Urban Futures, Language of #Architecture: How will you change 21st c #cities?

Yesterday, I presented to the Introduction to Architecture class of 2017 at the University of Kansas School of Architecture. What do you suppose they will find when they graduate? What world will they work in over the next forty or fifty years of their career?

Most importantly, what will they each do to change the trajectory of cities? What will they design and build? Where and how will they live?


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How do you think about the future?

I talked with them first about how to think about the future. I figure that college freshmen are unlikely to be exposed to futures thinking and methods. They got a sampling – types of change, the S-Curve, various macro-history theories of change, and how to apply it to their lives and work. Probable, plausible, and preferred futures with the broad thinking of STEEP scanning and the depth of causal layered analysis.

What do you think might happen?
Few, maybe none had heard of megacities. Really. When I said cities of 10 million or 3 billion more people by 2050, I wonder what that meant to them. Aging, urbanization, various countries growth projections might have just been whah whah whah. They were bright, following along, but i wonder now how those numbers might have been made more real. yet, frankly, it was for context. I’d rather give them the firehose and then they can pick up what has meaning.

Limits to growth I think made more sense. Peak oil, water shortages are realities that they have already heard about. Surely, yes? 21st century living centers on rising prices in food, water, and energy. And this is their century, really even more than mine. I’m a half century person – half in the last millennium, half in this one. Their lives will be entirely spent in the 21st c. They are the first generation to say that.

We talked density, bigger houses, different kinds of transportation. Its fascinating, yes? It will be, I hope they believe that. or maybe I was deep into my own little slice of infinity by this point? seeds, baby, they were absorbing seeds in their brains that will sprout when watered. I’m hoping…

What kinds of cities will you make?
More than anything else, I wanted them feel their place in the world, in space and time, the intersection. And a lot of it is understanding what choices are being made by others, and what choices you make, the contributions, knowingly or unknowingly. Some of it’s scary, I already made that point, probably 1000 times over and some is shockingly cool. Right now, there’s people who are creating, building, living the future today. Astonishingly inventive. this third part is probably my finest…

1. The city as language

Mythic, metaphoric cities. language is more than words, it’s visual, experiential. Living cities, beauty with meaning, people first, making cities more human, less mechanical.

2. The social city

Where IRL meets virtual, means people/you are the manipulators. The dumb city gets smart and social. the explosion of mobile phones brings the internet into the streets. Augmented realities give maps, twitter, sensors, and layers of information. its transformational. NYC phantom city tour, don’t miss that. Heads up display like Vinge’s Rainbows End. For architecture and cities, the implications are huge.

3. Co-creating the city

With the Underbelly Project in abandoned subways in NYC, the artist JR who covers whole walls of favelas with gigantic haunting women’s faces, people that make their cities more inviting by volunteer, clandestine gardening and benches, beyond graffitti. Art that enlightens and inspires. Media facades that make surfaces explode with color, patterns, ideas.

4. Steady state cities

How do we measure quality? We talked triple bottom line, the idea that cities are more than economic engines. They are people first, and should be environmental producers, not consumers. most livable, lovable, walkable, greenest, and all of it affecting the choices we make.

5. Urban diplomacy

How does a city like LA with 17 million people, 200 municipalities, five counties, five watersheds co-exist? Who owns the water? Who owns the skyline? the sidewalk? who makes transportation choices.

Linus Pauling legacy
When I was at the University of Kansas in the dark ages, 1970s, Linus Pauling, the Nobel prize winning physicist, told us ten ways we could destroy the planet. Population, nuclear, air pollution, starvation, water shortages, flooding, poisoning the oceans, trash. Yes, he swore we could create Death by Trash. He blew my mind.

I gave a feast, a firehose of ideas to a shiny group of bright people with fresh minds in a reasonably functional room on the third floor of Strong Hall. Where will they be in 2050? And what will they build?

Many thanks to Dean Gaunt
Thank you, Dean John Gaunt, for trusting me with your class of new architecture students. I enjoyed the experience and hope you and the students gained.


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