Bruce Sterling on the next 50 years of climate-wracked maker architecture

Bruce Sterling's hour-long lecture to the Southern California Institute of Architecture is pretty good vintage Sterling: a seeming grab-bag of loosely related futuristic, ascerbic observations about climate change, Estonian e-residency, Kazakh new cities, monumental architecture, rotting Turinese palaces, Silicon Valley arrogance, AI, new-new urbanism, and so on -- which then all seems to pull together in an ineffable, somehow coherent finale that is both hopeful and bitter.

Sterling discusses current situations that suggest issues that could be significant in thirty years, including:

•China’s terraforming projects in the South China Sea, and the Belt and Road Initiative.

•Astana, Kazakhstan, which Sterling describes as neither Fatehpur Sikri nor Brasília, nor the future, but a possibility.

•Dubai as a technocratic autocracy that will not become a hegemon but an entrepôt of futurity

•Sterling discusses Estonia’s e-residency initiative as an architectural problem that that will become common in the future, requiring off-shore pop-ups promoting Virtual Estonia, physical bank/embassy registration sites, a physical headquarters within Estonia, plus the physical structures required by virtual enterprises.

•In Estonia’s capital Tallinn, Sterling discovered another architectural problem of the mid-21st century: abandoned, failed megastructures, located in sites that will probably be flodded, such as the Lenin Palace of Culture and Sports (Raine Karp and Riina Altmäe, 1980). •Seasteading, which Sterling dismisses as impractical.

•Sterling also criticizes efforts of architects to design around the problem of climate-change flooding as “architectural solutionism”.

•Sterling considers one result of rising sea levels will be a global proliferation of unregulated squatter districts like Christiania, in Copenhagen: “wet favelas” detached from municipal services.

•He notes push-back against Silicon Valley cultural imperialism (e.g. Uber and Airbnb) in places like Barcelona and Turin, as another issue that will grow in significance.

Sterling argues that the most famous buildings of the mid-21st century will be older buildings, preserved in new ways, and retrofitted for new uses.

He dismisses artificial intelligence design as “a kaleidoscope,” providing options without insight.

He discusses Ikea’s Space10 research on autonomous food trucks, predicting that spaces will become mobile in the 21st century. He anticipates that the impact of autonomous cars will be profound: the autonomous car is regular car as the cell phone is to the landline.

Though he admits that, since Jonathan Swift’s Laputa, there has always been something ridiculous about the idea of flying cities, they might become an option if Earth’s surface becomes too polluted or dangerous.

Sterling argues that when space travel becomes feasible and cheap, the moon, planets and asteroids will be settled, but out of a sense of “cosmic Weltschmerz.”

Showing an image of the recent L.A. Forum Reader, he reminds the audience that thirty years isn’t that far off.

Sterling concludes with a discussion of some of his current projects in Turin: the Casa Jasmina, The Share Festival, and – unexpectedly – the Villa Abegg, where he works on a novel in an Eames lounge chair.

(via Beyond the Beyond)