Scenarios and Speculations

“In an age when conceptual thought is undoubtedly one of the rules of attraction, it is expected that writing may provide again an arena where images are returned to their original frame: the speculative imagination.”

-Pedro Gadanho


The literary scenarios in this volume are  diverse and engage a range of quasi-fictional territory.  The stories wander into interesting, seemingly familiar places, but with a twist.  I have my personal favorites (White Fungus for quality of sotrytelling as well as imagined reality, and Redoing Dubai for its political satire and use of the graphic novel format), but what I found most poignant in the entire collection was Lara Schrijver’s introductory essay, Dreaming the World that Might Still Become, which sets the stage for everything that follows:

“In a sense one could go so far to say that architecture itself is a form of fiction: each design necessarily operates on the basis of speculations, presumptions and scenarios…the visions of a future environment, from interior to urban landscape, are already inscribed in the drawings that are used to envision an as yet nonexistent reality”.

The fictional condition of design is unavoidably always there, both in the way we draw it and the selective attention to a limited range of unlimited contingencies and limitations that affect the design.  Designing requires envisioning of some scenario, or short-to-long range design science fiction.  Short-range meaning near-term or near present time, similar to William Gibson’s recent works like Pattern Recognition, and long-range, distant future science fiction, (Blade Runner) that would entail very diferent living situations.  Planning and large scale scenarios fall into long range scenarios, and less complex site works typically fall in the short to mid time range.   I say science fiction because so much of contemporary design is premised on science and teachnical based knowledge  (biology, ecology, climatology, engineering, etc.) and science based predictive scenarios, such as global climate change, peak oil and peak water.

Lara continues:

Scenarios, speculations and ideals and utopias all dwell in the same spectrum of envisioning possibilities.  It is this fine line between the possibility of the scenario and the necessity for utopia that describes precisely where our fictions can succeed or fail.  As an image of potential futures, these speculations can aid in reflecting on the consequences of choices…it is precisely those speculations that can appeal to our better selves helping us envision the world as it could be while acknowledging it as it is, and perhaps even being forgiving of its and particularly our imperfections—that should be given the space to take us out of our everyday inattention.  In this sense the imagination plays the role of the ideal to be aspired to (and by definition not achieved).

I’ve always had a hard time with the “its just paper architecture” critique.  The point of such criticism is based on the perception that the design in question is distant from real life/everyday reality and constraints.  Yet within the disciplines of urbanism there is more than enough tame reality in design and a relative scarcity of truly bold envisioning.  Dreaming the World that Might Still Become locates the answer somewhere in between.


kobas laksa collage

What the authors of this collection do in words, Kobas Laksa does extremely well with images.  The photocollages from the afterlife of buildings (previously exhibited at the Venice Biennial are made from assemblages of photographs of contemporary well known buildings in Poland that he/she works and manipulates into an image of a possible scenario 50 years into the future, selectively aging the architecture.

kobas laksa collage2

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