In an interview with URBNFUTR, Liam Young describes how he sees the relationship between his training as an architect and his current work as the head of “urban futures think tank” Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today:
As architects we span the gulf between the cultural and the technological, we are in a unique position to synthesize complex factors – social, technical, cultural, political, environmental – and to pose alternate scenarios. Architecture is typically such a slow medium, however, and we wanted to develop alternative strategies for how a designer may operate and alternative forms of projects that could play out with much more immediacy. So we have gravitated to the discipline of futures as we explore the idea of a think tank as a legitimate model for an architectural practice – a practice not built on buildings as endpoints but on speculations, research and futures as products in themselves [emphasis mine].
Should this be the only model for architectural practice? Of course not (and I do not read Young as suggesting that it should be). It does, however, strike me as an important option among possible directions that the expansion of the field of architecture can and should take, particularly given the quantity of historical precedent that can be found for this role for the architect. (One of the more interesting challenges for this model — which I’m going to avoid exploring here — is how it can be financially self-sustaining.)
I was also intrigued by his thoughts on the importance of Hertzian space to the future role of the architect, because they remind me that this is, as far as I am aware, essentially unexplored terrain for landscape architecture — which seems slightly odd, given that it could easily be argued that Hertzian space is more akin to landscapes than buildings, as it is composed of fields and wavelengths and held together by networked infrastructures in fluctuating communication. Having noted that, it seems entirely natural that Young — whose work is deeply entangled with landscape — would be asking these questions:
One of the critical questions we are asking ourselves at the moment is what do we do as architects in a near future where the dominant building material exists outside the physical spectrum. The infrastructure that drove the development of the city was once large permanent networks of roads, plumbing and park spaces but are now nomadic digital networks, orbiting GPS satellites and cloud computing connections. Cities are being planned around the speed of electrons, satellite sight lines and big data. Connection to wifi is more critical than connection to light. The city must be planned around the mobile phone not the automobile. Today we are much closer to our virtual community than we are to our real neighbours. This death of distance has created new forms of city based around ephemeral digital connections rather than physical geography.
These changes mean we must rethink the very core of what our profession is. It is true that there will still be physical objects and spaces that some sort of architect like character will have to engage with but this window of operation is becoming increasing narrow.
While this seems perhaps a bit oppositional — I’d argue that both the mobile phone and the automobile are critical to the construction of the contemporary city (and I suspect Young is at least in part producing the opposition for rhetorical effect) — I think Young is entirely correct in tying issues like the rise of Hertzian space and disappearance of wild nature in favor of anthropogenic nature to the need for an expanded “window of operation”.