Anti-Ownership, Holography, and Revisiting Hippie Values: The Ideas That Will Be Big in 2016

Anti-ownership, holography, and revisiting hippie values: Curators, critics, experts, designers, and Metropolis editors share their predictions for the year ahead.

Drawings by Danielle Chenette

The End of Ownership

Access is the new ownership. It’s been coming for years, but I think in 2016 we will actually see a major shift in this direction. Do we need to own a home, a car, a boat? Things that were once available only after years of saving can now be easily accessible through the collaborative. With the focus shifting away from ownership of consumer things, access to unique experiences is the new goal. Learning to make sushi from a revered chef in Japan or skiing the backcountry with an expert—access to these types of experiences is becoming more and more valuable to people. These experiences that make connections to real people—seeing how they live and work— trump traditional ownership. That’s where this generation diverges from the last: Their fulfillment comes from these unique experiences and the rich narrative they add to their lives. Moving forward, the challenge for designers will be to shift their focus in kind, weaving these narratives and creating these new experiences.

Joe Gebbia is a designer and cofounder of Airbnb. Read more about the company’s San Francisco headquarters here.

Production Laid Bare

Transparency will be built into the design of the product from concept to finished good to end of life. Consumers are becoming more conscious and thoughtful, and asking questions about the origin of products. A natural development is the sharing of knowledge about how and where products are made, and what their end-of-life plan looks like. Using technology, people will expect to track the life cycles of their products. A typical customer receipt will share the location of the factory where the product was made, perhaps a photo of the team that made it, the route and distance it traveled, and the time it took. People will expect full information on the factory, components, where their product is packaged, and where it ships from. All of this will be taken into account when designing the full customer experience. This is the future in 2016 and beyond.

Liam Casey is founder and CEO of PCH International, which designs custom manufacturing solutions for global brands. Casey was one of Metropolis‘s 2015 Game Changers.

Redefining Home

We have enough buildings. We have enough stuff. We are imprisoned in the boxes in which we work, live, and play. Our world is not secure, neither from ecological threats due to global climate change, nor from those who might do us harm because of our beliefs, our race, or other aspects of our humanity.

The work for architecture, then, is the same as it has been for a while: how to make us feel at home (safe, belonging, comfortable, and playing the role in which we recognize ourselves in relation to others) in our modern, continually changing world. And how to do so, moreover, without using any more nonrenewable natural resources, or open space that should belong to all of us collectively.

The answers lie in the kind of work that was brought together at the end of last year at the Bi-City Biennale, “Re-living the City.” And those principles we teach at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin: building with the land; using tactics to liberate our urban environments; breaking the box; and finding ways to reuse, reimagine, and reappropriate what we have already built.

Aaron Betsky is a critic, dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, and co-curator of the 2015 Bi-City Biennale of UrbanismArchitecture.

Blooming Technology

When speculating about the future of architecture, I can’t help but think about the impact that digital technologies have had on our discipline. The late ’80s saw the first digital revolution (software) transform how we think about design. Since the turn of the century, the second digital revolution (hardware) has continued to change how we consider the making and experiencing of buildings. In the last decade alone, robotic technology has exploded in architecture, and robotics are now commonplace in the best architecture schools. In 2016, digital tools that, until recently, have been in their infancy—or thought of as science fiction— are well poised to bloom. Holography, for example, has resolved many of the kinks that made holograms awkward, and the technology is likely to become widespread. As the “future” of technology comes to pass, it is time for us to grapple with the implications of this digital coming-of-age and for us to have some critical distance with what once were considered the “new tools of the trade.”

Monica Ponce de Leon is dean of the Princeton School of Architecture and co-curator of the U.S. Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Free-Spirited Design

I feel great sympathy with the idea of ensuring more engaging and playful relationships between users and their daily contexts, from public space to the privacy of a home. But none of us can predict which societal changes, commercial logic, external threats, or institutional demands might come in the way of designers or otherwise. I have no crystal ball; I only know what I hope the future will warrant: a free zone for dreamers, authors, and designers to follow their curiosity and intuition, ask unanswerable questions, seek unconventional ways of researching, and break whatever rules or boundaries they meet along the way. Only these free spirits can ensure a lively discourse in the world and the advent of surprising future scenarios.

