By Atul Sharma

Looking Up From Our Desks: How Will People Live in a Changing World?

I. Reflecting on Practice

For millennia,  the fundamentals of good urbanism have largely remained constant. However, evolutions in culture, technology, and the natural environment prompt incremental changes. While our core needs remain constant, the ways in which they’re met is constantly changing. As a result, our daily lives appear very different from those of previous generations.

II. Our World Is Ever-Evolving

For millennia,  the fundamentals of good urbanism have largely remained constant. However, evolutions in culture, technology, and the natural environment prompt incremental changes. While our core needs remain constant, the ways in which they’re met is constantly changing. As a result, our daily lives appear very different from those of previous generations.

This dynamic between stasis and change, preservation and progress sets the stage for the question, “How will people live in a changing world?” Decisions such as where we choose to live, how we work, or how we manage depleting resources are all shaped by this tension between established practice and the promise of innovation. Successful solutions always achieve the right equilibrium.

III. Venturing Beyond Conventional Models

  • Over this project’s lifetime, what will remain constant and what will change?
  • Do yesterday’s solutions adequately address today’s and tomorrow’s challenges?

Answers to these questions can prompt discussions about a project’s unique context and project demands, not only of today but looking ten, twenty, or even fifty years into the future.

IV. Designing For Change

The development and construction industries are largely driven by standards, habits, and rules of thumb. Yet, the constituents of each new project challenge us to find design solutions that are more affordable, sustainable, and durable than yesterday’s. To resolve these conflicting demands, designers must embrace quality but also create space for opportunities for innovation. Five simple strategies can help shape a design process that delivers both:

  • Learn from the best design precedents that address the fundamental human needs which are likely to remain constant.
  • Identify the change agents (technological, environmental, demographic, etc.) that already are, or could significantly impact a project’s context and functioning over its anticipated lifetime.
  • Create design solutions that support new habits of daily life while upholding the fundamentals of good urbanism.
  • Examine day-to-day design decisions for opportunities to better address anticipated future challenges.
  • Through the lense of a project user’s daily life, understand the tradeoffs between conventional design and design innovation.

V. Thinking Forward

Man’s lasting imprint on planet Earth is palpable. The decisions we make everyday irrevocably change our planet, for good or for bad. As the challenges for our future increase in complexity and magnitude, so too must the dexterity of our problem solving. As designers we will continue to challenge ourselves to explore how we can best meet our clients' and constituents' needs - to proverbially look up from our desks - so we can design, innovate, and contribute towards a better future.

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