This Must Be The Place: Critical Design and Urban Futurity. Tomorrows exhibition, Onassis Cultural Centre. 2018.
Co-authored with Tobias Revell, this catalogue essay defines speculative and critical design as a practice which can disrupt established and normative narratives around urban futures. The Tomorrows exhibition, curated by Daphne Dragona and Panos Dragonas, unfolded the multiple aspects the future presents today through the works of artists, architects, and designers.
By 2050, half the world’s population will live in cities — Ancient Proverb
You have, surely, seen or heard the above statement before—in newspaper articles, possibly, or government documents; perhaps as wall-text at an art exhibition; perhaps whispered into your ear by an anonymous commuter.
Words summon action. Describing a near-future in which half of the global populace will inevitably—definitely!—live in cities is not a value-neutral offering but an invocation to act. This proverb drives policy development for the United Nations, forms the opening gambit of a great many foresight reports and acts as the backbone of the property development industry. It is a compelling pitch for businesses and governments looking to shore up certainty in an age of instability and volatility, framing half the world’s population as a captive audience for policy, surveillance and sales.
Positioning the city as the nexus of mass human experience for the foreseeable future sets up a land-grab for who gets to define what these cities will look like. And what is being imagined often seems to be terribly similar, both in terms of what these cities look like, how they are controlled and what forms of technological systems will thread through them. It is these apparently inescapable future-metropolitan visions that critical approaches to design, architecture and urbanism seek to challenge.
Where are the alternatives to these Stepford Wife renderings of the coming urban environment? Why isn’t the inevitability or the homogeneity of these visions being questioned? Is this truly what citizens want? The city has always been a site of command and control, a space where ardent ideology can be materialized and tested. Speculative and critical perspectives, therefore, seek to shatter and pluralize these visions, introducing alternatives that broaden the possibility space of what the city is, and challenge the hegemony of dominant stifling, seemingly inevitable imaginaries.