Louise Schouwenberg is an art and design critic, as well as head of the master’s course in contextual design at the Design Academy Eindhoven.

The Year of Slow Tech

Was it Louis C.K. ranting on Conan in 2013 that cell phones distract us from internal investigation? Or the recent barrage of editorials citing anecdotal and statistical evidence that mobile technology is bad for us? (According to the New York Times, visits to emergency rooms for injuries involving pedestrians on cell phones more than doubled between 2005 and 2010 and continue to grow.) Whatever the cause, over the past few years people have been trying to get a handle on their digital dependency, and designers seem to be paying attention. Physical objects are due for a comeback: Now researchers are finding that households with libraries containing at least a hundred books lead to improved scholastic performance (making even more of a difference than wealth). Products designed to counteract our tendency to stare at screens are cropping up, such as Jasper Morrison’s mobile phone that enables users to make only phone calls and texts, and Taeyoon Choi’s beautifully naive handmade computers, inspired by his personal need to “demystify” technology. These signs suggest that 2016 will be the year of “slow tech,” devices that return to the basics, and free up mental space for activities that take place IRL.

Claire Barliant is managing editor at Metropolis.

China Values Design

There is much snobbery about the state of Chinese design, and the country’s output is dismissed as so much fakery. There has been a certain truth to that, but I think 2016 will see a turning of the tide. Might there be a new school of designers who match the cultural prestige bestowed on Chinese artists such as Ai Weiwei or Cai Guo-Qiang? Recently, the Chinese Embassy in London invited the London Design Biennale to become a founding member of the China-U.K. Design Link, which hopes to help transform the design scene there. The Chinese premier gave a speech earlier this year in which he made an explicit statement about the economic importance of design—apparently the first time the discipline has been mentioned in a party speech—and it seems that his decree has had almost immediate effect.

Christopher Turner is director of the London Design Biennale.

Building for People

We’re in an anti-starchitect moment. Or, at the very least, the relevant discussion in architecture is being taken over by a younger generation of architects more interested in figuring out bottom-up processes, pragmatic tactical solutions, and collaborating with the rising number of new and alternative institutions. If we can’t change the world in one grand gesture (and why should we?), the smaller piecemeal solutions by younger firms, like Tatiana Bilbao’s $8,000 model house and Vo Trong Nghia Architects’ emergency shelter—both were on view at the first Chicago Architecture Biennial—are a few good examples of social and environmental design while still looking great. The Bi-City Biennale also showcased many examples of sustainable architectural solutions in China, and Beijing Design Week showed how young firms are figuring out real-world solutions to preserving and rethinking housing in the city’s old neighborhoods. All eyes will be on the next Venice Architecture Biennale, directed by Chilean Alejandro Aravena, whose focus on social design will surely expand the practice of not only what architecture can do, but also what it should do.

Paul Makovsky is editorial and brand director at Metropolis.

The Language of Symbols

I fell in love with symbols when I had the experience of designing them for the sporting and cultural events, and public services at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. Symbols worked—the Olympics are an international event, participants speak different languages, and symbols were a common language.

Following the Olympics, I designed the graphics for the Mexico City Metro, a new underground rail system. We identified each metro station with a symbol. I often heard the comment that the metro looked like it was designed for people who are illiterate. In a sense, that is true. If we go someplace with language and letterforms we don’t understand, we are illiterate.

That was 47 years ago. Today we take symbols for granted. Our smartphone is a good example. As we continue to learn how to design and use symbols, we can expect more fun and surprises as they become a common language in both our virtual and real worlds in 2016.

Lance Wyman is a graphic designer specializing in systems for cities, events, institutions, and transit systems, and a visiting lecturer at Parsons the New School for Design.

