Book
Uncertain Futures

Uncertain Futures is an invitation. In staging this snapshot of the work produced at MIT in the last two years (since the publication of Certain Agendas in Architecture in 2007), we concerned ourselves with narratives of relevance that drive both the pedagogical projects and the research at MIT. Uncertain Futures is an invitation to a conversation with MIT about the types of narratives of relevance that we—architects, scholars, research- ers—tell ourselves daily, in order to do our work, in order to demand the extraordinary, in order to invent, experiment, and innovate. Since architecture is fundamentally an anticipatory discipline, the collective and individual stories of relevance that architects weave have everything to do with the way we imagine the effectiveness of our designs and ideas in the future. Even when relevance is conceived of in historical terms (and even in conversation with disciplinary histories), the hope for it fundamentally involves a projection.

Descriptions of the future that circulate in the collective imagination, the very concept of future, and certainly the link between the idea of the future and the concept of progress (framed by Modernism’s particular alliance with time) seem now less clear and less reliable than ever before. It is hardly contentious that our world is more entangled than it has been historically. More importantly perhaps, we are able to track that entanglement better than ever, which has in turn allowed us to keep complexities alive longer without having to resort to simple taxonomies of questions and overly simplistic responses to them. While this particular relationship between describing and acting may be reassuring when it comes to the question of impacting the world, it hardly supplies us with ready-made goals for the future. The ideological and material content of our hopes for the world, as well as ways to imagine and describe those hopes, have to be (are in the process of being) retooled to fit our complex sights. It is similarly easy to see that the sheer capacity we now have to retrieve knowledge (both on the successes and the errors of the past) and to simulate future conditions, amounts to something like a specifically contemporary alliance with time: delivering us into a “synchronic society.” In a synchronic society (per futurologist Bruce Sterling’s definition), the future itself is at stake—as a future with more options, not less—a future that makes futures possible. And finally, if the certain and continuous depletion of resources, climate mutation, and wars for fuel were not enough to jolt our collective capacity for historical thinking, then our global financial crisis may be as useful for the discipline of architecture as it is destructive for the profession of architecture.

Epistemological, technical, material, and political uncertainties abound, and, inspired by them, the editorial team wondered how has the school that always saw its mandate as one of making previously unthinkable things possible—through directed innovation or tinkering—adjusted its narratives of relevance to engage the contemporary predicament of the future itself.

Embracing the spirit of the Agenda book series (and the Certain Agendas book that preceded ours), we decided to treat the assembly of MIT’s researchers and projects as just that: an assembly, a parliament in Bruno Latour’s sense, of projects, scholars, and issues, each having the agency to push back on others and to “make things happen.” Not unlike our predecessors in this task, we saw our role as that of reading the work produced in the last two years at MIT, the way an archeologist might interpret their findings, or the way a coolhunter might intuit emergent cultural and material patterns. This ultimately means that we were interpreting the logic intrinsic in the work through the prism of our question about the narratives of relevance.

Uncertain Futures only loosely registers the formal educational structure of the school. In reading this book, one will be able to determine whether a project or a set of concerns emerged from studios, workshops, or theses, but since we were interested in the concerns that traverse across the formal structure of teaching and research, our chapters are meant to be read as constellations of different proposals, in each case producing several different and specific futures along a thread of common concerns. Just as the projects in each section are meant to complement, inflect, and enrich each other, the chapters themselves are not seen in opposition to one another. In fact, what may seem as the core uncertainty in one often becomes the very basis of design in another.

Starting with a literary handshake of sorts, the book opens with a collection of conversations that we initiated with a number of MIT’s own actors and its affiliates and friends. This introduction concludes the Forecast section as our own response to our questionnaire. The Forecast questionnaire is followed by seven chapters, each collecting work around a specific concern: Hybrid Natures, Alternative Geographies, Office 2020, Tricks and Tracks, Home for the Multitude, Expanded Infrastructure, and Future Harvest. The stories of relevance, which in some ways mediate between the circumstances exterior to any given project and the design process, postulating the role of the architect and of the discipline of architecture in a complexly entangled world, often linger in the subconscious of these projects. This is where they sometimes need to stay in order to function at all. In making public the deepest assumptions that seem to operate across the work of MIT’s assembly of scholars, in framing the work along the above-listed six typologies of imagining relevance for architecture today, we invite the community of architects and researchers outside of MIT to respond, to help us clarify our concerns, and to enrich our conversations.

