Mitchell Joachim’s Techno-Utopian Future

Blimp Bus. Mitchell Joachim.

This past Friday I attended the Dwell on Design convention sponsored by Dwell Magazine. Amidst the high end bath fixtures and sleek induction cooktops I found a few simple but wonderful ideas that I’ll blog about tomorrow. But first I’ve got to try to digest the strangeness that was a presentation by architect and futurist Mitchell Joachim.

Fab Tree Hab. Mitchell Joachim.

Joachim is the thoughtstylist in chief of Planetary One and Terreform One, non-profit organizations that, “pioneer visionary socio-ecological and infrastructural strategies for urban environments.” Articulate and entertaining, Joachim delivered a rapid fire PowerPoint lecture showcasing many of his outr√© notions: floating jellyfish-like mass transit thingies, foam electric cars, strawberry shaped hydrogen peroxide powered jet pack capsules, houses made of in-vitro cultured meat and the favorite of contemporary futurists, high rise hydroponic farms.

Sheep Cars. Mitchell Joachim

I really couldn’t tell if Joachim was simply trying to provoke a discussion, delusional, self-promoting, or engaged in some kind of conceptual art project in which we, the gullible audience, were part of an elaborate ironic or post-ironic house of mirrors. Joachim seems hipper than old school World’s Fair futurist types and yet he’s promoting exactly the same Jetson style future, albeit with an eco tinge, those of us over forty can remember from our childhood.

Green Brain, A Smart Park for a New City. Mitchell Joachim

I completely agree with Joachim that whatever designs we come up with have to make the world a better place, that technology must create what he calls a “positive contribution model.” And I appreciate his clever renderings and sense of humor as a way to provoke a dialog. But Joachim’s vision veers too close to what John Michael Greer calls the “apocalypse meme,” the idea that some sort of cataclysmic event (Joachim suggests an ecological crisis) will usher in a new techno-utopian age. Joachim even suggested that his positive eco-feedback loops could form the basis of a new faith to replace our current consumerist spirituality.

In-Vitro Meat House. Mitchell Joachim

At the risk of being a nattering nabob of negativity, I just have to say that I think it’s time to grow up and stop fantasizing about jet packs, hydroponic farms and electric cars.¬† We need to get realistic about our future and explore design work that lives within the resource limits of this planet. Like Greer, I believe it’s time to return to what came to be called, in the 1960s and 70s, appropriate technology, things like solar water heaters, rocket stoves and permaculture. Designers have an important role to play in the coming years, but that role may be more about working on the ideal pit toilet rather than foam electric cars or in-vitro meat houses (I will admit the meat house is pretty funny). As a design challenge, that ideal pit toilet, by the way, is just as engaging, perhaps more so than the techno-utopianisms that Joachim peddles. Maybe Joachim can work on an in-vitro meat pit toilet.

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  1. I love the foam cars because they seem safe. The blimp bus is scary. Meat house? Disgusting!

    Yes, this is supposedly a visionary art display, but it is not anywhere near the reality we need to see.

    I love all sorts of art, and I go to art openings of the young and hip. (is “hip” still a good word?) But, mostly these are for the novelty and the look inside the mind of someone else, seeing how people think. Joachim is to me just novelty, not potential reality in any future.

    Meat and maggots…ugh.

    The high-rise hydroponic farm does seem to have potential. Or is aquaponics, the fish and food one, that I particularly like?

  2. agree with you on this stuff. Think some of it is, consciously or not, a case of “baffle them with BS”. They get people so focused on these fabulouso outrageous ideas, that they don’t see the simple changes and things they can do NOW. and so don’t change anything at all and keep promoting the status quo.

  3. “elaborate post-ironic house of mirrors”.

    I really like that phrase (it was couple with the non-post-ironic phrase). A lot.

    But I feel uncomfortable with what post-ironic would mean. Is this a new catch-phrase, or unique to here?

    As an aside…I never realized it was so difficult to ask a question about irony without sounding as if I trying to be ironic myself.

  4. I agree, it’s time for us to focus on a realistic future. As much as I want my hoverboard, I want a sustainable future even more. It’s time to wake up and be rational adults, we have work to do.

  5. You know, the first thing that came to mind when reading this was something a college professor said about the world needing all kinds. The crazy people ranting and raving with extreme and outrageous ideas can help to make the more reasonable ones with new ideas, who follow behind them seem acceptable. It’s almost as if this guys is coming up with the most radical ideas to temper our idea of normal or radical. After you hear about houses made of meat, composting toilets seems downright mainstream…

  6. I don’t have anything against pleasuring oneself, but please don’t tell me this is the way to make the world a better place. So who is funding this venture? And the press just laps it up . . . self promotion, I suppose.

  7. Jet packs are like the picture phone; we’ve had both for quite some time now, but no one uses them because, in reality, they just suck. It isn’t a design problem. Some things just sound neat as ideas, but when it comes to the reality… monstrous. That is the problem with separating builders (who must be humbled by materials and creations) too far away from “idea people”.

    At the lecture Doctor Joachim claimed it was no coincidence that the first moon landing mimicked a science fiction story. I took that to mean what he aspires to is some modern form of science fiction. Except, visionary authors like Asimov & Heinlein mixed future fantasy with a little character development in the tradition of morality plays to test their ethics. Running imaginary tech through a narrative is an inexpensive and entertaining method for some rigorous exploration. What is more provocative, the facts concerning how realistic or practical or possible meat houses are, or a J.G. Ballard tale of the old lady who lives in one? I left the presentation feeling like I’d seen only cover art. Where’s the book?

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