We come across much of the technology in our present daily use already in the science fiction created a few decades ago. There are two main reasons for that. On the one hand, science fiction is largely based on some kind of knowledge of the future trends of science and technology. Then again, science fiction films are perhaps the most widely spread bearers of our social fantasy that can trigger further development. In other words, pop culture and technology together allow us to analyse where the society is heading. The main changes of our living environment date back to the first industrial revolution. There is a massive inflow of population into cities enhancing the development of transportation and economy and giving rise to the middle class and free time. At one point, the number of horses in cities becomes so vast that the cities start to drown in manure – until the horse-drawn carriages are replaced by automobile wagons. It may be cynically concluded that now we are drowning in exhaust fumes and wandering amid colossal dumb shopping centres. We live in cities designed for cars – in the techno-utopia of the beginning of the previous century. Then again, we have also come to appreciate spaces of human scale and physical movement that is virtually impossible to undertake in large-scale traffic arteries. It is important to invest in strategic planning, public transport and non-motorised road use in order to ensure a decent living environment. In the long term, the success and sustainability of cities are based on concepts with a human face. We live in the past. We know that we are facing changes and we must take them into consideration, but the society is heading straight ahead by force of inertia taking no heed for the changes. The technology to simulate and analyse future scenarios develops faster than human adaptive skills. We are far behind our theoretical potential. We know what our future cities could be like, we invented it a long time ago, but we cannot agree on how to move towards it.
New people give rise to new homes
With the fast pace of life, it will soon be enough for some people to have a mere place to sleep. Others, conversely, never go out as everything can be undertaken from home. In the long term, even Matrix may not seem too far-fetched of a concept. Scepticism towards the future is entirely understandable when considering people’s mental health. We live in a highly schizophrenic age marked by total access to information and it is increasingly harder for individuals to decide which part of it to consume and what to believe. On the one hand, we are more individualistic than ever before and can express it by means of technology. On the other hand, the self-same technology makes us a mere manipulated amount of data in the vast set of big data. For some people, social media is a form of self-expression, a possibility to find like-minded people and not feel like a lone freak in the wide world. Others find it a stifling inevitability, addiction and a magnifier of isolation. Here the balance may be provided by a city designed for people. Where people feel good in a public space and perceive themselves as members of the community. For instance, by decreasing monofunctionality and creating jobs and leisure facilities in bedroom suburbs, the districts develop a stronger identity and people form better connections with their
The environmental impact must be reduced
A lot may change on the frontline of possibilities in twenty years, however, the society is highly slow to adapt. The changes in real estate are particularly slow. When designing buildings, we expect a considerably longer lifespan than a couple of decades. But is it sustainable? On the one hand, it certainly is – the longer the object persists, the smaller the need for creating new ones. Unfortunately, the society and economy do not follow similar logic. Companies are established and closed down. People move in the labour market more freely. On the building level, it is difficult to predict what kind of spaces we might need in twenty years and in what quantities.
In terms of predicting the nature of future jobs, the pace will probably be set by large technological enterprises. The best-known of these are the curious office solutions of Google. There seem to be no start-up that has not emulated it. Their logic is simple. In order to get the maximum benefit from the employees, there should be no line between their work and personal life. Work is your life, the office is your home and home is your office. Thus, there are numerous different environments and leisure facilities in the office to all tastes.
The technological innovation is accompanied by shortening innovation cycles best illustrated perhaps by the “always new” sales model of smartphones. Such constant production is clearly exhausting the environment. What should be done? Should we tell the manufacturers to launch their phones every three years? That would not quite work. Therefore, it is important to change the product life cycle so that it would have a minimum negative impact on the environment. The whole cycle must be considered upon creating the product. Where does the material come from? How much energy is spent on processing it, manufacturing and assembling the details? How to pack and transport the products? What will happen to the packaging? How much energy is needed to use it and to take it apart to elements and various materials for manufacturing new objects? The same logic should also apply in construction and interior design. The aim of the Modernist design of the previous century was, according to designers Ray and Charles Earns of legendary status, to produce the best for the most for the least. The least has mostly been interpreted in terms of time and money. Today, it should be rethought also as the least impact on the environment. It is important that products are high quality and durable but at the same also easily reprocessed and sorted by material. There is nothing wrong in consumption, it is the exploitation that must end. There are two options for it. The first is to use renewable and biodegradable materials. The other option is to use materials that can be easily reused. So, the products in future homes could be made of either natural or clean and reusable materials. Plastic will still be used, but these must be 100% reusable. An important role will be played by wood processed with natural and environment-friendly products. In furniture manufacturing, wood has always been one of the key materials, however, in recent years it has become increasingly valuable also as a building material. Considering the given increase of demand, timber industry is doing better and better. However, in order not to sell the natural resource cheaply, considerably more should be invested in the innovation of wood materials, product design and architecture. The more added value we can give to wood, the smaller the urge to export our forests.
The choice of material and the form of the object
In terms of reprocessing, preference is given to objects consisting of fewer varied materials and details. The better our skills to process and place the material and to manipulate with the material qualities, the wider the set of material possibilities. With smart design it is then possible to produce monomaterial objects with varying hardness or transparency thus providing both support and cushioning. As the transportation of materials is resource-intensive, the weight and volume of elements come to play a considerable role. The form of the object is here perhaps even more relevant. The best way to find the most efficient form is algorithmic optimisation. The algorithmic process allows to automatize the work stages and create specific digital tools for solving various tasks. What’s more, this way the designer, engineer and manufacturer can create a common model meeting the requirements set by all parties already before finding the final form. Thousands of such variations may be created on the computer within a few minutes and the best selected according to respective criteria.
People need a reference point
An average person will probably not get used to such machine-made curiosities in his home so fast. Instead, people tend to organise their lives around objects of some personal value. In this respect, Pinterest or some TV series will undoubtedly have more power than any single designer. Home interior is a matter of taste closer to fashion design than architecture. Retro is always in fashion. Especially in a world where everything changes at immense speed and becomes increasingly virtual and volatile, we, people, need some kind of a foothold. We can only hope that people will use natural resources less. The little material around us could be of the highest possible quality. Exceptionally good design or a historic relic that will not be thrown out when out of fashion. Technology and production can change the look of architecture beyond recognition, however, this is ultimately what architects should be dealing with – the look. How do people experience the space around them? The technical aspect must function well, but it will all fall apart, if the result does not form a whole. It may rely on state-of-the art technology or the most economical production method, but if it does not speak to the people. it is all to no avail. Architect is an author creating scenarios that, if successful, can emotionally enrich people’s life. In 20 years, today’s design innovation is perhaps retro enough to become trendy.