“This is what man tends to call utopia. It’s a fairly small word, but inadequate to describe the extraordinary new freedom of man in a new relationship to universe – the alternative of which is oblivion.”
(Richard Buckminster Fuller, Utopia or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity, Overlook Press 1969)
Utopia or Oblivion is the title of a well-known essay by the great American architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller. It also epitomises the status of today’s architecture as it confronts revolutionary technological changes poised to redefine its very meaning.
It would be a truism to say that the Internet and the digital revolution have changed most aspects of our lives. The way we work, live, access knowledge, meet, mate and more has been radically transformed over the past couple of decades. Now, the Internet is entering the physical environment as the Internet of Things, and starting to invade architecture’s key medium: space. Step by step, the built environment is turning into an instantiation of the American computer scientist Mark Weiser’s idea of “ubiquitous computing” whereby technology becomes so widespread and seamless that it “recedes to the background of our lives”. Many innovators are working in this new space, developing tools that change the way we use buildings (see the Nest thermostat, for example) and cities (from the way we move with Uber to the way we lodge with Airbnb). What about the role of architects? How can we ensure their continuing relevance at the centre of a new physical-cum-digital universe? And most importantly, how can we ensure architecture’s survival, “utopia” over “oblivion”?
The questions above served as a starting point for this supplement of Domus. We decided to explore the fringes of architectural innovation, looking for a guiding light towards the changes that are happening today. We decided to explore changes in the “chain of design”, which leads from the conception of an artefact, to its production and usage. As a result, the first chapter focuses on design itself, reflecting on the new, porous borders generated by the increasingly pervasive role of software. The second chapter explores new materials in architecture, while the third chapter assesses the impact of new digital manufacturing processes on the industry at large. Finally, the closing chapter on interaction explores how artefacts are becoming “open works” that keep mutating and reacting to users’ needs even after they make their debut into the real world.