47 to go
1872 saw the publication of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, a book covering every modern means of transportation under the sun. I just came back from my own journey around the world, albeit one in twenty-four days. Verne probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid at this, even if this kind of transport was inconceivable back in his day. Oftentimes, we do know what the future will bring, but have yet to design the form it will take. In another one of his books Verne describes how a hollow cannonball is shot to land on the moon. Physicists like to point out the physical impossibilities of this (and did so even back when Verne was alive).
Our response to the impossible cannonball was Apollo 11. As Verne had his main character in Five Weeks in a Balloon say: “As for difficulties […] they were made to be overcome, as for risks and dangers, who can flatter himself that he is to escape them? […] Moreover, we must look upon what is to occur as having already occurred, and see nothing but the present in the future, for the future is but the present a little farther on.”
On my own journey around the world I came across both danger and the near future. In the Ugandese capital of Kampala I read The Daily Monitor, which reported on the loss of jobs due to automatization. In Vietnam, on the other hand, the economy is expected to grow by 6 per cent this year alone. An entrepreneur who had just moved from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City told me that he would expect the growth to be even higher if it weren’t for the country’s deep-rooted corruption.
For those problems we are faced with now or will be in the near feature, we require clever solutions based on solid design. For this, we often have to solve them on a local level. For instance, I also dropped by Auckland, a city that made third place in Mercer’s list of cities with the highest quality of living again this year. I visited ‘Te Are I Whiti’ (Maori for ‘path of light’), an unused offramp that now, having been covered in magenta paint, serves as a cycleway. Combining urban art and urban design, the project won itself a prize at the World Architecture Festival.
That architecture can be a means to bring communities together was emphasized in the jury citation for the 2017 Pritzker Prize, the most important global prize in the field of architecture. This year’s prize was won by the Catalan bureau RCR Architectes, who are known for their projects that insightfully adapt to local environments, such as the new city square in Ripolo.
At the time of writing, I don’t yet know who won the Dutch elections. Is it really that important, though, when the true solutions are thought up by promising artists and designers in their own environments? This is not the age of ideology, after all, but the age of design.