Article, Volume #32

Order and Progress

— by and

New Order is a catalogue of future visions for a post-carbon world. Like all future visions, they are by turns tentative, speculative, exaggerated, and subjective. But this is not to say they are mere fantasy. As in the context of today’s contemporary ideology, living patterns, and political priorities, the six visions presented here should be viewed as prototypes for a future we need to create, or will be forced to confront.

Indeed, it could be said the most fantastic vision today is the idea that we can maintain our high energy, high consumptive lifestyle, and the political system behind it, indefinitely. Our dependence upon finite fossil fuels, the life-blood of advanced societies, has ironically become the greatest threat to the culture and values it supports. Beyond the environmental stress this places upon our planet, the political and economic implications of energy dependence is the source of disparities between the developed and developing world. The present economic crisis, ongoing energy conflicts and the ideological shifts they have caused, have placed in doubt the very achievements of the West as wealthy, tolerant and technologically advanced societies.

It is against this backdrop that the cult of sustainability has arisen, evolving from an activist movement on the fringe into a highly organized global campaign waged by multinational corporations, NGOs and governments in just a few short decades. Today, one can say that sustainability is a wide-spread belief system with its own evil (carbon), sacred concepts (green) and symbolic rituals (recycling). And while many real measures have been taken, species saved and technologies developed, the green movement’s terms have also been appropriated and misused to serve far less altruistic ends. It has become increasingly difficult to determine the difference between breakthrough science or constructive policies and hollow political opportunism or marketing ‘greenwash’.

Amongst all this raging tumult, what role can architects or designers play? While the scientists and engineers are expected to develop the ‘real’ solutions, the creative and cultural disciplines could be seen to be relieved of the burden of saving the world, enabling the development of experimental, alternative, and high-risk strategies which may just pay off. New Order offered a number of architects, artists, and designers just this luxury: by proclaiming the energy crisis to be ‘solved’, it became possible to think beyond; of energy beyond sustainability, sustainability beyond green ideology, ideology beyond climate change, and climate change beyond carbon emissions.

In order to conceptually project into this fictional future, it helps to first escape the pervasive order of the present. The exhibition space for New Order offered none of the comforts of today. A former warehouse for building ship’ engines, it had no electricity, no running water, no ventilation, and despite being close to Amsterdam’s center, was not on the city’s mental map. A post-industrial tabula rasa. A mini Turbine Hall before its Swiss renovation. A seventy meter long concrete void: an ideal place to prototype a new world.

But how can this new world be built in such a way that, as Phillip K. Dick describes, it doesn’t “fall apart two days later?” New Order is not a complete world, it is not an immersive simulation, but a series of snapshots which hang together to describe an ambiguous whole. Each of the installations offers a particular projection toward what the world of New Order may be; and despite their divergent agendas, themes and aesthetic attitudes, they each adopt the strategy of the prototype, a representative sample, propping up an idea, and opening a door to a larger narrative.

Martti Kalliala’s near-invisible hot section of concrete floor, titled Under the Beach: The Buried Treasure, imagines a constructive new use for spent nuclear fuel: to be captured in the basements of apartment buildings, providing ‘free’ heating for a thousand years, and bringing us closer to the unstable power of the atom.

Our installation of a glowing full-scale blue whale, Meet Your Energy Avatar, creates a space to engage with the reality of our energy consumption in a way that is uplifting, rather than guilt-inducing.

Hyper Butter, Manna Batteries, the giant board game by Chris Lee and Femke Herregraven, offers a platform to prototype the new conflicts or collaborations we will be forced to confront in a world of unlimited energy.

Mind Igloo, the giant breathing building by DUS Architects, employs recycled hot air balloons to create a new space for social and conceptual engagement, and thereby harness the energy of the mind.

Liam Young’s Singing Sentinels is a ‘living time machine’, pulling us forward to the end of the century, when the carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere has reached a level that can no longer support a vast number of animal species.

Sascha Pohflepp’s Camera Futura grants a fleeting opportunity to experience a distant and utopian future, when humankind has conquered the most pervasive force of all: gravity.

These narrative leaps and bounds through time are held together by the prosaic and readily available technology of today. Using only tactical interventions into the physical space of the present, these installations project the viewer into a mental space of the future; a symbiotic relationship between the designer’s intentions and the viewer’s imagination.

And while they each share the same space and build upon the same conceptual assumptions, the projects presented in New Order do not seamlessly complement each other. Some are utopic, while others are dystopic; some are high-tech, while others are low; some are active, while others are passive. They remain the inventions of individuals, and show a diversity of potential futures for the new role of energy in our daily lives.

Taken as a whole, New Order presents an evolved understanding of the idea of energy, influencing our interaction with the city, with power structures, with products, with art, and with other crossing points of energy and social values. In the world of New Order energy has become more than a means to our survival, but an emerging medium for expression and the formation of identity.

This insert is part of Volume #32, ‘Centres Adrift’.

Buy Now