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Building the Future: An Architectural Manifesto for the Next Millennium.
by Shafraaz Kaba (April 1996)

"The machine was no less, rather more, an artists' tool
then any he had ever had or heard of, if only he would
do himself the honor to learn to use it".
Frank Lloyd Wright, The Future of Architecture.


In preparation for the next millennium, it is wise to reflect on the past to remind ourselves of the lessons of history. Also, one can find parallels in history of present conditions and thus, recognize the implications of certain actions. We are living in the Information Age, which has taken its cues from technology. When we compare the Information Age with the Industrial Revolution, there are possibilities of similar outcomes, if we do not choose our paths carefully. The Industrial Revolution lead to a new class of society, which we know as the middle class. The Industrial Revolution also brought about the rise of urban centres, and made the feudal way of life obsolete. The forces in architecture at this time did not react until late in the game. It is my hope that architects will see the signs of a changing society. If we draw parallels to the past, one can anticipate a shift is population, and a formation of a new class of people. This I believe will be caused by the highly specialized computer industry which will give rise the new Electronic Class. Architects need to be deeply concerned with the ongoing population shift to the suburbs. This shift could become more scattered as global networking and communicating technologies are put in place. In this declaration , I wish to expose the new technology and their possible effects on world order and population.

New Technology
The computer is likely the most significant invention since the automobile. Like the photographic camera, it has also changed the nature of reality. No longer are borders important, nor the inefficiency of the post office annoying. The camera changed the idea of space and the computer has changed the idea of time. It has provided the world with a truly universal language: binary. Composed of zeros and ones, it delivers images and text to countries around the world without regard for international language or even trade laws. It has given us the freedom of communication and travel, not unlike the telephone and automobile have respectively. On the side, it has the ability to entertain us too, with virtual reality, on-line encyclopedias, novel animation, and games like Doom. It seems as if the computer has overtaken all of the great American inventions: the telephone, the car, the TV. The computer is also taken over much of the manufacturing industry. What can be automated has or will be automated. In terms of building and architecture, we are in the process of trading in drafting tables for a monitor and graphics tablet. So far, only the production of architecture has felt the impact, but what if the computer influences our designs? Will the ability to construct a realistic 3-D walkthrough cause dramatic changes to the way we design? There is the possibility of abandoning the two dimensional world of plans, sections and elevations for the 3-D world of renders, walkthroughs, and virtual reality. But why stop there? Why even build in reality? If the sensations of space provoke the same emotion {in virtual reality} as they do in "real life," why go through the expense of construction, building and maintenance? Nothing degrades in cyberspace! Granted, people will not live their entire lives in self contained boxes that pump in vitamins intravenously, and expose of bodily waste, but the idea of creating a virtual reality has its appeal, especially to the entertainment industry. Even today, the internet is hyped as the place to be and the place to go. Where else can you "surf" around the world for $19.95 a month? You can actually make "real time" vocal calls for free anywhere. Better than any long-distance telephone agent, cheaper than airline ticket price wars! But you are NOT there, literally. Hopefully this fundamental point of reality will make the idea of nature, place, and city even more significant.

New {world?} Order
Just as consequential changes occurred to society during the industrial revolution, we can prepare for like circumstances. As cities became centres for manufacturing and industry, the feudal society ran from the countryside to find new riches. What occurred as the result of insufficient infrastructure was distressing. The mounting of slums, the overflowing sewers, and filthy streets could not handle such a shift in population. After great social critiques and even personal initiative by the likes of Robert Owen, conditions slowly improved. In the automobile age, the great motor companies paved the way for suburbia. Now, by the time of the information age, we have seen a shift in population to the outskirts of cities. Now what can we expect from the information age? It provides us with even greater mobility, in that we need not even get up to go shopping. We do not even need to make the stroll to a mailbox; everything is one click away. It seems this would further diverge the idea of the city. Places of work are also becoming more wired, giving people the opportunity to telecommute. Why would you want to drive for an hour, get stuck in traffic, and be scolded by your boss, when work is a few keystrokes away from the comfort of your own home-office? This idea of course is not for everyone, but it seems to work rather well for "immaterial" goods, such as insurance, or investments, and such. Banks, Insurance Companies, and other institutions that once created the towers of downtown cores now can discard the overhead of these buildings, and create a workforce working from home or regional offices. Decentralization is the idea of the present and the future. International borders are irrelevant in this regard as well. You need not live in the city you work in, as an electronic link will now take you anywhere. The future will see the war between the city of bits and the city of atoms. Architects will be on the armies of both sides, making it a battle of great interest. Will cities even exist? They must! Maybe the great office towers will become housing for the homeless, as vagrants have always found a "place" within the city. In consideration of public space, if the civic centres are empty, where will people gather? Will the great shopping malls of the suburbs continue to attract people by the thousands? A more interesting scenario would be greater community interaction and gathering by the creation of "communal" space with playgrounds and parks. Looking to an "electronic" model, there are already internet forums that act like coffee shops, pubs, and bars. Not only can you interact with others, you are anonymous, and can change your entire identity. Imagine! Hopefully this novelty and illusion will be given up as childish and superficial. People still need to interact at a personal level, especially if they are to carry on the propagation of the human race. Yet, even this is debatable in light of test-tube babies, designer children, and genetic engineering. There will be need for new infrastructure, just as there was after the Industrial Revolution. This new infrastructure will be wires instead of roads, satellites instead of highway interchanges. Presently, the users of the internet are already demanding "more bandwidth," analogous to wider roads. If there is a continuous interest in exploring cyberspace, there will also be a need to create places. This is what we do best. It will be the work of an architect to set the agenda for society. Be it a traditional, regionalistic city, or divergent electronic one. We cannot control population, we cannot control information, but we can control place.

