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Talking Design: 22nd Century Living – Cities of the Future

July 20, 2009

I recently had the pleasure of attending this presentation and panel discussion, which was completely engaging and extremely relevant to my current exploration into making place.

Leading practitioners: Niels Jonkhans, Don Ryun Chang, Michael Trudgeon, David Berman and Carlo Ratti spoke eloquently about their practices and projects and challenged us to ask the big questions about what we want cities to be into the future. Facilitated by Caroline Stalker, Director, Architectus, they discussed the cities of the future and offered their insights on life, living and design in the 22nd century.

First up, Niels Jonkhans spoke about the Museum of Graz project. Niels graduated in 1997 from the Bartlett School of Architecture, London. After having worked at Sir Michael Hopkins & Partners he teamed up with Peter Cook and Colin Fournier for he competition entry of the Kunsthaus Graz, a museum for modern art. Having made first prize, they founded spacelabuk with Niels as the design and project architect responsible for the construction of the building.

He spoke about it being “derelict of any architectural quotations”, referring to the fact that the building is so far removed from the surrounding historical architecture that it redefines what buildings can be in the 21st century. He elaborated on the commissioning and prototyping processes, saying they had to construct part of the building and then run copious tests before getting complete sign off on the project!

Niels also teaches Architectural Design and Experimental Design Strategies at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, along with Methods of Representation. His students have been working on solutions for constructing skyscrapers along Vienna’s windiest foreshore, which generate their own electricity. He encourages risky solutions, believing that out of extreme experimentation we will be shown the way forward.

Don Ryun Chang talked about the importance of communicating value in design and how this was a sign of designers of the 21st century. He was born to diplomat parents and grew up on five continents and was educated at the University of British Columbia in Canada, the Parsons School of Design, where he received his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. Working for several organisations such as Nara Advertising, Design Focus in Korea, Steiner & Co. in Hong Kong, Don founded DC&A in 1991, which later became one of the leading identity companies in Asia.

Don lectures widely on branding and is currently Dean of the Graduate School of Advertising at Hongik University in Seoul. He has served as Vice President of the Visual Information Design Association of Korea (VIDAK) and was elected as the 23rd Icograda President in October 2007. Don advises for many institutions including the Korean Olympic Committee, Seoul Metropolitan government and is the author of five books including “How to succeed in business with design and Brand Media Innovation”. His parting thoughts were for designers to bear in mind the relevance of technology to our role in 20 years time. That is to say, think into the future, don’t limit yourself by designing for the present.

Michael Trudgeon, has
23 years experience in industrial design, architecture and media design and trans-disciplinary design. Architect and principal designer with Crowd Productions, Michael’s focus is on research in new technologies and industrial design for architecture to create powerful new customer experiences.

He talked about what cities are in relation to movement. He illustrated this with the analogy of the car actually being a ‘broken off part of a house’, how that over time, the glass-enclosed porch of the typical house became the modern-day motor car – our way of seeing the world pass by, or now, us pass by the world.

He stressed we can either invent the future, or get run over by it and said that extensive prototyping is the key to advancing ideas, by experimenting and taking risks, many of which will fail, but from which we learn.

Recent projects he’s worked on in collaboration with DP include: concept-store design for National Australia Bank, flagship cinema complexes at Melbourne Central and Blacktown for Hoyts Corporation, and Digital Cinema capsules for the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

Following on, Professor Carlo Ratti, Queensland’s inaugural Innovator in Residence, is an Italian architect and engineer who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States. There he directs the SENSEable City Laboratory – an institution that uses the increasing deployment of sensors and hand-held electronics to allow a new approach to the study of the built environment.

In 2002, Carlo established the international architectural design practice carlorattiassociati – Walter Nicolino and Carlo Ratti in Turin, Italy. The office was selected as one of the top Italian practices at the 2004 Venice Biennale. Its prize-winning projects include: a pavilion featuring walls made of “digital water” at the entrance of the 2008 International Exhibition (World Expo Zaragoza), hailed by TIME Magazine as one of the Best Inventions of 2007. This fascinating project is an exercise in how to control space and interactivity with space.

In 2003, Carlo established the SENSEable City Laboratory, an MIT research group in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. The group investigates the impact of new technologies on urban transformations, as illustrated, for example, by a digitally-controlled pavilion at the 2006 Venice Biennale as well as a widely-acclaimed project showing the “heartbeat” of the city of Rome mapped through the analysis of cell phone networks.

His work focuses on tracking how we move, where we congregate, what social events and cultural forces make us move and how they make us move. Currently, he is developing a prototype called ‘smart tags’ to track where our rubbish goes after it leaves our homes. Is it being recycled and where does it end up? If we really knew where our trash went, would we live more responsibly/sustainably?

He challenges how we use space by questioning, “what if you could take your room, anywhere in the world and it would always fit you like the gloves on your hands?” These types of responsive 3D environments that shift and move to reform as per our own individual spaces, transcends the limiting way we currently use space today.

Lastly, David Berman spoke. With over 20 years experience in graphic design and communications, he has worked extensively in the adaptation of printed materials for electronic distribution, including web design and software interface development. As an expert speaker, graphic designer, communications strategist, public speaker, typographer and consultant, his clients include IBM, the International Space Station, the Canadian Government, the World Bank, and the Aga Khan Foundation. David’s work includes award-winning projects in the application of plain writing and design.

He focused on the way we create ‘stuff’ to consume, in order to gain a sense of belonging, but in doing so, only manage to refute this attempt. He said “we ask people to consume, not produce”. If we asked people to produce – produce energy, produce food etc we would add to, not subtract from the planet!

In listening to these amazing speakers, I was reminded how the thoughts of the collective are greater than the sum of the individuals. Collaboration, inclusion and seeking input from outside sources is an empowering way to expand your own design concepts and ethos. It was interesting to see how all of the speakers believe experimentation and risk-taking in concept design to be imperative in breaking new ground and designing for the future we want, not the one we may inherit should we continue to build cities based in the past.

Note: Some of the information here on the speakers was taken from their individual biographies, printed for the panel discussion.

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