Emerging technologies and processes have so thoroughly infused the fabric of our cities that to even think about ‘urban design’ now requires a fresh understanding of how these new processes work, and in what ways they might be challenging our shared cultural, economic and political fabric.
From 2017 to 2019, The New Normal Speculative Urbanism think tank at Strelka Institute reflected on this new paradigm to catch up to this new context set in motion by the age of global computation, data analytics and algorithmic governance.
Led by design theorist and author Benjamin H. Bratton in collaboration with a vast network of experts and contributors and researchers, the multidisciplinary effort employed a range of tools and approaches from a wide variety of disciplines—from architecture and urbanism to film & cinema, interaction design, software design, humanities & social sciences, game design, economics, and more - to propose collaborative projects updating our contemporary urban toolkit. As such, the project became a platform for the invention and articulation of a new discourse and new models for urban design practice.
Each year the think tank was joined by a group of 30 Russian and international researchers for an intense five-month period guided by a core group of faculty contributors / experts and linking conceptualization and prototyping through a mixture of seminar, studio, field trip, and technical workshops.
Co-published by Strelka Press and Park Books, The New Normal publication encompasses the breadth, diversity, and intensity of activity that has taken place throughout the three-year project. It situates the framework and urgency of the research within contemporary Russia—perched as it is, linking European and Asian passages, Pacific and Baltic flows, between traditional and hypermodern paths—while presenting the program itself as an innovative, experimental, and interdisciplinary model of postgraduate education that is both sensitive and responsive to today’s geopolitical and historical context.
Something has shifted, it seems. We are making new worlds faster than we can keep track of them, and the pace is unlikely to slow. Have our technologies advanced beyond our ability to conceptualize their implications? If so, such gaps can be perilous.
In response, one impulse is to pull the emergency brake and to try to put all the genies back in the bottle. This is ill-advised (and hopeless). Better instead to invest in emergence, in contingency: to map The New Normal for what it is, and to shape it toward what it should be.
The resulting yearly projects took several forms — from cinema to software to strategy — and ranged from imaginative speculations to practical propositions for intervention.
Drawing on design’s capacity for descriptive, predictive and projective models, they appeared as new platforms for urban engagement and governance including applications, simulations, protocols; as worlds glimpsed by partial views and emergent totalities; as models for foresight, mapping, and reaction; as systems for sensing, differentiating, and archiving; and as territories for development, addition, subtraction and mobilization.