Regarding the Internet of Things, architects could stimulate (without imposing) the developmental lines along which our environment evolves.
Domusweb: There is much talk today about Industry 4.0, based on the Internet of Things and Big Data. What new ways of living in and designing urban environments do these aspects of technology bring with them?
Carlo Ratti: The Internet of Things is a natural evolution of Internet and perhaps the most important technological revolution at present. The prologue to the revolution was the entrance of the smartphone into our lives, but now it is bringing us to an actual network of persons and things, all connected in real time. Applications such as Uber, Airbnb, Tinder and Grindr would not be possible without the Internet of Things, nor would the Nest thermostat, the Car2Go car-sharing system or Google’s self-driving cars. The consequences for architecture are important. I like to think that we will have a foot in both camps of two seemingly opposite dimensions: on one side the idea of architecture as a third skin, a dynamic and living one, in addition to our natural skin and our clothes. And on the other side, a contemporary reinterpretation of Le Corbusier’s old idea of the machine-à-habiter. We will become cyborgs: living beings enhanced by technology that is increasingly symbiotic with our body. The Innovation Issue we edited for Domus is a snapshot of a few of these changes, following a line that we could call the method of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From the avant-garde perspective of Cambridge, Massachusetts, we attempted to capture the first signals of how design, interaction, manufacturing and materials are changing in profound ways.
Domusweb: What role do architects have in this digital revolution? What tools and competencies do they need to possess in order to partake?
Carlo Ratti: Architects are now faced with a fundamental choice. As the great American designer and inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller described it: utopia or oblivion. Oblivion if architects are not able to rise to the challenge of the changes underway. Utopia if they succeed in becoming the creators of transformation in the “artificial world”, starting with our cities. Regarding the Internet of Things, architects could stimulate (without imposing) the developmental lines along which our environment evolves. They could help build in a dialectic manner the shared space of tomorrow, in which all of us can participate. This is not an easy shift, seeing that new competencies are needed. Precisely for this reason, we asked Hashim Sarkis, the dean of the MIT School of Architecture, how he imagines architectural training in the future.