think and feel into
it. We have to take the ability to
inhabit this “what if” with a big
grain of salt, because it’s not a
question of getting it right or not, in
a predictive sense; it’s a question of
how rigorously and usefully we are
deploying imagination to enable new
perceptions and possibilities in
the present.
AG There’s a similarity here to how
some landscape designers work
with the past and the present,
which is interesting. Some literally
excavate the ground for hints
of things that once existed that
they try to bring to the surface.
So designing with history in some
cases ends up being really tangible.
And designing in the present oen
involves engaging communities
on the ground and incorporating
their voice into projects. But, that
long-term horizon is the hardest for
students to grapple with. Because,
again, in that circumstance they
don’t have anything tangible to hold
on to.
Now I don't know if you have an
answer to this, but one thing that I
notice about the futures field is that
it seems to be very human centric.
When it comes to the nonhuman,
how do you grapple with such
systems that also need to be heard
and brought to the foreground?
SC Yes; there’s been—especially
among our design PhD and master’s
students—a surge of interest in the,
perhaps quixotic, but very important,
eort to take the perspective of
other species, entities, or actors.
And I’ve also been thinking recently
about how future governance might
incorporate the voices of nonhuman
species, a generation or two.
For example, an experiential futures
project that we did last year for
the United Nations Development
Programme included a hypothetical
artifact, physically delivered to the
home address of Sophie Howe, the
Welsh Commissioner for Future
Generations – a real person, and
a real job! But the gi that she
received from the future was a
government mailout from the
Parliament of All Beings, which
in the year 2056 is overseeing
an urban rewilding project in her
neighborhood in Cardi, where other
species have a say in whether and
when humans are allowed back in.
Governance is a set of mechanisms
that we have for collectively shaping
things, and designing for the futures
of governance requires a somewhat
“meta” move, trying to picture
what the system could look like if
it were arranged to produce the
preferred futures that we would like
to see. Following these threads can
lead to envisioning a world where
governments and organizations
are set up very dierently, and
take dierent voices into account.
We can never fully escape the
fact of our embodiment and our
anthropocentrism, but I think we
can make more space for challenges
to them.
LA+ speculation/fall 2022
futuring: a conversation
AG Yes! It’s a similar dilemma in
design as well. One of the ways
I’ve tried to work with nonhuman
species is by actually trying to
collaborate with other organisms
to bring their agency into the work
itself. But I realize that time has
gotten away from us, and before we
round o our conversation I wanted
to ask you: there’s a whole lineage
of backcasting in your field that
arrives at preferred futures and then
designs the means to get us there.
And part of it is possibly through
policy, as you described, but there’s
potentially other methods. Have you
been involved in projects that are in
the process of arriving at the kinds
of futures that you’ve envisioned or
what might that process look like?
What are the dierent forms
it takes?
SC That’s a hell of a curly question
to end on!
AG I know; but it’s the promise of
those alternative models for our
field and beyond that I’m drawn
to. How we can slowly move
beyond the feeling of being trapped
in someone else’s imagination
and ultimately arrive at more
relational or ethical models of
existence. I see these methods as
both a form of resistance and as
an agent of change that imagines
a way out of the prison of our
deeply troubling present.
SC We have to think about where to
intervene in terms of multiple levels,
as Donella Meadows suggested.
If we’re talking about discourse,
or society’s conversation about
itself, as a system, there’s a kind of
Gregory Bateson idea here too, of a
mental ecology; the things that we
think about and don’t think about
being not just the product of the
workings of our minds, but co-
constructed by the environments we
move through. I think it’s reasonable
to see ourselves as intervening
simultaneously on an ambient level
as well as in particular situations –
classrooms, conferences, strategic
conversations, policy, or election
processes, and so on. Not every
project needs to lead in a straight
line to “and this resulted in this
impact.” We can consider the
exercise of cultural influence in this
more diuse way, like a slow-release
drug into the water supply, as my
former Arup colleague Dan Hill has
put it.
