Dan Hill, an interaction designer, should not ask an architect to reflect on the future of architecture; it takes someone outside that world to do the same. Michiel Van Iersel talks about the future of architects. The talk, Failed architecture: Michiel van Iersel, is about architecture, an international research platform looking into urban and architectural failures. The group of people travels around the world and study building to identify the factors and reasons for its failure.
Architecture is not only a linear practice. So the practice not only involves architects but also attracts economists, planners, historians, politicians. Michiel thinks the role of an architect is over at least the way the architect’s role is defined since the ages of masterpieces created by star architects. The role of an architect is no more than just an in charge or director of work. The role seems to change mainly because of technological developments.
The idea of failed architecture is no new. It has existed since biblical times (Babel) till today. But especially seen in the late 19th century when metropolis cities were established like London. They had high density in the inner cities with terrible living conditions in small, tightly packed living spaces. But at that time, a few of the architects took the low living standards into consideration, like Sullivan, Le Corb, Buckminister Fuller, etc. The time when this happened is addressed as an age of gentlemen. Earlier, these people were not even recognized as architects but considered technicians, engineers, civil servants.
In the Age of gentlemen, a few got ideas, a voice hence a face in front of the metropolis masses. Architects gave slogans like Form follows function, were enigmatic authority figures whom people look up to and later a central figure in building design and construction processes.
With the same spirit and seriousness, architects developed grand schemes where cities were reorganized. Similarly, Le Corbusier came up with Plan Voisin- a redevelopment plan of central Paris in 1925 where the medieval town was replaced with cutting edge high towers which were never executed but are considered one of the popular unbuilt redevelopments projects by the famous architect. Similarly, in the same spirit, a lot has changed, and the influence can be evidently seen in the urban landscape of the metropolis cities like London, Paris all around the world.
Another example is Pruitt-Igoe, an enormous public housing scheme in the US city of St. Louis, Missouri, built in 1954. Unfortunately, within 2 decades, the city authority decides to get rid of it due to its malfunctioning and rise in crime, poverty and racial segregation. Similar buildings by the same architects have collapsed on their own due to technical failures. Hence modernism is still evident in today’s time but is in ruins.
With the death of modernism, meaning the demolition of these housing blocks, the emergence of another era, Michiel addresses the Age of starchitects in the talk of failed architecture, including Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas. So the cities aspired to a new identity, competing internationally which can attract foreign investments, tourists. Hence the cities started to build iconic structures on the idea of ‘Form follows Finance’.
Michiel Van Iersel claims the age-adapted Form follows finance because an iconic skyscraper around the world is constructed, followed by a significant economic crisis. The costs have an enormous effect on the cities and the region’s economy. For example, the City of Art and Sciences in Valencia, Spain, designed by Santiago Calatrava, occupied a large amount of economic activity. Hence, the city got bankrupt after constructing the neo-futuristic public complex.
Hence from the Age of Starchitects, the renowned architects defamed which gave birth to the Age of Villains. Michiel addresses the devil illustrations of those architects. Finally in the talk of failed architecture, Michiel Van mentions Rem Koolhaas’s perspective on the architecture practice of today’s time where the Dutch architect believes Design is as easy as Photoshop even on the city scale.
What will be the next to replace the Age of gentlemen, followed by the Age of Starchitects, which was eventually followed by the Age of Villains? Michiel Van Iersel argues that the new time will be conquered by the Geeks, calling it the Age of Geeks. The Geeks include the people involved in developing technologies and technical innovations or involved in network cities.
The new technological class of people will develop future cities that will eventually sidetrack architects and urban planners. Hence, from now on or in the future, the Form will follow Data. The data of behavioural patterns, climate responses, structure, materials, and so on and so forth will shape our habitats and cities. The cities will be generated from the generative methods governed by calculus under controllable parameters.
There are examples of generative designs available in today’s date. Zaha Hadid has used these methods for a very long time. She believes that it provides liberal design processes free from standard rules of Design. But Michiel claims that there is still a clash of the building’s appropriateness in the city’s context, and codes can be copied by anyone, and the same story repeats where the towns are copy-pasted around the world.
Michiel addresses another problem regarding the pace of building. The buildings come up really fast with the help of pre-fabrication methods where the partial construction takes place in factories and transports on sites just to assemble into a skyscraper. Hence he claims the trend of DIY (do it yourself) will change to DIT (do it together). Also, the 3D printing methods have enabled people to print their entire room in at a single time. A studio in Amsterdam is planning to build the first 3D-printed canal house.
Another fantastic concept is Wikihouse, a website developed by ZeroZero design studio in London where people can create their homes combining different options of rooms available on the website and another way around where people can upload their ideas about composition.
The future scenario of building homes is people create their own combination of rooms from a website and then print it with a 3D printer. Hence, Michiel Van Iersel summarises it as a virtual way of building cities where architects responsible for creating tangible environments are getting out of the picture with intangible technologies taking over.
So the architects need to change their way of involvement in the creation of cities. But Michiel suggests the downside of the future virtual world where the system can crash due to an overload of algorithms and can be a disaster like the New York City stock exchange.
But the new practice will primarily include collaborative designs where people of different expertise or people possessing diverse expertise come together and develop the world we live in. Michiel advises the present architects to embrace the change or stay out of business. The TedTalk by the critical thinker Michiel Van Iersel is an eye-opening insight into the future of architecture and design practice. He introduces the upcoming as an outcome of past architectural failures to the opportunities an architect can carve out from the world.