Reframing Public-Private Partnerships

Opportunities for the design professions will proliferate only as metropolitan regions come up with new methods of financing projects, from transit stations to parks and other public amenities. And new sources of funding may be found in one innovative approach to financing in particular—the concept of value capture. As part of a suite of land-based financing tools, value capture recognizes how public investment in infrastructure, in addition to other government actions such as a zoning change, triggers large increases in property value for private landowners and developers. This increase in value can be measured precisely—for example, how market prices rise in a residential tower near a new transit station. Governments worldwide are thus inviting the private sector to contribute to value-increasing infrastructure at the front end.

The approach is in widespread use in Latin America, where billions have been raised for infrastructure, amenities, and more equitable urban development. One of many examples can be found in the Faria Lima development zone in Brazil. In the U.S., Massachusetts officials have floated the idea to help fund the extension of the Green Line north of Boston. Because transit-oriented development at each station along the new corridor will be demonstrably profitable, private developers may be asked to pay for the construction of the stations. It is entirely possible that the new transit line simply won’t get built unless these kinds of arrangements are in place; the government cupboard is bare. A new approach to financing urban growth has become a necessity.

Anthony Flint is a fellow and director of public affairs at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Sensing Spaces

The phenomenon of the Internet of Things (IoT), predicted by tech gurus throughout the first decade of this millennium, finally appears to be a reality, with the Nest thermostat making sure we are comfortable at home and OfficeIQ telling us when to change positions with our sit-stand desks. But there are signs that these IoT products have the potential to add up to something much bigger—the Internet of Space.

Imagine an office where, as people move out of a main work area and into a conference room, the lighting, temperature, and sun shading are accordingly modulated in both spaces. This sounds eminently within reach—the individual technologies that control HVAC systems or detect occupancy in conference rooms already exist. If those separate IoT products can be orchestrated, it can mean significant improvements in energy efficiency, human health, and personal comfort.

Glimmers of the Internet of Space will already be visible at the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but expect more news in this area throughout the year.

Avinash Rajagopal is senior editor at Metropolis.

Are We Too Late?

The built environment’s critical role in today’s most pressing ecological and social challenges is well understood. I therefore often find myself baffled by the volume (and, often, prominence) of projects that still give little serious consideration to either. Of course, many architects—not to mention policymakers, engineers, developers, and others who influence the field—bring the full force of their knowledge and creativity to (often interrelated) issues like global warming and affordable housing. But a more fundamental change in design culture is needed. I’m certain that the incremental progress we’ve seen in the past will continue in 2016. But with the effects of climate change already being felt around the world, I’m not sure it will happen fast enough to prevent tremendous amounts of unnecessary misery.

Sarah Wesseler is editor of Doggerel, the online magazine of Arup in the Americas.

We Need to Begin to Think Big Again

“There is no longer an outside to the world of design,” Mark Wigley and Beatriz Colomina write in their brief for the 2016 Istanbul Design Biennial. “Design has become the world.” Architect Benjamin Bratton, in his new book, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty (MIT Press, 2016), does them one better as he posits new realms for design in an age of planetary-scale computation. Unwittingly or not, Bratton writes, we are building an “accidental megastructure” comprising intermingling layers of “hard” and “soft” technologies—infrastructure, algorithms, urban software, data mining, communication networks, robots, energy and resource management, food production, politics, housing, wars, and so on. This assemblage, according to Bratton, necessitates “a broader platform for design.”

The oomph of these positions and others like them is in their recovery of design’s vast, cyclopean potential. And though their political usefulness is unclear—surely, blood-and-dirt exploitation and systemic injustice cannot be designed away—they are nevertheless urgent in a present that sees no possible futures. The exponential degradation of the planet simply cannot be ignored any longer, and given the scale of the problem, we should rid ourselves of the pastoral romance of small fixes or incremental solutions. And so, designers need to begin thinking big again. We’re bound to see inklings of that this year.

