Rethink the future

Calls for papers from editors of architectural history and theory journals are fascinating; it’s exciting to see what is considered issue-worthy. Unfortunately, in this blog’s current format, there’s not enough time to publicize all of these as they appear. Curiously, the publishing speed of blogs, aggregators, etc. are techniques that one might use to influence the thoughts of those that submit and edit these themed print-journals — yet another way the instantaneous world of online publishing might intersect with the slower and more considered speed of print.

That said, in the back of the current Future Anterior journal there appears a call for papers themed around the “Future”. The call is from MIT’s journal Thresholds – a great place for new and established writers to gain an academic audience.

A “Future” issue is important because we have clearly entered an era in which a certain type of futurism has overtaken virtually every facet of architectural thought – e.g. essays and blog post on sci-fi, abandoned futuristic cities, apocalyptic “near” futures; fantastical forms of futuristic weather nets (a la Star Trek), the urban underground, etc. But the Future issue could offer much more than a sample of the “best” of this type of architectural thought out there.

The future (as a type of method of thinking) is where the politics of the present are concretized into historical facts. This function of the future extends back to the nineteenth century, but its probably most intelligible in the late-1950s and 1960s.

For example, recall the futuristic fantasies of this time — homes were imaged as laced with fantastic technologies: women cooked in futuristic kitchens and vacuumed floors with futuristic devices; men read newspapers with techno-gadgetry. The whiz-bang gizmos of the future were exciting, but the domestic politics were of a particular conservative and class-based image. The devices spoke of the future and its objects of desire but they instantiated the gender-economies of the then-present as well. These were many of the defining and populist futuristic images of the time; played with by several key architectural writers and designers.

The future envisioned today is still bound by the same traps as the above; but the conservatism is much less obvious. If we focus on one type of image in particular – the apocalyptical imagery that imagines a future without a future, so to speak (without a functioning life as we know it, but nonetheless the future) we see similar problems taken to an entirely new scale.

The futuristic apocalypse, illustrated in contemporary films, images of abandoned Mcmansions or “art” images of the abandoned streets of downtown Manhattan or a flooded London, is another futurism of middle class life. (I’m not convinced that it’s some type of leninist apocalyptic brushing away of the world, despite some suggestions to the contrary.)

The current apocalyptical loss of a future that’s the future is the lost world of the contemporary city. It’s a twist on that famous Marxist adage that the ruling class mistakenly imagines the end of its world to be the end of the world. Nothing is a better illustration of this than the images circulating in contemporary architectural-culture in which the downfall of the current economy is imagined as the end of anything we might recognize as functioning urbanism.

If the future of popular media in the 1950s was one in which the home-economy must be maintained; the future of the latter is one that cannot be realized in anything other than apocalyptic form unless the operations of a particular political economy are maintained. That is… solid mortgages paid on time, a rising stock market, the steady supply and maintenance of natural resources.

It’s hard to believe that the photo-shopped images of futuristic flooded cities are solely about climate change or nature-city interfaces. Rather, they appear to also be illustrations of the “horror” of water as a non-resource, a non-commodity in either consumable or touristic form. They are not comments on Katrina; they are comments on the recession. After all, most of these appeared after 2008, not after 2005.

I think we can position a better use of the future for the future. Consider taking a shot at it in Thresholds. The call is not yet up, but having seen it in print, I assume it will be posted to their site soon.


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