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Rethink 2025: ETH-Zürich's Chris Luebkeman on strategising for change

A circular, regenerative economy was already on the agenda but for ETH-Zürich's Chris Luebkeman Covid-19 has really made the case, and opportunity, to make it a reality

What will the coronavirus pandemic change in our lives? How will cities adapt? Why should things NOT just revert to business as usual?

Ahead of the RIBA Rethink: 2025 ideas competition deadline this Friday 12 June, RIBAJ editor Hugh Pearman finds Chris Luebkeman holed up in a hotel in Grindelwald, Switzerland, preparing to switch his future-gazing abilities from his long-term home at Arup to the famous science and technology university ETH Zurich.

Luebkeman is clear that it will simply not be possible to go back to the way things were, a linear economy, and suggests instead that now is the time to embrace fully the change we all know is necessary – a circular, regenerative, economy. Any kickstarting funding on a national or international level should have strings attached to ensure that this is the case, he says, and any building project should be designed and resourced with this aim.

The Luebkeman approach has always been to ‘strategise for change rather than merely reacting to it’.  The five-years-ahead timespan offered by Rethink:2025 may be less than a blink of an eye in the life of the Earth but in his categories of ‘the Now, the New, and the Next’ it falls into the category of the New, working towards the Next category which is 20-30 years hence.

He warns however that ingrained habits are very difficult to give up. We’ve all now found how relatively straightforward and efficient it is to meet and discuss and organise by electronic means but, as he says, humans are tribal animals and we need to feel the presence of the tribe – especially at football matches.

‘I hope we will value our time more carefully,’ he says, in reference to the madness of travelling for an hour or more to a meeting that lasts half an hour. ‘None of the subcontractors want to go back to that.’ But when there’s something tough to work out, carefully-planned meetings, the handling of models, people will still need physically to come together: and this is where new thinking is required.

So much depends depends on the development of an effective vaccine: once widespread inoculation is possible, the football grounds and theatres can go back to pretty much how they were.

But buildings will have to be planned for a future, possibly worse pandemic: designs will have to pass a ‘Covid test’ – and buildings of the past with their spacious circulation areas may act as a model while the public realm will need to adjust accordingly. Some of the solutions may be counter-intuitive.

Chris Luebkeman is director for strategic foresight at ETH-Zürich and former director for Global Foresight research and innovation at international engineering consultancy Arup

 

 

 

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