None of this is news. Throughout history, technology has always changed the way people behave in society. It wasn’t so long ago, that most societies were still agrarian, and industrialization created a modern consumer society, where people worked in factories and offices, rather than tilling the fields. Even before the internet, conservatives and “luddites” everywhere were decrying the dangers of electricity, or the railroad, or the automobile, in their power to uproot tradition and more natural ways of living. Yet, people have survived and adapted. At every stage, we have appeared to have taken two steps forward for every one step back, and it’s turned out generally okay (for most people).
What people sometimes forget, about rapid progress, is that societies often find creative coping mechanisms to ease the chaos, and “disruption”, of technological or social upheaval. Often, this means looking into the past, and giving more value to those things we have overlooked, or taken for granted. It seems to be no coincidence that, soon after photography was invented, a bunch of renegade French artists went on to create Impressionism. When a machine can create realistic renditions of scenes, artists are more free to dream again, to re-examine the fabric of reality. Or, that the American conservation movement started in the early 1900’s, by Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, just at the height of Manifest Destiny, American industrialization, and the Gilded Age of railroad and oil barons. Even more recently, hip hop culture — this colorful, vibrant movement celebrating the body and expression — was born of the block parties of New York, in the shadow of urban renewal, white flight, and brutalist architecture. Even under the most dire socio-economic conditions, people are still able to create something new and beautiful.
Today, the digital economy has coincided with a roaring, furious, and influential environmental movement. There is renewed interest in the artifacts of industrial and pre-industrial “making”, with the advent of rapid prototyping, 3D printing, and handicraft workshops. With people so, so entirely disconnected from nature and production, those earlier modes of living (pre-industrial and industrial) have become important and interesting all over again. The increasing influence of technology has also been met by increased enthusiasm for hiking, house plants, open spaces, local organic foods, and even regional identities, as people try to re-balance, and compensate for, the omnipresence of global technology.
And so, I believe, just as the digital economy has taken off today, this is the right moment to reassess architecture — the value, design, and business of the physical environment.