New Class of People
Much as the Industrial Revolution created the middle class, we can infer a new class from present trends. The working middle class sprung to life from the need for factory workers, distributors, salesmen, and other "goods and services" work. Presently, manufacturing includes robot workers along side humans, automated teller machines complementing bank tellers, and Interact assisting cashiers. The Electronic Class is emerging. Not only are they just robots and computers, but also the humans which design, programs, and maintain them. The Information Age has created great demand for systems analysts, programmers, computer and electrical engineers. These are the new elite. They have the knowledge, and thus, the power over machines. In the Information Age, jobs require more and more specialization and computer skill, making anyone with knowledge of the bland, beige box in the corner quite a conjurer. These people with almost magic ability will form the Electronic Class, the computer literate. They are distinguished from the rest of the population that have access to just information. Anyone can have access to information, because it is free and available on-line. It is what is behind the scenes, and in the programming which true knowledge can be found. The Electronic Class has been given the power to structure society, to write the code that governs your relationship between you and the ATM machine, the Robot worker, the CADD modeling package, the computer. Scary, isn't it? If you know how, you can become empowered too. In reference to internet forums, we can learn how to change our entire identity. It is already possible to change your entire self on-line, even your sex, to become anything you would like to create in visual form. Multi-User Dungeons {MUD's} already exist where you can create your personality, and your cyberspace visual self- anything from a fish to a four headed human freak. The cyberspace around your character can also be manipulated to form a place, or time, or event. The Baths of Diocletian can be virtually modeled to hold a forum on how to impress women. This is all possible if you hold the knowledge, and know the software. These powers also question the regard for privacy, property and identity. All the data and information regarding ourselves can be intercepted by Hackers, people who use the force with evil intent. Our financial records, our personal email, and our on-line personalities all fall at the mercy of the one who holds more knowledge of the bits and bytes then we do. How can we allow so much power in the hands of so few? Perhaps it is time we slowed down the pace of society, in the hopes of finding solutions to our fears. The Industrial Revolution was followed through at the speed of a runaway train. In hindsight, architects acted too slow, and too late. Maybe it is time to bring about change to the present Electronic Revolution. To slow down its pace, and question its actions. It is time for us to Design. The Architect's Role in society is not only to design and construct buildings of style, but to direct society in a way of life. We create place, and we build life. In the next millennium, it is our responsibility to become one of the knowledge bearers to guide humanity in progress. Frank Lloyd Wright believed that the artist needs to learn new tools, especially that tool called the "machine." It doesn't seem enough just to learn CADD and word processing and call yourself a computer literate architect. You must understand and know how to use the computer and technology to greater ends. By reflecting upon the Industrial Revolution, we can see how architects failed and succeeded in creating a livable, humanistic society. In the present, we can watch who's making moves and creating ideas valuable to the planning and design of the future. Author William Gibson can be called today's Charles Dickens, providing bleak visions of the future. Nicholas Negroponte, Head of the Media Lab, is on the frontier of technology, art and science, just as Tony Garnier was earlier this century. Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft would be most fittingly compared to Robert Owen, a utopian, self-taught reformer. Architects must beware of the ideas that will be brought to light by the Avante Garde of the Electronic Industry. We take our cues from the trends in society, and now is the time to keep a careful watch on the goings on. Buckminster Fuller called for a Design Revolution, and I believe it's in progress.

Mitchell, William J., City of Bits. 1994 MIT Press.
Negroponte, Nicholas, Being Digital. 1995. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Wright, Frank Lloyd, The Future of Architecture.
The Futurist & Wired Magazines for inspiration, and ideas of the future...

by Shafraaz Kaba

Web Architecture Magazine, Issue 01, July-August 1996. All rights reserved