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These wild shoes are designed to weather floods and extreme heat

Climate change is already here. Will the shoes of the future help us get through floods and extreme heat?

These wild shoes are designed to weather floods and extreme heat
[Photo: Marinó Thorlacius/courtesy Sruli Recht]
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Heat waves. Wildfires. Floods. Climate change is no longer a threat looming in the future; it’s our reality today.

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Designers, such as award-winning Icelandic artist Sruli Recht, are starting to wrestle with how to adapt to this new world. In his latest project, Recht considers what footwear might look like in the near future. “Damage: Shoes for a Post Traumatic Future,” includes three pairs of striking footwear that implore us to imagine a future wading through catastrophic floods or suffering through intense heat. The shoes are not designed to be manufactured, but rather to be sold as works of art on NFT marketplaces.

[Photo: Marinó Thorlacius/courtesy Sruli Recht]
The project was inspired by the question of how shoes can go beyond fashion to become functional objects. Before throwing himself into the design process, Recht studied the history of footwear, from the first shoes made in 8000 BCE, including grass netting covered with deer or bear skin, all the way to the industrial revolution when people spent more time indoors, and shoes could become aesthetic objects. Recht believes that we have entered a new age in which our shoes will have to help us navigate the increasingly treacherous climate on our planet.

[Photo: Marinó Thorlacius/courtesy Sruli Recht]
The first shoe in the trio is called the “Venice_Heel,” inspired by the 2019 flood that submerged more than 80% of the city, destroying ancient monuments, homes, and restaurants. The Venice_Heel comes in two styles. “Hi Tide,” which looks like the pair is on stilts, was designed for deep water. The other, “Lo Tide,” is much shorter, leaving toes and ankles exposed. It was designed for when the floods recede. Both styles are imagined to fit over the wearer’s existing shoes to better navigate the levels of water filling the streets.

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[Photo: Marinó Thorlacius/courtesy Sruli Recht]
The second shoe concept, “Phase_Change,” tackles the temperature imbalance of interior environments and the amount of power needed to heat and cool, with a vascular system for cooling the body, disguised in a pair of tall ice-like footwear. Recht was spurred to create this shoe when he pondered the paradox of air-conditioning. “Cooling things inside made the planet hotter outside,” he writes on his blog. “If we could cool the body in some way individually, change the experience of temperature … perhaps we could curb the catastrophe.”

[Photo: Marinó Thorlacius/courtesy Sruli Recht]
When he developed this design, Recht was inspired by elephants and rabbits, whose bodies have complex cooling systems: They have capillaries on their skin, including on their ears, that cool the body down as blood circulates. Humans also have large blood vessels all over their body, including on the soles of their feet. The Phase_Change design presents a series of flexible pipes under the footbed, filled with a substance that is liquid when the temperature is below 95 degrees but turns into gas when it goes above. The idea would be to create a heating-cooling system that mimics the body’s circulatory system.

[Photo: Marinó Thorlacius/courtesy Sruli Recht]
The final shoe concept is called “Un-Balanced,” designed for the world’s aging population in the face of these climate catastrophes. Recht observes that people have managed to extend their life thanks to medical breakthroughs, but as a result, many spend their later years struggling to control their movements as deftly as they did when they were younger. Recht was particularly focused on how people’s hands and feet begin to get less sensitive, and contribute to making them lose their balance. Indeed, falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among older adults.

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[Photo: Marinó Thorlacius/courtesy Sruli Recht]
The concept for this design was a shoe that counterintuitively helps the wearer’s brain better regulate balance with the illusion of instability. This was to trick the mind into paying attention and stabilizing itself. In this design, the shoe dips forward at an angle and is supported by four claws.

Recht’s shoes are beautiful and bizarre. At first glance, they feel like they belong on the set of a science fiction movie, but when you consider the extreme weather events that have taken place this summer alone—from deadly flooding in Europe to the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest—futuristic footwear doesn’t seem so off-the-wall. Ultimately, adapting to climate change will require experimenting with out-of-the-box solutions.

Recht developed this project in partnership with INDUSTRY, a minority-led creative consultancy based in Portland, Oregon, which minted a set of NFTs for each shoe design. Interested buyers can choose to own one of the styles as an NFT, or collect several of them. They can place bids, starting July 29, 2020 here.

About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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