On behalf of the editorial team, Ana Miljački, Assistant Professor of Architecture 

Title
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsMiljacki A, Pauli L, Pinney M, Sleeper B, Form S, Wuttig O
Series TitleAgendas in Architecture
Volume2
PublisherSA+P Press
CityCambridge, MA
ISBN9780979477447
Abstract

Uncertain Futures is an invitation. In staging this snapshot of the work produced at MIT in the last two years (since the publication of Certain Agendas in Architecture in 2007), we concerned ourselves with narratives of relevance that drive both the pedagogical projects and the research at MIT. Uncertain Futures is an invitation to a conversation with MIT about the types of narratives of relevance that we—architects, scholars, research- ers—tell ourselves daily, in order to do our work, in order to demand the extraordinary, in order to invent, experiment, and innovate. Since architecture is fundamentally an anticipatory discipline, the collective and individual stories of relevance that architects weave have everything to do with the way we imagine the effectiveness of our designs and ideas in the future. Even when relevance is conceived of in historical terms (and even in conversation with disciplinary histories), the hope for it fundamentally involves a projection.

Descriptions of the future that circulate in the collective imagination, the very concept of future, and certainly the link between the idea of the future and the concept of progress (framed by Modernism’s particular alliance with time) seem now less clear and less reliable than ever before. It is hardly contentious that our world is more entangled than it has been historically. More importantly perhaps, we are able to track that entanglement better than ever, which has in turn allowed us to keep complexities alive longer without having to resort to simple taxonomies of questions and overly simplistic responses to them. While this particular relationship between describing and acting may be reassuring when it comes to the question of impacting the world, it hardly supplies us with ready-made goals for the future. The ideological and material content of our hopes for the world, as well as ways to imagine and describe those hopes, have to be (are in the process of being) retooled to fit our complex sights. It is similarly easy to see that the sheer capacity we now have to retrieve knowledge (both on the successes and the errors of the past) and to simulate future conditions, amounts to something like a specifically contemporary alliance with time: delivering us into a “synchronic society.” In a synchronic society (per futurologist Bruce Sterling’s definition), the future itself is at stake—as a future with more options, not less—a future that makes futures possible. And finally, if the certain and continuous depletion of resources, climate mutation, and wars for fuel were not enough to jolt our collective capacity for historical thinking, then our global financial crisis may be as useful for the discipline of architecture as it is destructive for the profession of architecture.

Epistemological, technical, material, and political uncertainties abound, and, inspired by them, the editorial team wondered how has the school that always saw its mandate as one of making previously unthinkable things possible—through directed innovation or tinkering—adjusted its narratives of relevance to engage the contemporary predicament of the future itself.

Embracing the spirit of the Agenda book series (and the Certain Agendas book that preceded ours), we decided to treat the assembly of MIT’s researchers and projects as just that: an assembly, a parliament in Bruno Latour’s sense, of projects, scholars, and issues, each having the agency to push back on others and to “make things happen.” Not unlike our predecessors in this task, we saw our role as that of reading the work produced in the last two years at MIT, the way an archeologist might interpret their findings, or the way a coolhunter might intuit emergent cultural and material patterns. This ultimately means that we were interpreting the logic intrinsic in the work through the prism of our question about the narratives of relevance.

Uncertain Futures only loosely registers the formal educational structure of the school. In reading this book, one will be able to determine whether a project or a set of concerns emerged from studios, workshops, or theses, but since we were interested in the concerns that traverse across the formal structure of teaching and research, our chapters are meant to be read as constellations of different proposals, in each case producing several different and specific futures along a thread of common concerns. Just as the projects in each section are meant to complement, inflect, and enrich each other, the chapters themselves are not seen in opposition to one another. In fact, what may seem as the core uncertainty in one often becomes the very basis of design in another.

Starting with a literary handshake of sorts, the book opens with a collection of conversations that we initiated with a number of MIT’s own actors and its affiliates and friends. This introduction concludes the Forecast section as our own response to our questionnaire. The Forecast questionnaire is followed by seven chapters, each collecting work around a specific concern: Hybrid Natures, Alternative Geographies, Office 2020, Tricks and Tracks, Home for the Multitude, Expanded Infrastructure, and Future Harvest. The stories of relevance, which in some ways mediate between the circumstances exterior to any given project and the design process, postulating the role of the architect and of the discipline of architecture in a complexly entangled world, often linger in the subconscious of these projects. This is where they sometimes need to stay in order to function at all. In making public the deepest assumptions that seem to operate across the work of MIT’s assembly of scholars, in framing the work along the above-listed six typologies of imagining relevance for architecture today, we invite the community of architects and researchers outside of MIT to respond, to help us clarify our concerns, and to enrich our conversations.

On behalf of the editorial team, Ana Miljački, Assistant Professor of Architecture