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What if we put the clocks back to zero?

Hypotheses for probable futures. By Sophie Tasma-Anargyros and Frédéric Loeb

Sophie Tasma-Anargyros and Frédéric Loeb: What if we put the clocks back to zero? Hypotheses for probable futures, Paris 1998, Les éditions de l'imprimeur, ISBN 2-910735-17-6, 207 pages

19.12.1999 · Reviewed by Christina Teuthorn

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Robots have not yet taken over. We still do not live in outer space today, nor on the ocean floor or underground. Although the 20th century's designers and architects have shown in visionary projects how we will live tomorrow, today, most of these abundant future visions resemble old science fiction movies. Technology revolutionized. But information age habitat creators still face the same problem as in 1900 when they develop scenarios: The future doesn't exist.

So - how can they escape the dilemma? Sophie Tasma-Anargyros and Frédéric Loeb answer with a question: "What if we put the clocks back to zero?" The question is the title of a 207 page eye-catcher, a non-scientific quarry of richly illustrated futuristic drafts, ideas and visions. It offers twelve working hypotheses, provides food for thought for the "Fast Thinkers," and aims to help today's designers and architects - mainly engaged in the habitat design areas of transport, communication, architecture, layout, interior decoration and clothing - understand and adapt to the complex, in-depth evolutions of the changing societies.

What if we put the clocks back to zero? Whoever opens the design book, stumbles over zeros into a wide blue space. The zero-decoration accompanies the reader throughout the book and illustrates the authors' approach: Instead of outlining the future with scientific methods or along political ideologies, product-consultant Loeb and design-author Tasma-Anargyros show, that designers can contribute with unusual intuitive methods to the future debate. They first rethink the present from different points of view and then offer stimulations to realize possible futures. Editor Gérard Laizé writes realistically, "we can tell the time to 0, 000, 000 000 000 001 of a second but we're incapable of saying how we'll be living tomorrow." What sounds like a surrender rather contains a rich agenda for analysis: The future doesn't exist, but in order to develop hypotheses for probable futures, we have to look closer at the present, the zero-zone.

The authors outline two fundamental characteristics of today's world, which have profound implications for design. First, new information technologies accelerate everything, and people think increasingly in global terms. Secondly, usage patterns have changed enormously. To illustrate the current trends, the authors use both texts and graphics. The reader can decide which suggestions he wants to follow. Besides vivid formulated, inquisitive texts he finds blow-up views of new generation computer chips, representations of atomic structures and images of cyber-worlds. He can view Europe from the perspective of a high speed train or look at "genetically optimized cows" blinking at him with thick hairy eyelashes. The book culminates in a cartographic interpretation of today's world-trends.

There, the authors present different world maps of future conflicts, desires, survival (scaled to the number of population) and wealth, in which countries differ in size proportionate to the phenomenon's appearance. When the reader covers the "map of survival" with the transparent wealth-layer, enormous parts of the world, which on the first map had almost dissappeared because of their small number of inhabitants, suddenly appear as huge, black inches.

In the concise and colourfully laid out texts, several visions await. Loeb and Tasma-Anargyros welcome the reader to "technoland unlimited:" A world crystallizes, where even materials are intelligent, where (cyber-) space is reappropriated, and the invisible - e.g. atoms - is pictured, where speed is the driving force and living materials may be easily copied. An alternate probable scenario is the completely "global world," where consumerism serves as religion, an image culture emerges and immaterial flows are the most powerful. Another possible future is a totally "hedonistic world," where relationships to the human body change, pets replace children, new fun-tribes as well as cultural codes emerge, and criteria for men and women change.

In addition to their own ideas, the authors gathered the voices of esteemed practitioners in habitat design - intellectuals, sociologists, architects, designers, artists and marketing specialists - telling how they perceive the main contemporary trends: Reinventing design is not just fighting against the supermarket, "today technology enables us to take the human being into account" (Marc Sadler, designer); "we have to reinvent our culture of objects" (Bernard Cathelat, sociologist); "the question today is: How can we initiate a process of deceleration?" (Ettore Sottsass, architect/designer). On the other hand, designers and architects also developed their personal visions how we will live tomorrow: "For me the 21st century will be immaterial and human. . . The house of tomorrow will be reduced to an empty envelope: heat control will come from the floor, lighting from liquid crystal glazing, sound and image from walls. . . The space will be the reign of trinkets, cosmetics and poetics" (Philippe Starck, designer).

The practioners' most important common denominators are technology revolutionized and usage pattern changed, but to avoid a merely computer-driven high-tech world, designers and architects will have to draw two fundamental conclusions. The space-time dimension will have to be viewed in a different way, and designers must return people to the center of their thought. In this sense, habitat creators should agree upon a different logic; for example, they should stop thinking in terms of "chair" but rather look at how people sit. Moreover, the authors demand that every future approach to habitat design should be anthropocentric, sensitive to cultural issues, economically realizable and ecologically viable.

The design book's aim is not only to show the consequences of current trends, but to translate them into creative impulses. The authors therefore present their analysis in twelve working hypotheses concerning functionality which could constitute potential directions for creating new products or modify existing ones. The hypotheses are formulated in brief outlines in order to give designers and architects an impetus for innovation.

  • #1: New mobility, hyper-rationality, no inherited objects

  • #2: From sterotypes to hypertypes

  • #3-a: Mature luxury: feeling, perfection, high finish

  • #3-b: Status luxury: social climbing in new economic contexts

  • #4: Meta-house: essences, dematerialization, spirituality, miniaturizations

  • #5: Fun, sensuality: young ernergy pleasure

  • #6: New cultural references

  • #7: Do-it-yourself objects, added emotion, living reference

  • #8: High protection bubble, soft comfort

  • #9: Bionics, physionics and ergonomy

  • #10: New ecology, native design, landscape gardening

  • #11: Working at home, managing private and public space

  • #12: Precarity, nomadism, ethnic roots

The book's twist is that Loeb and Tasma-Anargyros do not try to approach the future with scientifically strict hypotheses but use the designers' logic instead. Surprisingly, this very different approach could play an important role in the future debate, as it presents politicians with valuable indications about how to regulate the modern world's complexity and chaos in a sustainable way. In addition, the book is fun to read, raises interesting questions and entails instructions to realize today the different equal-probable ways in which people could be living tomorrow. The future doesn't exist, but - so the book's essence - all possible futures depend on creation and innovation, and thus belong to those who make them. And as the title of the book's last chapter proclaims: Everything remains to be done.

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