Samuel Medina is associate editor and web strategist at Metropolis.

Here Is There

“Anywhere” is now a viable work location, with technology making it simple for people to conduct their business from wherever their travel whims may take them. So just as the concept of the office workspace is constantly being redefined, hotels will need to look beyond the conventional desk-in-room or business-center solutions and cater to the new class of wanderlust-driven workers. This means more than just added USB outlets (and eradicating the egregiously outdated notion of paid Wi-Fi), but reconsidering the design of in-room and communal spaces to accommodate more casual work habits, particularly for freelancers and creatives.

Mikki Brammer is editor at large at Metropolis.

Luddite Futurism

There has been a lot of chatter that we may be entering a postcapitalist moment. I think in 2016 we’ll see the seeding of many design and architectural experiments that have a more antagonistic or subversive relationship with consumerism and short-term investing and that embrace more communitarian principles.

Fringe signals of a return to the commons include the recent experiment in collaborative living and making called POC21, which brought more than 100 ecohackers to a castle outside Paris to build low-impact open-source technologies to combat climate change. There are also co-living experiments that are moving beyond the hippie commune, such as the Embassy housing network for “creative nomads” out of San Francisco, and they are accelerating partially due to the desire of entrepreneurs to live in more productive and collaborative arrangements.

At the same time, a flood of tech wunderkinds are working on creating crypto-currencies to help decentralize finance. Beyond Bitcoin, these include Swarm, Ethereum, and FairCoin, to name a few. This might be the year when crypto-currency finally captures the public imagination. In more romantic experiments, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, artist Andrea Haenggi and writer Robert Neuwirth are creating a Pop Up Gesture Store, which is essentially a subversive marketplace where artists and local residents trade in gestures and human interaction. How we design spaces and technologies to maximize human intimacy at a time when many feel enslaved to digital technology is the question I’ve been asking as the Amish Futurist, an alter ego inspired to bring a more Luddite perspective into the entrepreneurial start-up scene.

Alexa Clay is an ethnographer and coauthor of the book The Misfit Economy.

A New Design Equation

From prototyping to customizing—be that via computational analysis or DIY processes—acceleration in design has widened exponentially the scalability between consumers’ inputs and market feedbacks: big data, more diversified products. Xiaomi, the Chinese wondermaker of the namesake smartphone, is taking the small out of the big and capitalizing on it. With a community of 40 million feeding into MIUI (its very own operating interface) and a connected ecosystem of smart devices including air purifiers, TV sets, and wearables, it is nurturing a cult of host technologies where users are codesigners in a rapid-response manufacturing process from the bottom up (software updates are released every Friday on Xiaomi social platforms for users to review). The company also invested in the real estate project YouPlus— communities of integrated work and living spaces for the myriad of ultra-young start-up makers sprouting around the country. Crowdsourced innovation plus empowerment from the factory floor will make for a powerful new equation in design culture this year.

Beatrice Leanza is creative director of Beijing Design Week. Read our interview with Leanza here.

Seeking Common Humanity

We are in the process of rethinking the words we use—words like “patient,” “elderly,” and “disabled” that refer to individuals in the aggregate. We’re also looking at marketing-motivated euphemisms for groups, such as “millennials,” “baby boomers,” and “Gen Y.” We know that these words lead to sloppy interpretations of design needs, which result in insensitive design solutions. Think, for instance, of the “elderly,” and the segregated places we provide for “senior living.”

We’re beginning to realize, as traditional cultures have known all along, that we need to think of aging as a natural stage of human life, with all sensibilities we associate with being human intact. This recognition of our common humanity, manifested in the needs of each unique individual, will free us from warehousing “seniors” in segregated developments and buildings. We will, instead, create connected communities that provide the necessary services for each person need, and access to the fascinating tapestry of humanity. Everyone benefits from this new phase of desegregation, and designers have a key role to play in making it happen.

Susan S. Szenasy is publisher and editor in chief at Metropolis.

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