Ruderal Material Project




Ruderal Material Project


Nov 2-4, 2022; published: Oct 2023


What do the creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense), curly dock (Rumex crispus), and American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) have in common? They are all ruderal plants that thrive within North American urban ecological wastelands. This community of wild, pioneering plants – a mix of native and invasive species – are the first to lay root to land that has been laid to waste by natural or man-made destruction. They are the change makers: adapting, surviving, and growing in the most barren of soils within our cities.

This paper reflects on the relationship between the material taxonomies of ruderal flora specifically colonizing Detroit’s historic Belle Isle’s Wet-Mesic Flatwoods – home to some of Michigan’s most endangered plant species – currently disrupted by flooding, human disturbance, deforestation, and pollution. The methodology of the project focuses on observation through field work, cartographic snapshots, and material sample-making. The project explores how these disturbance-adaptive species integrate with native species to conceptualize future scenarios through a series of material landscapes to present a framework of opportunity, extinction, adaptation, and renewal.

If "environmental stability is an illusion, and an unpredictable future belongs to the best adapted" (Botkin, 1990; Del Tridici, 2014), what is the potential for these ruderal species to act as models to inform adaptive design practices? How could these design practices produce new material applications? And how do we – artists, designers, and humans – learn the ways of ruderal thinking to foster adaptive material systems? This project looks at these signals to coalesce into an interactive, bio-diverse dialogue designed around these inquiries.


Cumulus: The Global Association of Art and Design Education and Research

Subject Terms

ruderal plants; wastelands; disturbance-adaptive design; material landscapes

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Melanie McClintock, “Ruderal Material Project,” CCS Research Repository, accessed May 30, 2024,

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