On that level, it seems to me that
we have made some real headway
in recent years, as a community of
practitioners. Various “discursive
design” strategies are now standard
in the repertoire of the design
worlds you and I are in, but beyond
that too, in the cultural sector.
Many major museums have done
exhibitions of future artifacts, and
there are whole new institutions like
the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio or
the Museum of the Future in Dubai.
The Smithsonian has an exhibition
open right now on the National Mall
in DC, called The Futures. Looking
further afield, to other spaces, at
the International Federation of Red
Cross and Red Crescent Societies we
used design and experiential futures
interventions that helped launch
an extraordinarily rapid uptake of
futures thinking in the humanitarian
sector. Many other organizational
and policy contexts are picking up
on these approaches as well.
I guess more diuse shis in
practices and values may be hard
to nail down, in terms of which
actions produced which impacts, but
I’m okay with that, because to me
these are all essential steps toward
a distributed, society-wide “social
foresight” capacity. And in any case,
the drive to linear evaluation is part
of a bean-counting culture that I
don’t believe to be as legitimate as
it thinks it is! I don’t know, did that
answer your question?
AG I think so. Identifying where to
intervene resonates. And that it
doesn’t all have to end up in one
place, but could rather be distributed
by nature, like putting pressure
points on specific areas to allow
that current to flow in a particular
direction. This is also something that
I ask of my students beyond the
design: the consideration of which
grounds to strategically plug into
and the agents on the ground that
might expand their ideas into other
useful networks.
AG Well, I think there are some
rich areas of overlap where I see
the two almost speaking the same
language, or at least nurturing the
same desire. And yet as disciplines,
each one also has its own flavor.
I think we should initiate more
conversations and collaborations,
to start.
SC To close, do you have any
thoughts about where the
confluence of futures and landscape
design might lead, or where we
should be nudging it, if we’re agents
in this?
SC Yeah, and this is a good start! Just
to touch on one of those overlaps:
because it’s very dicult to talk
about time directly, we end up
discussing futures in terms of space.
So we talk about the future “lying
ahead,” or “behind, in some cultures.
Or, we speak of a “landscape of
possibilities,” which is obviously
a metaphor, but so common you
almost don’t notice it’s a metaphor.
And “possibility space” and “design
space” are both frames that I find
indispensable; we need some
container for speaking about where
all these intangible abstractions
live – there has to be some way of
describing, mapping, and articulating
it. I’m very excited to see what
happens if, or when, more landscape
architects become interested in
and attuned to the “landscape” of
alternative futures.
LA+ speculation/fall 2022
futuring: a conversation
p. 65: Image by Mingyan Sun & Fangyuan Sheng (2020), used with permission
via author (top); image by Aaron Stone & Keke Huang (2020), used with
permission via author (bottom).
p. 66: Image by Bingjian Liu & Yufei Yan (2020), used with permission via author.
Everyday Space
p. 68–69: “Everyday Space” (2022) by Helen Yuchen Han, used with permission.
p. 70–77: Images courtesy of the Moscow Design Museum, used with permission
via author.
Why? Why Not?
p. 78: Background image of The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch
(ca. 1500), public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
p. 80–85: Images courtesy of the Why Factory, used with permission via author.
Afrofuturism: Collapsing Liminal Space
p. 86–87: “Afrofuturism” (2022) by Helen Yuchen Han, used with permission.
p. 93: “Door of No Return” (2007) by Angela Sevin, used under CC BY 2.0 license
In Conversation with Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg
p. 94: Portrait of Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, used with permission via author
p. 99: “Herbicide Gourd” (2009) illustration by Siôn Ap Tomas from Growth
Assembly by Daisy Ginsberg and Sascha Pohflepp, used with permission.
p. 100: “Plant Icons” by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg from Pollinator Pathmaker
(2021), used with permission.
p. 102: The Wilding of Mars (2019) by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, used with
permission (top); “The E. chromi Scatolog” from E. chromi (2009) by Alexandra
Daisy Ginsberg and James King with the University of Cambridge 2009 iGEM
team, used with permission (bottom).
p. 105: “Self-inflating Antipathogenic Membrane Pump” from Designing for the
Sixth Extinction (2013–2015) by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg.
p. 106: “Pixel View” (2021) by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg from Pollinator Pathmaker,
digital rendering of Eden Project Edition Garden 1, used with permission.
p.108: "Red Robot" from the Moscow Design Museum collection, used with
permission via Alexandra Sankova.
