Thumbing through the June 1977 issue of The Futurist reminds me of the wisdom of what Nassim Taleb calls, “non-predictive decision making.” Why? Futurists and prognosticators are as accurate as a dead clock. Twice a day they get it right and the rest of the time they end up looking foolish. We can be especially thankful that the washing machine for people on page 179 of The Futurist never caught on.
That said, the point is not always to predict the future. Architects, artists and designers push the envelope of consensus reality to spark a dialog. Architect Glen Small, one of the founders of SCI-Arc and the subject of an entertaining documentary, “My Father, the Genius” is one such provocateur whose thoughtstylings appear in The Futurist. In an article in the magazine, Small describes his “Biomorphic Biosphere Megastructure (BBM):”
This union of nature and technology is what I am trying to achieve in my work. People say that the structures I draw look “alive.” They are alive–not in the sense that nature produced them independently of human control, but because they carry out all the different functions of living systems, respond to their environment, and grow. Certainly they are not “dead” as are many of today’s buildings which were constructed without regard for their surroundings or their effect on any form of life other than human beings.
Some of the ecological consciousness of Small’s work and other like minded architects of the 1970s later evolved into the environmental building standards of today. But Small is much more interesting. While my own architectural tastes lean towards the conservative Prince Charles end of the spectrum, I appreciate a good harebrained idea when I hear one. Here’s Small describing life in one of his BBMs:
Your house is a self-contained personal flying module whose soft surfaces can be adjusted to any configuration from smooth planes to womb-like curves. These surfaces–walls, floors and ceiling–can also change in color and opacity. Are you feeling gregarious? Then live a while in completely transparent surroundings! Are you feeling reclusive? Dial walls of any color to shut out the world! You can even open your module like a flower to receive the sun, and close it tightly and inclement weather.
As Marshall McLuhan was fond of saying, “If you don’t like those ideas, I got others.” Among those other ideas, that have more of a chance of catching on, is Small’s passion to align the natural world with the build environment. Small says,
Too often in the past we have behaved like uninvited and unwelcome guests, looting and trashing our surroundings. . . We need a new global building code to insure that all future planning and construction will protect the natural environment and at the same time help establish a social environment that is truly responsive to man’s psychological and physical needs.
While we may not be soaring around in our own personal Barbarella-style floating pods, we do have LEED certification. I’m sure Small would say we could go much further than LEED. On a personal level we can help grow gardens in our cities. On a grass roots political level (pun intended) we can stop incentivizing AstroTurf and leaf blowers. Like Small, I hope the future is biomorphic!
Thanks to Anne Hars for lending me a copy of The Futurist.