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Futurecraft Tomorrow by design “The natural sciences are concerned with how things are… Design, on the other hand, is concerned with how things ought to be, with devising artifacts to attain goals… Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones” (Herbert Simon, “The Science of Design” 1988) Design is concerned with how things ought to be, according to Herbert Simon, Albert Einstein and many others. As it changes existing situations into preferred ones, the act of design is inherently futurefacing, aiming to transform the present by effecting material or experiential change. And if design is future-focused, its question becomes: how to accelerate transformation of the present? How to fast-forward the development of tomorrow? In the past, these very questions have driven many avant garde movements – from the Russian Constructivists to Le Corbusier’s modernist utopia to Superstudio’s critical modernist dystopia - brandishing manifestos and painting visions of the future. A vibrant strain of architecture has always dealt with the world of tomorrow… And yet those tomorrows, in many cases, did not come to pass. Our cities are not ‘radieuse.’ However potent, architectural manifestos are rhetorical dreams: willful, topdown and monolithic. A single vision cannot encompass the profoundly heterogeneous reality of our


interconnected and inconsistent societies. Would the outcome be different if the design and evaluation process were integrally plural? Ultimately, a critical mass of public participation may be the deciding factor in accelerating our most desirable future. Even in the (ego-driven) field of architecture, tomorrow will not be built by singular designers. Yet this plot twist is not the death of the designer; in fact, he assumes an increasingly vital responsibility. Designers must challenge what exists today, introduce new and alternate possibilities, and ultimately pave the way toward a desirable future. This is not dissimilar to the conceptual framework of ‘speculative design’ – proposed by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby at the Royal College of Art – a process that neither attempts to solve problems nor predict the future. Rather, they understand design as a “catalyst for collectively redefining our relationship to reality,” speculating on how things could be. Even earlier, Buckminster Fuller’s Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science (CADS) was a systematic approach to design, “to solve problems by introducing into the environment new artifacts, the availability of which will induce their spontaneous employment by humans and thus, coincidentally, cause humans to abandon their previous problemproducing behaviors and devices.” He believed that design could pull society


into a brighter future (or, to put it in a slightly haughtier way, “I just invent, then wait until man comes around to needing what I’ve invented.”) However, the designer must not only peddle abstract ideas. Crucially, the work must be made tangible – not necessarily fully functional products and systems, but demonstrable concepts that promote interaction and debate. The momentum of the crowd can project ideas into the future and spark development; as a result, our work is meaningless unless it ignites imaginations. At the urban scale, this implicates any and every citizen. Living in space and creating space can go hand in hand. A system does not need to be fully developed, deployed,

and succeed/fail – if it is tested, we can collectively adjudicate its desirability before wasting resources, ultimately accelerating the future. The goal of design is to generate alternatives and open up new possibilities. Broadly speaking, this frames design as evolutionary – that beneficial changes will steer development in a positive way. In fact, biological species do essentially the same thing, on an extraordinarily long time line. Random mutations are introduced from one organism to the next, and if the mutation is successful, that organism will be more likely to reproduce. The best changes are incorporated into the species, and, over time, it evolves. In a seminal 1863 text,

Thinking Senseable city lab

The journey of a plastic container of liquid soap Trash Track, New York, USA 2009. © MIT Senseable City Lab.


The journey of an aluminum can - Trash Track, New York, USA 2009. © MIT Senseable City Lab.


Darwin Among the Machines, Samuel Butler proposed this basic analogy, replacing “organisms” with “artifacts” and allowing for the synthetic kingdom to be classified into genera and species, an evolutionary tree of objects. Continuing the analogy, the designer becomes what, in biology, is referred to as a ‘mutagen’ – an agent that produces mutations. Specific design artifacts improve function or enable a new process, and on a broad scale, collectively drive change and development in the synthetic world. This, we call “Futurecraft.” Given the In this evolutionary framework, an argument could be made that a

designer’s impact is proportional to his visibility – yet the bottom line is still collective momentum. In much the same way as the open source community, talented actors can garner visibility and followers, as their work is evaluated, shared and reinforced. The best design goes viral. The process that functions almost as ‘natural selection,’ and allows us to we can collectively steer broader technological development toward the most desirable future. As with natural evolution, not all mutations are ideal – or even positive. Some may test dystopian futures, enabling us to acknowledge and preclude negative outcomes.

