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Reflection on the Future of Design

This post is part of PCDN’s Future of Work in Social Change 2018 Career Series. For more details click here

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.

“The exhibition showcased a digital interface that captures the invisible fields surrounding our bodies and visualizes their constant flux and our presence’s influence on them. Through machine vision, we can visualize immaterial energies within our environment (electromagnetic, thermodynamic, acoustic, and chemical). The energy fields become an own enterprise for the creation of possible future design agendas (…)” [“Polyvalent-embodiment” by BART//BRATKE—a research & design studio]


“The exhibition at Spektrum Gallery Berlin showcased a digital interface that captures the invisible fields surrounding our bodies and visualizes their constant flux and our presence’s influence on them” [BART//BRATKE]

“The driving force behind the Syntax Error installation is the creation of a digital sculpture representation from recorded motion data of a dancer and blurring the lines between physical and digital realm through an interactive feedback loop. Syntax Error is a three-dimensional, digital metaphor of a real-life process influenced by the precision, rich detail, fine mechanism, and energy. The digital tectonics mostly capture the fragility of a dancer’s movement and therefore show the beauty of human inaccuracy in the syntax of a programmed dance sequence.” [“Syntax Error” by BART//BRATKE]

“‘Syntax;Error’ is a three-dimensional, digital metaphor of a real life process influenced by the precision, rich detail, fine mechanism and energy.” [BART//BRATKE]

Speaking with objects (new informal education)
Objects of our surrounding often ‘speak’ to us about the ideas and values. During the ‘conversation’ with a brick, Louis Kahn (an American architect, “the brick whisperer”), underlines that even an inanimate material ‘wants’ to tell us something: “You say to a brick, ‘What do you want, brick?’ And brick says to you, ‘I like an arch.’ And you say to brick, ‘Look, I want one, too, but arches are expensive and I can use a concrete lintel.’ And then you say: ‘What do you think of that, brick?’ Brick says: ‘I like an arch.’”

In this way, “The role of architecture is to show us, who we might have become.” [Alain de Botton (2007) The Architecture of Happiness, Penguin Books Ltd] thus “Don’t just look at buildings… watch them.” [John Ruskin, art and architecture critic, author of “The Seven Lamps of Architecture”]

Objects of our surrounding may become valuable sources of informal education: “What is understood is easier to accept. People’s reactions to the built environment follow this principle in the following steps recognition of the problem, understanding said problem and finally taking action.” [Peter Kuczia (2013) Bildende Bauten | Educating Buildings, p. 11, NUSO Verlag].

Architecture can educate us through its design and encourage us to reflect on and learn about social, environmental and technological challenges. The concept of “Educating Architecture” [BILDENDE BAUTEN] has been proposed and researched by Dr. Peter Kuczia. It outlines a new approach to informal education in authentic learning environments (built and natural). In this exceptional educational zone, learning takes place more or less incidentally during everyday activities.

From German Design Award https://www.german-design-award.com/fileadmin/GDA/gallery/2018/GDA2018-29161/productimage_large.jpg

“The concept BILDENDE BAUTEN illustrates constructional and technical sustainability solutions at the locations where they have been installed, in this case the production buildings of the Solarlux Campus.” [Source: https://www.german-design-award.com]

Shifting materials (shifting sectors)
Thanks to the emerging technological opportunities and thanks to efforts of creative thinkers and entrepreneurs—the whole sectors of production will eventually shift towards new areas. The scope of new possibilities, products, and services—seems unlimited.

“Ultimately the role of the future designer is to explore how nature’s sustainable materials could become tomorrow’s consumer products” [Emma van der Leest, Biodesigner, Product Designer, Founder of the BlueCity lab]

“So I think in the future, materials will evolve, and they will look and feel like fabrics we know today, like cotton or silk. Imagine personalized clothes that fit exactly to your measurements.”, “Music was once a very physical thing. You would have to go to the record shop and buy CDs, but now you can just download the music—digital music—directly to your phone. Fashion is also a very physical thing. And I wonder what our world will look like when our clothes will be digital, just like this skirt is.” [Danit Peleg (2015), Fashion Designer, Creative Director and CEO of Danit Peleg 3D, source: TEDYouth 2015]

“What started as designer Danit Peleg’s fashion school project turned into a collection of 3D-printed designs that have the strength and flexibility for everyday wear.” [Source: TED Talks]

Importance of interaction (new layers of cities)
Although the future becomes increasingly more digital—the physical space will save its value. “(…) sensor networks can transform buildings into intelligent agents with the capacity to learn from and co-exist with their occupants. The dream of dynamic spaces can finally be fulfilled.” [Carlo Ratti, Matthew Claudel; The City of Tomorrow: Sensors, Networks, Hackers, and the Future of Urban Life; Audible Studios; 2016]

Now “More than ever, cities are human magnets” [ibid.], due to the something that is crucial to human experience: “the importance of physical interaction between people and with the environment.” [ibid.]. “Physical and digital are fused through a productive collision” [ibid.]

‘Hard’ infrastructure (new possibilities)
Often, an ‘obligation’—caused by the inner or outer forces—doesn’t spark the necessary action. If solution touches us on a cultural level, we are more eager to join the idea and take action for future.

“The goal of the Land Art Generator is to accelerate the transition to post-carbon economies by providing models of renewable energy infrastructure that add value to public space, inspire, and educate—while providing equitable power to thousands of homes around the world.”, What if our cities were populated by living buildings that functioned like canopy trees in a forest—converting the energy of the sun and the wind into electricity while passively regulating the environment? [Robert Ferry & Elizabeth Monoian, the founding Co-Directors of the Land Art Generator, source: Land Art Generator Initiative]

Liquid reality (a collaborative force)
What now seems yet as a fissure in the traditional sector, might cause a process of positive change. New approaches not only will change the way a sector performs but will provide new positions of work. The disciplines of future will emerge from the fusion of different areas of expertise—combined in collaborations with interdisciplinary teams.

Laka non-profit
Laka is an international network (including organizations, companies and individual experts) focused on social impact via design and architecture. Through a comprehensive strategy and with a support of our Partners, we develop projects and programs that underline the crucial role of architecture and technology in the process of social change.

Damian Przybyła
laka editor | iarp architect


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