Drawdown: Play to Enter

Representing Climate Activism Through Gameplay

Architectural Activism Fellowship Project
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Spring 2022

A table-board for shared activism. The game is afoot. This multi-sector table-board operates on multiple scales to facilitate one-on-play, partnerships, or large group strategies. Each square houses either a program (carbon emitter) or an operation (carbon absorber). Players juggle rates of emissions vs. rates of drawdown.

Making entanglements. Programs and operations are inextricably linked as players attempt to decelerate the speed of carbon emitted. The goal of the game is to prevent any program from reaching a point of no-return.

Gamenight at University of Milwaukee - School of Architecture and Urban Planning.
“Drawdown: Play to Enter” is a collaborative game designed to simulate the joys of negotiation and collective action required to work through climate strategy and resource management in the built environment. Disciplinary approaches to representing climate activism often focus on a fixed condition of intervention (before vs. after), whereas game design embodies the active qualities of negotiation, compromise, balance, and incremental progress that occurs in the in-between. By introducing the concept of interplay1 to architectural frameworks on the climate, game design expands the territory of architectural agency to model complex mechanisms of environmental stewardship that engage in scientific processes and stakeholder ecologies.

The project leverages the fundamental principles of games as a medium of agency.2 Using the large table game board as a representational tool for our shared domain, players in DRAWDOWN are tasked with the shared responsibility of mitigating carbon outputs through the introduction of drawdown technologies while maintaining critical public programs. The game revolves around specific agents and affordances: Operations, Programs, Emission Rate, Decarbonization Rate, and Resources.

  • Operations are a suite of decarbonization technologies/processes that decrease GHG emissions based on a set decarbonization rate.
  • Programs are a suite of public infrastructure and institutions that release CO2 at a set emissions rate.
  • Players are tasked to collaboratively build decarbonization solutions (Operations) on the board to mitigate the carbon emissions of critical public infrastructure (Programs). This orchestration and management of decelerating greenhouse gases is mediated through essential resources: CO2, H2O, food, and energy.

Research for the Operations database comes from Paul Hawken and Project Drawdown3 who have compiled the most effective solutions to lowering GHG emissions, the majority of which are rooted outside of architecture. These processes encourage architects to look beyond the discipline to unlock the design potentials of industrial, agricultural, energy, and carbon capture operations. The game design further asserts architectural agency in analyzing and representing these technical solutions based on their inputs and outputs while celebrating the formal and aesthetic eccentricities of each proposed solution as components of a near-future drawn-down city.

The DRAWDOWN game is an active form4 that represents the constant flux and continual work involved in moving towards decarbonization in our building stock. It addresses the equation that solutions require
resources, and that environmental stewardship relies on considering solutions at multiple scales, even when they come into direct conflict with one another. The game also acknowledges that climate activism from an architectural perspective requires deep engagement with science, technology, and extra-disciplinary research. Modeling the entanglement between public stewardship and infrastructural strategy, the game prioritizes banal and non-canonical architectural typologies as complicated pieces to solving the climate puzzle. Nonetheless, envisioning a sustainable world requires bold, joyful imagination that exceeds the pragmatism of science and policy. By working through games, architects can explore both the object and process aesthetics5 of designing for climate change. Players are encouraged to embrace a simultaneous sense of urgency and euphoria as they play together to cool the planet.

The project is executed in collaboration with Alana Dunne, Hytham Jaraba, Sarah Lunow, Nathan Magee, and Drew Running through the Support for Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) program, with generous support from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning Fitzhugh Scott Fellowship.

1 Keller Easterling, Medium Design: Knowing How to Work on the World (London: Verso, 2021), 11.

2 C. Thi Nguyen, Games: Agency as Art, abstract (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020)

3 “Solutions,” Project Drawdown, accessed June 7, 2022, https://drawdown.org/solutions.

4 Keller Easterling, Medium Design: Knowing How to Work on the World, 39.

5 C. Thi. Nguyen, “Are We Measuring Our Lives in All the Wrong Ways?” February 25, 2022, in The Ezra Klein Show, produced by The New York Times, podcast, mp3 audio, 1:04:27.