In the digital world this is known as ‘white hat hacking’ – (using and acknowledging negative or dangerous ideas to steer our course in the opposite direction). While natural mutations are random, we, as designers, have the luxury of applying such techniques as ‘futurecasting:’ extrapolating from the present to intentionally explore specific scenarios. We work within a loosely defined ‘near future’ within the spectrum of possibility, as a logical extension of the present. Design in this arena is immediate, with potential to reflexively influence urban evolution today. Of course the work must be insightful, novel and provocative, but



Carlo Ratti Associati

Senseable startups

Ciudad Creativa Digital, Aerial View - Carlo Ratti Associati, Guadalajara, Mexico 2012.

Makr Shakr Application on tablet. © Paolo Bischi




their impact hinges on applying them to the world as-it-is – ideas cannot be so extraordinary as to be irrelevant. Ultimately, ideas may or may not be realized, but by virtue of being stated, explored, and debated, a concept will necessarily have made an impact. Provocation is a better metric than certainty, for ideas both positive and negative. This is the triumph of failed design: each proposal influences the evolution and resolution of tomorrow. Designers introduce visions of a possible future – implicating the crowd in Futurecraft.


Big Environmental Data can facilitate

WaterFly – MIT Senseable City Lab, Boston, USA 2015.



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Thinking Senseable city lab

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As layers of networks and digital information blanket our urban space, a new approach to studying the built environment is emerging. The ways we describe and understand cities is being radically transformed - as are the tools we use to design them. The mission of the Senseable City Laboratory – a research initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - is to anticipate these changes and study them from a critical point of view. Not bound by the methodologies of a single field, the Lab is characterized by an omni-disciplinary approach: it speaks the language of designers, planners, engineers, physicists, biologists, mathematicians and social scientists. Senseable is as fluent with Fortune 500 industry partners as it is with metropolitan governments, individual citizens and disadvantaged communities around the world. Through design and science, the Lab develops and deploys tools to learn about cities - so that cities can learn about us.

A fleet of specially-designed quadcopters programmed to work together as a swarm. WaterFly – MIT Senseable City Lab, Boston, USA 2015.






Trash tracks

Waterfly is a cutting-edge application of drone technology that reconsiders how we can monitor, research and protect water quality across the globe. A fleet of specially-designed quadcopters is programmed to work together as a swarm, sharing a series of tasks to efficiently map water quality and scan for emerging pollutants and threats. Onboard sensors enable the drones to gather data at both macro and micro scales; hyperspectral imaging generates maps of photosynthetic activity in order to detect algae blooms, whilst submersible probes gather spotreadings, including chlorophyll and phytocyanin. Waterfly is a link between the natural and synthetic worlds, a pioneering system for detecting, predicting, and ultimately mitigating some of the great environmental challenges we face today.

Why do we know so much about the supply chain and so little about the ‘removal-chain’? A near future of geo-located sensors and ubiquitous computing may reveal the hidden dyamics of our cities – even the nation’s waste removal metabolism. Trash Track tests this hypothesis through a live urban demo, bringing together volunteers in Seattle to attach 3,000 active location sensors to ordinary pieces of garbage. The trash was processed as usual, and our researchers watched in real time as dizzingly complex trajectories unfolded. Household waste, recyclables and electronics crisscrossed the country, coming to rest only months after they had been discarded – proving that our cities’ metabolisms can indeed be sensed and tracked in digital space.

Credits Carlo Ratti, Assaf Biderman, Yaniv Turgeman, Chris Green, Gabriel Kozlowski, Antoine de Maleprade, Clara Cibrario Assereto, Pierrick Thebault, Carlos Greaves, Dan Feldman, Aashish Tripathee, Alex Huang, Ben Eysenbach, Diane Kim, Eric Tao, Camille Kerbaul, Evie Kyritsis, Faith Huynh, Fernando Yordan, Franco Montalvo, Janelle Mansfield, Ostin Zarse, Marwan Sarieddine, Nhat Cao, Pedro Henrique da Silva Alves.

