Designing for a future that’s a bit broken; what can we learn from indigenous technology; and the ambient sound of the future

afternoon sun creating long snow shadows

This 2nd edition has been fuelled by strong coffee and thin winter sun. February was all about snow in the UK. We had a big dollop of the good stuff that took me back to being a kid. My kids were overjoyed at making their first-ever snowman after being on this planet for 10 and 13 years. It’s impossible to predict if it will be their last.

A future that is a bit broken

Things they don’t tell you when moving out of the city: People like to burn things. In my new neighborhood wood is the fuel of choice for heating the home, with the local forester making a brisk trade in selling logs felled from the local wood. But will there be a place for log fires in the future?

The future aesthetic is a lazy trope of clutter-free life, touch screens, and hard vehicular blobs. It’s so clean and glassy. Maybe just having screens showing ultra high definition log fires will be enough. @fosta presents a compelling need to design for a future grounded in the mundane.

From taking the rubbish out to collecting stuff, our lives are made up of these moments. Designing for the future will need to recognise our humdrum existence and how we make this a little brighter by hoarding stuff over our lifetime. The future will be like today, messy, mundane, and a bit broken.

broken bicycle

Source: @vision.of.donatello - Instagram


Continuing the theme of the mundane, what if buildings were ambiently heated? A recent episode of Grand Designs showed a residential home designed so that the very structure and foundations acted as a storage battery. The house absorbs heat in the warmer months of the year and then slowly releases it back into the home in the colder months. With 40% of the UK greenhouse emissions being caused by the built environment, the question is do we know if a building is green enough based on current policy and measures of green-ness? Where have the materials to build a house come from and how much energy was used in their creation will become increasingly important?

“The British building regulations, for example, set reasonably high standards for the performance of buildings, but are silent on embodied energy.” Rowan Moore - Guardian 2019

Can low carbon and indigenous techniques offer a broader pallet with which to design and build our homes in the future?

“For architecture, this might mean learning from indigenous building techniques based on using renewable materials close at hand, such as mud walls or thatch, enhanced with modern technology…making bricks out of mud, wall panels made of hemp and lime, materials made from compressed recycled denim or from ground-up pine needles mixed with pine resin. There is a technique for building columns by filling heavy-duty fabric with sand or rubble. There is mycelium, a form of fungus that can be made into bricks.” Rowan Moore - Guardian 2019

For countries to meet their commitment to averting the world’s current ark towards extinction will require central and local government-backed solutions for designing and building low carbon homes that are accessible to the masses. That means integrating sustainable design fully into the fabric of a building’s architecture.

a house for all seasons

Source: Cork House, Eton - Ricky Jones, Guardian

It will require a shift both in mindset and in policy to get housing developers to switch from short-term thinking/profiteering and embrace a longer-term horizon for returns. In the UK it will mean over-turning generations of thinking around homeownership and the stigma of social housing, evident with the shameless rise in poor doors

The Gordian Knot of developers crying that they can’t afford to integrate low carbon techniques can be unpicked. Prototyping and experimentation offer a means to create compelling evidence that there is another way, opening up a lattice of fiscal and policy opportunities.


Some miscellany worth considering that I’ve run across these past few weeks:

  • I love this Japanese train station on the banks of the Nishiki River in the Yamaguchi Prefecture. It has no entrances or exit routes and the sole reason trains stop there is to offer its passengers the chance to enjoy the view over the river. To some this station seems like a modern-day folly, all form over function. Yet there is something to be said for a train operator to encourage its passengers to enjoy the moment and to offer a contemplative break from modern life.

  • Have you seen the proposal for Amazon HQ? It looks very green and it feels like it is a step in the right direction but details are lacking details as to how embedded into its environment it will be. It will be interesting to see if this becomes another Sidewalk Labs horror show.

  • More excitingly, this 29-floor timber skyscraper in Berlin promises to offer not just affordable housing but space set aside for public uses such as a nursery and after-school clubs.