We are in the midst of radical social and economic change brought on by the emergence of a global system that is completely and utterly uncontrollable -- it is too big, too fast, and too complex to control. Unfortunately, the lack of a global control system means that we face a long series of increasingly severe shocks (due to the system’s tight coupling, each new shock will sweep the world in months), wrecking long standing and established structures with ease. The first shocks, a bubble in energy and a financial crisis, have already done significant damage. More are on the way as the global system moves ever farther from normal patterns of operation.
by John Robb
So, how does this impact the future of architecture and design?
In general, this means that designers will need to focus less on macro or global level needs and much, much more on the needs of the local. Why? The solutions to macro level instability will be found in the development of local community’s that build systems and organizations that enable them to both withstand systemic shocks and prosper based on internal dynamics. This is nearly inevitable since architecture and design flow to sources of growth, and we will only see prolonged growth at the local and not the macro level.
The first change will require architecture and design that transforms previously unproductive spaces – most residences and communities are black holes of productivity – into spaces that can produce value, from food to energy. A home, whether it is an apartment building or suburban residence, in 2025 will gain its value from its ability to efficiently produce necessities, and even income (as measured by the value of the output in local trade), for the owner.
Community design will in turn focus on the creation of platforms that support and catalyze increases in production for the community as a whole.
NOTE: For those that are unfamiliar with the concept of a “platform,” it finds its roots in the technology industry. Essentially, it is a system that simplifies a set of processes required for a given activity and bundles them into an easily accessible package. For example, the Internet is a platform. Platforms radically accelerate development and often foster the creation of diverse ecosystems of participants that rapidly innovate to fill the available opportunity/space.
Within resilient communities, we will see the establishment of platforms that make it easier to grow/sell food, produce/share/sell energy, trade, share ideas/methods (social software), produce products (fab labs), collect/share/sell water and much more. For example, to accelerate the ability to share/sell energy within a community, smart grid technology and microgrids provide an excellent avenue of approach. More specifically, if my domestic wood-fired, combined heat power (CHP) system produces excess electricity, I could either sell it into the community's microgrid or store it locally depending on the pricing information I get from smart grid data flows. Another example would be platforms that support local agriculture. Platforms in this category such as vegitecture support localized agriculture and food production and include; centrally located open space for farmer’s markets, small fenced garden plots that can be rented, local cold storage, groves of nut trees, community composting systems, green roofs/walls and much more.
If this sounds like a return to the 19th Century way of life you would be wrong. IF done correctly, the intensity of production and the productivity of participants will be orders of magnitude higher than during that earlier period. Further, IF done correctly it promises a rapid, broad and sustainable increase in standards of living for all participants.
So, get ready and get innovating, for if we can crack the design of the models necessary to accomplish this, it will propagate virally across the entire world.
John Robb is a former USAF pilot in special operations and software/IT entrepreneur. His book Brave New War , and website Global Guerillas are both excellent resources for anyone interested in exploring the future security challenges and opportunities for enhancing modern society's adaptability and resilience in todays rapidly changing globally, networked environment. Currently he is exploring the topic of resilient communities and how communities can shield and/or insulate themselves from such rapidly changing conditions by developing local capacity. In the Op-Ed above he discusses a few ways in which architects and other design professionals can contribute to the development of such capacity.
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