Maria Smith sees the future – and finds she needs a drink
Four architects from the future walk into a bar. The first orders a craft ale, the next a glass of wine made of the finest terrestrial grapes, the third a red juice thinned with white liquor, and the fourth iced poppy seed tea made from alpine spring water. The bartender teeters for a moment on the precipice of an enquiry into the bizarre orders before surrendering and deftly supplying as close an approximation as is in stock. As anyone who has ever been in a pub with an architect will tell you, it is an easily recognisable breed and while our four had never met before – all being from alternative futures – they recognised their shared profession immediately.
The ale and wine drinkers quickly found commonalities in their respective futures. Both were living in a world characterised by the aftermath of environmental crisis. Both chortled at the cute naivety of the old institutions’ fascination with the changing role of the architect: ha! If they only knew how unrecognisable things were to become. They compared stories of their grandparents who’d been born into a world falling apart. As the two compared notes on their respective world leaders’ focus on disaster remediation rather than prevention, the wine-drinker gesticulated with a swilling glass and the ale-drinker was reminded of a poignant detail in the wine-drinker’s order. The wine-drinker was surprised to need to explain to the ale-drinker that wine made from terrestrial grapes were far superior to those from low orbit hydroponic vineyards. It quickly transpired that while the need to reduce energy and resource use had forced the ale-drinker’s grandparents’ generation to live within planetary limits, the terrestrial-wine-drinker’s grandparents’ generation had pursued expansion into space above all else.
The two inevitably turned to comparing professional roles. In the ale-drinker’s world, every architect will be an engineer, employing their seamlessly integrated technical knowledge to create architecture by reconfiguring stores of durable carbon. In the wine-drinker’s world, architects will nest human habitats within a re-terraforming earth. Universal basic income will be established as space production divorces income from labour, giving everyone recourse to an architect’s services, but materials will be so strictly regulated that the architect’s role will be more akin to spatial therapy.
Everyone will have recourse to an architect’s services, but materials will be so strictly regulated that the architect’s role will be more akin to spatial therapy
As the ale-drinker and wine-drinker mindfully sipped their beverages and compared their future lives, the red-juice-white-liquor-drinker and poppy-seed-tea-drinker’s voices crescendo’ed until the ale-drinker and wine-drinker had no choice but to listen. They were arguing over who had it better. The juice-drinker claimed that being from a future that considered architecture the height of luxury afforded fabulous privilege. Architects will be few but will have extraordinary lives conceiving lavish structures. The tea-drinker on the other hand described a future where architects will be plentiful and so too clients. Here everyone will be rich enough to afford architects’ generous fees and build a plenitude of fantastic edifices.
The wine-drinker queried whether off-planet production featured in either of these futures but apparently both scenarios were confined to earth. The ale-drinker enquired as to how the juice-drinker and tea-drinker’s forebearers had responded to environmental collapse. The juice-drinker frowned just a fraction before asserting that of course the 20th century ideal of access to opportunity and resources for all was never going to work within a finite system but that the natural order of things prevented environmental collapse as widening inequality enforced miniscule energy and resource use by the masses. There was a brief but excruciating silence. The tea-drinker looked blankly around with a bravado poised to cover ignorance before suddenly – erroneously – realising the prank and exploding into a hearty laugh. Apparently, the future this tea-drinker hailed from had averted climate change and achieved a land of equal, abundant opportunity inconceivable to the others.
In part to restore relations, the juice-drinker offered to buy the future architects another round. The bartender was quietly cleaning a glass around the corner of the curved bar such that the juice-drinker was forced to move into a position where a reflection of the party suddenly presented itself. The tall glass that had held the red juice thinned with white liquor crashed to the floor. There in the mirror were the ale-drinker and wine-drinker speaking animatedly to nobody. The juice-drinker’s head swept back and forth in the hopes of quashing the anomaly, but it persisted. The juice-drinker called the others over to corroborate that the missing reflection could mean only one thing: the tea-drinker was not from a future where climate change had been averted, where everyone was rich, or where architects were plentiful and so too were clients, the tea-drinker’s world was a mere figment of the imagination.
‘I say this to everyone that comes in here,’ said the bartender, ‘but no-one listens to me.’
Maria Smith is a director at Interrobang architecture and engineering and Webb Yates Engineers, and is co-chief curator of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019