This is a post that looks back to the first week of CSM’s School of Communication, Product and Spatial Design Bigger Picture unit. This is a cross-school element for all stage two students.
The unit kicked off with a series of lectures. During the week, there were a number of questions about the relationship between design and the future. Design is a 21C mechanism for managing the material surpluses of industrial capitalism. We can describe the development of the system in terms of a movement from subsistence to desire and from planned-obsolescence to design.
At the same time, the organisation of industrial capitalism requires concentrations of labour and materials. In the early days of the industrial revolution, people moved from the country to the cities because of improved earning power and opportunity. The early (pre-20C) limits on the size of cities was defined by the tendency for concentrations of people to result in widespread disease.
Improvements to water supply, sanitation, housing, transport and communications have each allowed cities to grow. The global economy will be defined, in the 21C, by various mega-cities as populations vote with their feet and move towards opportunity.
In the 21C, the limits to growth are more likely to come from transport issues rather than from anywhere else – the healthcare and communication issues are more-or-less sorted. Accordingly, the mega-city will be shaped by both population density and transport infrastructure.
Generally, transport links will be positioned in a corridor and this will tend to attract development along its length. So, the shape of big cities is likely to become more elongated – we can call this the linear city.
In the UK, the high speed railway between London and East Kent is the first go at trying to recreate the motorway corridors that powered the economies of the late 20C. In East Kent, the time taken to travel to London has more-or-less halved to just under an hour. That’s like picking up Folkestone and putting it where Tonbridge is. In practical terms and over the next few years, the experience of living in Folkestone will become much less isolated and will become more like living in London. That’s if you define living in London as being within an hour of central London.
Obviously, there are many places to look for glimpses of the future. It’s all around us, amongst the architectural and design avant-garde and in science fiction. Vienna, Paris, Chicago and Milton Keynes can all lay claim, at various moments in history, to be representations of the future. Further back there are shining-cities-on-hills and model-communities – diggers and levellers.
If you’re interested in all this, there’s an exhibition at the Royal Academy about efforts to build something different in the USSR.
Remember, the point of design is to change the world.