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Reflections on the Future of Design

Craig Zelizer

April 13, 2020

What is the Future of Design? Architecture and technology influence the way we live and work. We can assume that emerging trends in those disciplines will eventually impact the methodologies and characteristics of our work in the future.

Our work at Laka non-profit provides us an opportunity to follow the activities of experts in architecture and related disciplines (especially those disciplines that have now become an important field for architectural solutions—such as biomimicry, digital technologies, and computational design). We invite worldwide experts to share their thoughts about today’s and tomorrow’s challenges—through our collections of interviews (Laka Perspectives) and international calls for ideas of “Architecture that Reacts” (Laka Competitions). The following post presents some of the key ideas through highlighting quotes of their authors.

Those ideas may, arguably, spark a process of positive social change in selected aspects of life—mostly thanks to two main factors: 1) new opportunities for social activities on improving life's conditions 2)and their focus on the user/inhabitant who become a co-creator of the built environment.

Foreseeing future (cognitive biases)
‘Tomorrow’ is often a kind of new ‘yesterday.’ We construct our predictions about future based on our knowledge about the past.

“There are many examples showing that what we see today as right will be rejected by the next generation. For example, let’s take a look at the discussion about the future of urban design in New York at the end of the 19th century. It was dominated by one topic—horse manure. Metropolises at the time drowned in a mass of horse excrement. ‘The Times’ of London forecasted that by the middle of the 20th century, city streets would be covered by a 3-meter layer of horse dung. Not many years down the line, an ‘environmentally friendly’ (compared to others of that time) solution appeared. [...] I think, knowing this uncertainty, we decrease the risk of going quite wrong.” [Peter Kuczia (2018) Laka Perspectives, p. 190. Laka Foundation]

“Events present to us in a distorted way. Consider the nature of information: of the millions, maybe even trillions, of small facts that prevail before an event occurs, only a few will turn out to be relevant later to your understanding of what happened. Because your memory is limited and filtered, you will be inclined to remember those data what subsequently match the facts.” [Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2007) The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable]

Influencing the future (new methodologies)
Carlo Ratti (architect, Director of the MIT Senseable City Lab) is an author and advocate of an alternative approach which he calls “Future Craft.” He underlines that “It is not about fixing the present, or predicting the future—but influencing it positively.” [Carlo Ratti, Matthew Claudel; The City of Tomorrow: Sensors, Networks, Hackers, and the Future of Urban Life; Audible Studios; 2016]. At the MIT SCL, a team of interdisciplinary experts ‘invent’ different scenarios of the “possible futures” (which perfectly correlates with the thought of Alan Kay that “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”). The “possible futures” are evaluated during debates and presentations to the public. Such inventions, Carlo Ratti calls them “mutations:”

“Designers produce mutations, some of which will grow, evolve, and develop into tangible artifacts that cause global change, driven to realization by the energy of the crowd.” [ibid.]

“Specific mutations are tested in urban space and subjected to public debate, a process that functions like natural selection in biology, the public will eventually steer the broader technological development toward the most desirable future” [ibid.]

“The Minimum Fleet Network model developed by the Senseable City Lab could reduce the taxi fleet size by 40%.” [source: http://senseable.mit.edu/MinimumFleet/]

The future is not laid out on a track. It is something that we can decide, and to the extent that we do not violate any known laws of the universe, we can probably make it work the way that we want to.” [Alan Kay]


“We explore the cities of San Francisco and Boston using billions of data points collected via activity monitoring apps. [...] By analyzing such data, we can start to understand the factors that influence outdoor human activity—such as weather, urban morphology, topography, traffic, the presence of green areas, etc.” [source: http://senseable.mit.edu/cityways/]

Shifting roles (new experts)
Although “The real city is a largely undetermined entity and follows a largely erratic pattern of behavior” [Yona Friedman (2006) Pro Domo, Actar], it can be “influenced positively.” A new city has many aspects where such influence is needed.

Urbaneering is a discipline that combines architecture, urbanism, ecology, media arts, and community building. It strives to reinvent the multifarious elements that comprise a city. Its practitioners are not planners, urban designers, or architects, but urbaneers. And their task will be to facilitate the globe’s next metropolises.” [Maria Aiolova (2018) Laka Perspectives, p. 107. Laka Foundation]

“Currently, a few urbaneers have shaped phytoremediation ponds, fungi mycelium blocks, in vitro meat habitats, living woody plant structures, rooftop farms, soft cars, blimp buses, e-waste bots, urban junkspace, and city-wide action plans. To inspire interdisciplinary innovation and creativity, urbaneers encourage people to switch roles: architects must design cars, automotive engineers must devise eco-systems, and ecologists must draw up buildings.” [ibid.]

Redefining forces of creation (new designers)
Many disciplines of life and work become more and more influenced by the technological advances. The influencers of the tomorrow become the creators of the new forces of creation.


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