Credits Carlo Ratti, Assaf Biderman, Dietmar Offenhuber, Eugenio Morello, Musstaunser Tinauli, Kristian Kloecki, Lewis Girod, Jennifer Dunnam, E Roon Kang, Kevin Nattinger, Avid Boustani, David Lee, Alan Anderson, Clio Andris, Carnaven Chiu, Chris Chung, Lorenzo Davolli, Kathryn Dineen, Natalia Duque Ciceri, Samantha Earl, Sarabjit Kaur, Sarah Neilson, Giovanni de Niederhausern, Jill Passano, Elizabeth Ramaccia, Renato Rinaldi, Francisca Rojas, Louis Sirota, Malima Wolf, Eugene Lee, Angela Wang, Armin Linke.

In collaboration with: University of Toronto – Institute for Aerospace Studies, MIT Interactive Robotics Group, DroneDeploy, Turner Designs, BCB, MIT Senseable City Lab.


Trash Tag – Trash Track, New York, USA 2009. © MIT Senseable City Lab. co

Lead Volunteers: Tim Pritchard, Jodee Fenton, Lance Albertson, Chad Johansen, Christie Rodgers, Shannon Cheng, Jon Dreher, Andy Smith, Richerd Auger, Michael Cafferty, Shalini Ghandi. In collaboration with: City of Seattle, WM, Qualcomm, Sprint, The Architectural League

Advisors: Rex Britter, Stephen Miles, Tim Gutowski




Testing Carlo Ratti Associati

Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) is a rapidly growing design and innovation practice based in Torino, Italy, with branches in Boston and London. Drawing on Carlo Ratti’s research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Senseable City Lab, the studio aims to develop innovative design projects, merging architecture and urban planning with cutting-edge digital technologies, so as to contribute to the creation of “senseable” cities and buildings - cities and buildings that can respond better to people inhabiting them. At CRA we believe beauty, innovation and sustainability can be fused, and we consider the integration of these three concepts to be our mission.

CRA_DWP © Max Tomasinelli





Ciudad creativa digital (CCD)

Digital Water Pavillion (DWP)

Imagine combining Silicon Valley entrepreneurship with Mexico’s unique culture and traditions. Digital media creativity with outdoor working environments of unparalleled lifestyle. The new magnet for the global creative class: that’s what Guadalajara is set to become through the Ciudad Creativa Digital. CCD is an innovative project to enhance not only urban life, but also the identity of Guadalajara and Mexico in the growing media industry involving Internet, film, digital games, and mobile applications – creating a global center of original digital content for the Spanishspeaking world.

The Digital Water Pavilion is an interactive structure made of digitallycontrolled water curtains, built at the entrance of the 2008 Expo in Zaragoza. Office space for tourism during the event in 2008, the pavilion now houses a cafe and an infobox on the Milla Digital project. The challenge was to use the water – the theme of Expo 2008 – as an architectural element. The walls are composed of digitally controlled water droplets, which can generate writing, patterns or access spaces. The result is a space that is interactive and reconfigurable in that each wall can potentially become an entrance or exit, while the internal partitions can shift depending on the number of people present. The only material elements are the two boxes and the roof, which can move vertically and attend to the ground removing the presence of the entire pavilion.

Credits Antonio Atripaldi, Alberto Bottero, Sofia Cornejo Reindl, Andrea Galanti, Luis Mesejo, Giovanni de Niederhausern, Water Nicolino, Carlo Ratti, Jennifer Young.

CRA_DWP © Claudio Bonicco

Credits Matteo Lai, Walter Nicolino, Carlo Ratti. In collaboration with: MIT Media Laboratory / Smart Cities Group, Arup Madrid, Agence Ter Paris, Studio FM Milan, Siemens Madrid.

In collaboration with the Secretaría de Economía ProMéxico, SHF, Gobierno de Jalisco, Canieti and the City of Guadalajara, Prof. Dennis Frenchman, Accenture, Arup, Engram Studio, Fundación Metrópoli, Moblity in Chain, MIT Senseable City Lab and Studio FM Milano.





Ciudad Creativa Digital, Old Courtyard - Carlo Ratti Associati, Guadalajara, Mexico 2012.

