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Inquiry, Urgency, Disciplinary Prompts, Collective Questions, Stakes

Questions Only

Catie Newell
Inquiry, Urgency, Disciplinary Prompts, Collective Questions, Stakes

07 March 2022: 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?
Geoff Thün

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? By 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? By Glenn Wilcox

How can our material, construction, and site choices be embraced as stewardship to the planet and to each other? By Catie Newell

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? By Jon Rule

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? By Arash Adel

Could this very moment, with the confluence of factors that contribute to labor shortages, actually be a path toward accelerating the industry's readiness for adopting automation processes? If costs of higher wages—and delays in construction—are passed onto consumers to make homes affordable, we will need to rethink HOW we build. 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? By 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?
By Kathy Velikov

31 August 2022: Still More Questions

This exercise is endlessly repeatable.  Its answers mark the urgency of the specific time, and foreshadow our work and efforts ahead. It is a spatial and disciplinary time-stamp.

From above, the questions roll between concern for the environment and the introduction of artificial intelligence into all that we do. They express questions over labor and questions over pedagogy, the role of the architect, and the role of the educator. We see our contributions and responsibilities in questions that participate in political, social, and economic settings. The list contains fear, hope, doubt, and more questions.

Whisking us forward one year, ten years, one hundred years... Which of these questions will we have made strides in answering? Which questions will become even more urgent? What will fall away? And what absolute unknown will have entered into our approaches?

With the cadence of making new in a setting  of ever-quickening fabrication and computation, it is on us to stop and ask questions. It is a direct form of communicating with the world, and of steadying our work. It is the intimacy of attention that pairs with the quest for innovation.

All we can ask for is more questions.