Sometimes, a random web session throws up a series of coincidences, like three cherries on a fruit machine. Today, three interesting takes on futures pinged the radar. First was Matt Jones’ giddy notes on attending a Ken Adam talk at the V&A, projecting a line from Adam’s high-modernist volcanic dens for Bond Villains, via Dan Hill’s visualisations of wifi architectures to Google’s plans for floating data centres cooled by the ocean. Then, I caught up with Jane McGonical’s Superstructs, a collaborative scenario-writing game led by The Institute For The Future. Finally, Russell Davies proposes taking a middle-england model village and hacking it to create a collaborative vision of the future.
These ideas describe a range of scenario styles, from the lone creative vision of Ken Adams to the crowdsourced noise of Superstructs. Of the three, I find Davies’ vernacular model-village future the most intriguing. The vernacular is something that is often missed in futures work – we find it easier to believe the extremes of the modernist utopia or chaotic dystopia. Future studies deal in the grand statements of imaginary architectures, or the disruptive wake of Big Historical Moments like an earthquake or oil shock. You rarely see ideas about how something as mundane and unexciting as a suburban house or village shop will look in 100 years time.
Yet, the vernacular is both the wake of detritus that is tidied up to make history, and the tiny atoms of our potential futures. Vernacular architectures are local solutions to local problems; evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Vernacular photographs are the opposite of photo-journalism – statements of identity rather than history, created to be passed down through future generations, rather than looked up in libraries.
What would a vernacular future look like? I think it would be a link in a chain, rather than a break. The shop in Russell Davies’ model village would have leaflets offering deals on future comms networks alongside tinted colour postcards of the local area. Our Post Office sells scraperboard craft sets similar to the ones I played with in the 70s alongside inkjet cartridges and MP3 keychains. The local shopping st includes an (excellent) tradtional family butcher and a grocery-cum-wifi-cafe-cum-money-transfer shop. The wall edging our kids’ nursery playground has the faint ghost of a pre-war shop sign painted directly on bricks next to an Adshel board rotating mobile phone adverts.
It might take a lone genius like Ken Adam to imagine the future, but, as I hope Russell Davies finds out, it take a village to build it.