“Artist’s impression of the interior of an O'Neill cylinder: Endcap View with
Suspension Bridge” by Donald Davis/NASA, public domain.
"Red Robot" from the Moscow Design Museum collection, used with permission
via Alexandra Sankova
Piscinarii: The Fishpond Speculators of Rome
p. 4–5: “Roman Villa of Pisões, Lusitania, Portugal” (2014) by Carole Raddato,
used under CC BY SA 2.0 license via Wikimedia Commons (altered).
p. 6: Map by Jing Qin (2021), used with permission.
p. 8: “Sperlonga Hill View” (2011) by Casey Lance Brown, used with permission.
The Measured Line and the Quantification of Space
p. 12–13: “The Mètre étalon at 36, rue de Vaugirard, Paris” by Airair used under
CC BY SA 4.0 license via Wikimedia Commons.
p. 15 : “Usage des nouvelles mesures” (ca. 1800) by unknown, public domain (altered).
Toward a Scientific Imaginary
p. 16–17: “Whipple Section Cut” (1854) by William P. Blake & Jules Marcou, Army
Topographical Corps of Engineers, public domain.
p. 21: Landscape lithographs by unknown, from the Chicago Newberry Library
collection, public domain.
p. 22–23: “Topographic Timeline,” Army Topographical Corps of Engineers, public
Centering the Fringe
p. 26–35: Images by Jonah Susskind, used with permission.
The Plane Table – A Tool of Speculation
p. 36: “Plane Table work in Southeast Alaska, Crew o Explorer” (1921) by
unknown, public domain (cropped).
p. 38–39: “Scoring the Malecon” (2008) by Alecsandra Trofin, Sheryl Lam, Ezmira
Peraj, and Leo Xian, used with permission via author (cropped and scaled).
p. 41: “Diachronic Garden” (2016) by Sarah Comfort and Chiara Fingland, used
with permission via author.
p. 43: Selection from “Plane Table work in Southeast Alaska, Crew o Explorer”
(1921) by unknown, public domain (cropped).
Futuring: A Conversation
p. 44: Image by Zihan Zuo, used with permission.
Dark Speculation
p. 56: “Blade Runner or Beijing?” by unknown via
Subject v. Method
p. 58: Image by Yang Du (2019), used with permission via author.
p. 60: Image by Anni Lei (2018), used with permission via author.
p. 61: Images by Zuzanna Drozdz (2019), used with permission via author.
p. 62: Images by Shuhan Liu (2018), used with permission via author.
p. 63: Images by Farre Nixon (2018), used with permission via author.
image credits
LA+ speculation/fall 2022
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
used with permission via author. Everyday Space p
p. 66: Image by Bingjian Liu & Yufei Yan (2020), used with permission via author. Everyday Space p. 68-69: "Everyday Space" (2022) by Helen Yuchen Han, used with permission.
Images courtesy of the Why Factory, used with permission via author
p. 80-85: Images courtesy of the Why Factory, used with permission via author. Afrofuturism: Collapsing Liminal Space p. 86-87: "Afrofuturism" (2022) by Helen Yuchen Han, used with permission.
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, used with permission (top)
p. 102: The Wilding of Mars (2019) by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, used with permission (top); "The E. chromi Scatolog" from E. chromi (2009) by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and James King with the University of Cambridge 2009 iGEM team, used with permission (bottom).