The Laboratory of the Future
Every exhibition tries to tell a story, distilling ideas into a narrative that holds both complexity and clarity, and we are indeed living in complex times. There is no question that the world today feels less stable than it was three years ago, or even three months ago. New tensions surface daily between nations, neighbours, natives and newcomers ; between us and our ‘Others’, between ourselves and our environments. Despite the speed of advances in medical science over the past two years, within the same time frame, global protests have revealed the depth and scale of social inequities in ways that those who have been too comfortable and distanced to see it, now see otherwise. Europe, lulled into a false sense of security over the past sixty years is suddenly forced to confront the same questions of land, language and identity that parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East never saw disappear. The last thirty-six months have often felt like a long-overdue reckoning, as if a bill has been presented that all of us — in multiple, myriad ways — do not have the means to pay. Having emerged blinking into the sunlight after the experience of lockdown, we now look at our screens and each other, a little unsure, perhaps, but importantly, full of hope and longing too.
Two powerful terms have emerged over the last two decades, which are simultaneously global and local: decolonisation and decarbonisation. Both are experienced at the macro scales of social, political and economic forces far beyond both our understanding or control, yet are also experienced viscerally in the microscopic and intimate details of everyday life. This contemporary quality of being both general and specific, influenced by vast forces and yet shaped by the specifics of place is oxymoronic; it asks us to explain and explore our own lives and environments in the same breath; to be aware of ourselves and others in ever-expanding, overlapping networks of power and the often hidden price of privilege and control. At a material level, our built environments accurately reflect the conundrum: we speak of democratic spaces, public spaces, green energy and the human spirit as though the conditions that make this possible and attainable are universal, and do not come at an often terrible cost to our fellow humans and the non-human and natural worlds. At times it seems too complex to properly grasp, let alone control or change. But it is not. Historically poised at the intersection of art and science, architecture’s ability to negotiate between and across boundaries is well understood, at least by architects. Now, however, the ground beneath our feet is moving, often unpredictably. For a profession that relies on grounding, both conceptually and physically, more fluid forms of territory, identity and epistemology can seem threatening. But they can also excite. Rethinking the terms and tools, as well as the edges of our discipline is a powerful way to rediscover not only what makes architecture distinct, but also where it meets and merges with other disciplines in ways that enrich us all.