By Emily Golembiewski
It was almost a year ago at the Designers Accord Global Summit conference in October, Peter Madden, Chief Executive of the UK-based Forum for the Future talked about how “the environmental movement has collectively failed to envision a sustainable future in which we would all like to live. The apocalyptic narratives, which have propelled much of the environmental and sustainability movement forward, are such a crushing, insurmountable bummer, that they are very difficult to orient creative and positive change around.” (from an excellent article by Andrea Mangini of Autodesk, posted on

As architects and designers, the very nature of our work builds a future and it takes a bold stance on what that future will look like, how it will feel, how it will engage individuals.

Even though creating something as permanent as a building is the ultimate statement on the future (and perhaps the ultimate optimism), too often is the future – or a conception of it – absent from dialogue in the design phase. Best practices, historical precedent, marketplace and market opportunity – these are all ways of looking at the past as an indicator of the future. I don’t disagree with this entirely. As a researcher, it’s my intellectual home base. But why are there so few methods for looking forward? I can’t count the number of design meetings I’ve been in where there is no conception of the future, even at a pragmatic level of how long our buildings will stand and our products be used.

And where there is a dialogue about the future, it is usually on the business side – scenario planning, market projections and demand forecasting. What is the equivalent design vocabulary for imagining the future? Because as Peter Madden pointed out, without a compelling vision of the future, why would our clients want to go there? Why would people want to live and work in our buildings, or travel to our airports?