“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.
From research project to company – Lise Pape’s passion for medical applications and interaction processes have led to Walk with Path and the development of two products to help those who have difficulty walking.
With biology and business training behind her, an interest in projects focused on user needs and a liking for multidisciplinary work, Lise Pape has a far from common professional profile. Centred on medical applications it has prompted her to develop two wearable projects aimed at reducing the risk of falls in the vulnerable and helping them maintain their independence and quality of life for longer.
Path Feel is a shoe insole that provides better contact between the foot and the ground; conceived for the elderly, it also helps people with diabetes, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. The sensors produce tactile stimuli that heighten sensory perception of the surrounding environment and increase movement confidence. Path Finder is attached to the top of the shoe and produces visual cues to help those with an irregular step. It was developed primarily for patients with Parkinson’s who suffer from FoG (Freezing of Gait), a feeling that their feet are glued to the floor. Path Finder will be the first of the two on the market, in a couple of months; Path Feel will take another year.