As a member of its Steering Group, I have been busy curating Building Futures’ first invited workshop since the group announced its independence from the RIBA, toward the end of last year. I developed the workshop to focus on discussing trends and emerging phenomena in the areas of politics, sociology, economics, technology and the environment in order to establish a research agenda focussing on a horizon set 15-20 years from now.
The key elements of the event were two rounds of punchy, 3-minute talks from acknowledged experts and visionaries followed by intense table discussions, with each table presided over by nominated ‘scribes’ and attended by a mix of Building Futures’ members, invited speakers and special guests.
The speakers were:
Kathryn Firth – Ex design lead for LLDC and Chair of Academy of Urbanism
Spoke on planning & governance
Anna Minton – Academic, author and researcher
Spoke on the theme of ‘who is the city for’
Carolyn Steele – Ex lecturer, author and journalist
Spoke on food production and consumption past, present and future
Alex Ely – Architect, lecturer and ex GLA officer
Spoke on demographic bubbles, the asymmetric costs of supporting the elderly and new co-housing developments by Pegasus Life
Nick Rees – Architect, founder of The Collective / developer
Spoke on delivered rental co-housing / co-working project in South Acton as model for new needs and a generation that collects experiences – not things
Indy Johar – Founder of multiple city hubs, Architeture 00 and Darklab
Spoke on a new JCT contract rewarding building performance (not completion)
Peter Baeck – Economist, Researcher at NESTA
Spoke on second tier & user generated digital networks (linking supply / demand – skill / need)
Peter Madden – Civil servant, Chair of Future Cities Catapult
Spoke on spotting the unequally distributed future
The discussions were lively and more politically poised than usual, with many reflecting on power structures (corporates, infrastructure suppliers, data companies, housing provision), and the absence of political models or systems of governance to match up to and control such entities. Artificial Intelligence was mentioned in many contexts leading to discussions on deskilling and even post-emplyment landscapes while unfettered access to digital data was cited as a force that competes with capitalism and undercuts and invades professional sanctums. The ‘have nots’ featured heavily – the young who cannot afford to live in the cities, the poor who cannot afford the housing, this resonated with the emergence of rental markets and subscription economies in place of ‘ownership’.
Housing models of many kinds were discussed, with most models known of, yet fresh results beginning to show as in the work of The Collective in bringing together co-housing, multiple social features and start-up workspace. Suggestions were made to provide ‘homespitals’ offering some degree of clinical care to allow the elderly to remain at home longer and avoid the sky-high prices of care homes. We discussed futures populated by driverless cars, micro-factory produced food, A.I. applications of all kinds, 3D printed buildings, intensified cross use class environments and localised governance bodies.
Can we spot the unequally distributed future in any of this?
Time will tell.