Ciudad Creativa Digital, The Infobox - Carlo Ratti Associati, Guadalajara, Mexico 2012.





Acting Senseable startups

An emerging ecosystem of start ups is emerging from the work of CRA and the MIT Senseable City Lab. Initial ideas are turned form prototypes to products. Supported at time by venture capital, at times by internal funds, these projects aim to explore the impact of ideas outside the world of one offs - as in a traditional lab or design ofßce. Out of a rapidly growing portfolio, Makr Shakr and the Vertical Plotter originated inside CRA. The Copenhagen Wheel is a MIT Senseable City Lab’s project which in 2013 became a startup under the name of Superpedestrian.

Google IO © Kurt Deegan





Makr Shakr


Makr Shakr is a new robotic bartending system that allows users to create, in real-time, personalized cocktail recipes through an application and transform them into crowd-sourced drink combinations. The cocktail creation is assembled by robotic arms, whose movements mimic the actions of a bartender, from the shaking of a martini to the thin slicing of a lemon garnish. The system explores the new dynamics of social creation and consumption – ‘design, make and enjoy’ – and in just the time needed to prepare a new cocktail.

Superpedestrian brings together a team of designers and robotics engineers with one vision: transforming urban mobility. Our first idea? Pedal power. With an exclusive license to MIT’s Copenhagen Wheel, we bring the bike revolution to your streets. The Copenhagen Wheel is entering mass production in 2015, with thousands of units already sold on pre-order. Superpedestrian operates out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was founded in late 2012 by co-inventor of the Copenhagen Wheel, and backed by tier-one venture capital investors.

Copenhagen Wheel, 2013. © Michael D. Spencer.

Credits Caterina Falleni, Damiano Gui, Alessandro Incisa, Alfredo Marinucci, Giovanni de Niederhausern, Saverio Panata, Carlo Ratti. In collaboration with: CIA Automation&Robotics, Seac 02, Kibox


Credits Assaf Biderman, Christine Outram, Carlo Ratti. In collaboration with: MIT Senseable City Lab. Copenhagen Wheel, 2013. © Michael D. Spencer.




Prof. Carlo Ratti

Director, MIT SENSEable City LabPartner, carlorattiassociati srl An architect and engineer by training, Carlo Ratti ractices in Italy and teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he directs the Senseable City Lab. He graduated from the Politecnico di Torino and the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées in Paris, and later earned his MPhil and PhD at the University of Cambridge, UK. Carlo holds several patents and has co-authored over 250 publications. As well as being a regular contributor to the architecture magazine Domus and the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, he has written for the BBC, La Stampa, Scientißc American and The New York Times. His work has been exhibited worldwide at venues such as the Venice Biennale, the Design Museum Barcelona, the Science Museum in London, GAFTA in San Francisco, MoMA in New York and MAXXI in Rome. Carlo has been featured in Esquire Magazine’s ‘2008 Best & Brightest’ list and in Thames & Hudson’s selection of ‘60 innovators’ shaping our creative future. In 2010 Blueprint Magazine included him as one of the ‘25 People Who Will Change the World of Design’, Forbes listed him as one of the ‘Names You Need To Know’ in 2011 and Fast Company named him as one of the ’50 Most Inàuential Designers in America’. He was also featured in Wired Magazine’s ‘Smart List 2012: 50 people who will change the world’.


At the 2008 World Expo, his Digital Water Pavilion was hailed by TIME Magazine as one of the ‘Best Inventions of the Year’. In 2011, Carlo was awarded the Renzo Piano Foundation prize for ‘New Talents in Architecture’. Carlo has been a presenter at TED (in 2011), program director at the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design in Moscow, curator of the ‘2012 BMW Guggenheim Pavilion’ in Berlin, and was named ‘Inaugural Innovator in Residence’ by the Queensland Government. The Italian Minister of Culture also named Carlo as a member of the Italian Design Council - an advisory board to the Italian Government that includes 25 leaders of design in Italy. He is currently serving as a member of the World Economic Forum ‘Global Agenda Council for Urban Management’ and is curator of the ‘Future Food District’ pavilion for the 2015 World Expo in Milan. For further information visit www.carloratti.com and senseable.mit.edu


Carlo Ratti © Karl Krüger



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