Unknowns and vulnerability. Care and worry. Held back and looking forward.
Architecture undoubtedly attracts problem-solvers. Those who push new spaces, technologies, and ways of making thrive on inquiry. The last few years have brought disruptions and refocusing. It’s been a time to question, and to reconsider what are—and what need to be—major points of concern going forward.
There is a hint of energy in the air that our thoughts and ideas might soon be granted a little more headspace yet again. That space is also supported with enriched considerations on how to better treat one another, our planet, and our collective knowledge. Our new paths should be launched with care, and the readiness that comes by taking a small pause before proceeding.
I recently reached out the members of the Taubman College Architectural Computational Design + Construction Cluster (ACDCC), with an inquiry:
What is the most important question we as a discipline should be asking right now?
To fully embrace this thought-pause, I invite the reader to turn away from the text for a moment and think of their own questions before carrying on.
The prompt is asked with deliberate care and attention. To ask big questions one must slow for a moment. The ACDCC is held together as a group of architects unified by investigating new ways of making, both digitally and physically. The activities that most of us are engaged in are a very near future pursuit. The work takes on the promise that we can—and will—impact the future. As such, we must know that what we are projecting and laboring over is, in fact, that which we are asking to be out in the world. Touching base in this manner illuminates our values and the aspirations that lie ahead in our work. It is to acknowledge what might be unknown, unexplained, and unresolved. It is to comment on what is truly important and what is of concern. Each individual response reflects personal drivers and a spirit to contribute. Collectively, the questions underscore themes and urgencies relevant to possible territories that this research can undertake, or must question.
What follows below is the first of several threads in the making. It is the beginning of a repository of questions that, through their asking, already begin to establish new stakes and assessments.
We launch with the first set of questions, noting that creative brains can never settle on just one question. Each question seemingly prompts yet another.
What essential capacities, practices, and expertise should be centered in the training of 'architects' for 2100?
What 'languages' should they be fluent in?
What thought models should structure their engagement with the world?
How should our discipline influence technological advancement to elevate humanity?
How will architecture as a discipline help protect and preserve the natural environment?
Does the digital hold the key in regreening the built environment?
What digital approaches will the discipline of architecture explore to factor in human health, well-being, and disabilities in the built environment?
–Mania Aghaei MEIBODI
Is less more, or less?
Should we base our form on lessons of the past or just lessen our form?
Does form follow or lead?
–Peter VON BUELOW
How do we design for decay? How do we not continue to poison the earth?
As designers/makers, how can we support an ideology of de-escalation, anti-progress, anti-consumerism and still make things?
Should we put more of our efforts towards how we save and utilize existing architecture, rather than trying to make the newest latest thing in the newest and latest way?
How can we live with a better appreciation for the embodied energy (both natural and people- made) in the world that surrounds us?
What does it mean to live smaller and better?
How can our material, construction, and site choices be embraced as stewardship to the planet and to each other?
Enter the metaverse? In a shift to mainstream, the immersive digital operates independently while also allowing for moments of overlap with the physical. At this intersection of embodied spatialization of digital and physical material, what role should architecture play in shaping these new territories and tools of extended realities?
How should we curate the fundamental shift in the ways our built environment is designed and constructed with the onset of artificial intelligence and robotics? It has been widely discussed that these fast-paced advancements will have a broader impact and will fundamentally transform how intellectual and physical labor is performed in the (near) future—for instance, either solely by intelligent robots or by collaborative teams of humans and robots.
What will be the role of the architects, and how can they contribute to an equitable building culture, while taking advantage of these processes and steering their implementation in the design and construction industries?
How do we shift the broader cultural fear of construction automation taking over "jobs" when labor practices are much more complex and nuanced than one replacing another?
–Tsz Yan NG
The world needs architecture—but does it need architects?
–Matias del CAMPO
How can architects and designers expand our conception of system boundaries so we recognize the broader political, social, material, and energetic systems that we assemble and reassemble with our work? Then in this context we should critically ask ourselves, what old categories of thought and practice are an encumbrance and need to be shed, and what new mindsets and practices do we need to cultivate?
In the coming weeks this list will grow. More questions, questions with context, and responses (though not answers) will all emerge.