Speculative Architecture: Where are the Contemporary Equivalents of the 60s and
Speculative Architecture: Where are the Contemporary Equivalents of the 60s and 70s Radical Visions?
As the forces shaping our built environment have shifted, engaging technology, networks, and complex systems, architects need to envision more than the physical space but produce narratives on how to best operate within this new societal landscape. In this context, speculative architecture seems to have never been more critical; therefore this article takes a closer look at the mediums that currently question the existing conditions of the built environment and explore new architectural possibilities.
Speculative architecture investigates scenarios for the future, creating narratives around how different forms of agency shape space and culture. It relates, overlaps with or is synonym to several other concepts from architecture fiction, design futures, to radical architecture. Nonetheless, it is a discursive activity rooted in critical thinking, questioning the practice and different aspects of society and the built environment. When looking at the works of practices such as OMA, MVRDV, Diller Scofidio+Renfro, FOA, it is clear that the influence of radical architecture and its capacity to imagine different futures can generate architectural innovation. However, there is a historical transformation of speculative architecture discourse, with sustainability and technology as the main subjects for contemporary radical explorations.
It seems that in the conditions of contemporary society, utopian, speculative thinking has become more formalized. Explaining what speculative architecture can contribute to the practice, architect Liam Young references how Archigram has been a trigger for a significant cultural shift in architecture thinking, all through ideas expressed in a thought-provoking manner. He also argues that the Master’s program he initiated at Sci-Arc is a form of establishing speculative architecture as a “genre” and “career path”, which is telling for why modern-day equivalents of architecture collectives like Archigram or Superstudio have now moved to academia. Young stresses the invaluable role of storytelling, saying “A speculative architect should know how to tell stories about cities and spaces to launch these narratives into the world with such force that they find traction.” In Liam Young’s work, the narratives transcend architectural design thinking and work within the realm of fiction, engaging with frameworks that operate at a global scale.
Further proof of the inclusion of speculative thinking into the formal structures of academia is the New Normal Speculative Urbanism think tank at Strelka Institute. Led by design theorist and author Benjamin Bratton, the scope of the program is to advance architecture so that it operates within a new paradigm, in tune with the new context set in motion by “global computation, data analytics and algorithmic governance”.