The following working strategies, or modes of observation, are meant to help instigate new approaches to design. Participants should feel free to explore these ideas, explicitly or implicitly, as a point of departure for developing design interventions that could range from the micro to the macro scale.
1. LOCAL AND HYPER-SPECIFIC
Although the same pandemic has spread across the globe, the various approaches to dealing with it have fluctuated widely depending on the specific social, political, and cultural conditions of each country. The current unprecedented immobility caused by this calamity can be utilized as a unique opportunity to closely examine the world around us and seek the hyper-specific conditions that define the precarious nature of a local site. At the same time, we urge one to remain keenly aware of the “universalizing” forces at work. Since World War II, the proliferation of the world economy, technology, and commodity markets on a global scale, increasingly commodifies all aspects of social life. The last few decades have witnessed a new paradigm defined by what some have called “surveillance capitalism.” Silicon Valley and other corporations are mining information of users to predict and shape their behavior, constructing seemingly inescapable “algorithm ghettos.” The technocratic state has systematically restructured our lives, enticing us to incessantly “socially interact,” shop, and entertain ourselves, but as we retreat further into isolated bubbles, what are the consequences for the world beyond? Arguably, architecture and urban planning have played a minor role in this development. As a way of engaging this radical global transformation, we promote an aggressive hyper-specific approach to local conditions, issues, and knowledge to move beyond the prevailing model which is defined by extensive and persistent forces of homogenization. New forms of local engagement are key. Again, while the scale of the intervention may range from large to extremely small, what matters most is the ability to situate one’s design within the specific conditions of the site.
The non-anthropocentric view maintains that other subjects should be regarded as having equal significance as human beings. The pandemic has revealed the obvious fact, which has often been ignored, that we are not the only protagonists on this planet. We coexist with non-human subjects. For example, the Whanganui River in New Zealand has been granted the legal status of a person while “Sophia,” a robot brought to life by artificial intelligence (AI), has been given citizenship. These contrasting cases exemplify the ways in which our former ethics have, necessarily, evolved. Architecture and urban planning have long been, until now, rather hopelessly human-centric disciplines that have remained oblivious to this fragile condition. The world is defined by relationships between humans and non-human agents, including animals, plants, landscapes, and other subjects that still demand recognition, which require careful observation, understanding, and constant nurturing. Now we must urgently reform our old viewpoint and explore the design implications of this new way of thinking as a matter of our own survival.
Architecture has contributed significantly to the proliferation of objects and images in an oversaturated world. Overconsumption, or excessive unsustainable consumption, has resulted in widespread resource depletion. A new generation of political activists have initiated the “deconsumption” movement. Yet architecture remains deeply implicated in the status quo. The proliferation of commodities, including architecture as a commodity, has reached new heights. In response to these developments, we encourage one to imagine the opposite, the “absence” of production and consumption. The idea of undoing, or erasure, removal or stripping things down to their bare essence, may offer a productive strategy to imagine a less precarious, more sustainable, future. Reimagining the world may help instigate the emergence of new environments. For example, what might happen if private cars disappear from the city? What would then happen in all those parking spaces?