How can we design for a world of increasing uncertainty despite ever growing predictive power?

ACT -1

Plane taking off.

Pilot: Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking, welcome aboard this Saudi Arabian Airlines flight from Berlin to Jeddah. Currently entering Polish airspace, our route will take us across eastern Europe, where you will be served lunch above the Carpathian mountains halfway through our flight. After crossing the Mediterranean we will fly along Saudi Arabia’s Red sea coastline until arriving at approximately 12:30 in Jeddah. At our destination it’s currently a warm 29 degrees Celsius at 60% humidity. If you have any further questions, wishes or anything else we can help you with, please don’t hesitate to ask our lovely cabin crew. Meanwhile we wish you a pleasant flight!

Some time into the flight, sand dunes are visible out of the airplane window.
Student looking at the professor.
Professor being irritated by the staring.

Student: I’m sorry I didn’t mean to stare. It’s just that I now realized where I recognize you from. I attended your guest lecture at TU Berlin last week!

Architect: Ah, what are the chances!

Student: Your positive outlook of the future really made an impression on a lot of us young people. With the depressing past few years this idea of utopianism is a welcomed change of perspective.

Architect: Yes, it has indeed been a challenging time. I believe we need something to look forward to, and it has always been this way! Tommaso Campanella was onto something already in 1602 as you might remember.

Student: Yes, it has indeed been a challenging time. I believe we need something to look forward to, and it has always been this way! Tommaso Campanella was onto something already in 1602 as you might remember.

Architect: Yes, Campanella described a theocratic society where there is no separation of spaces depending on the needs. The city is protected and defended by seven circles of walls with a centralised axis towards the centre of the city. People who stay there irrespective of their class are acquainted with all lines of work. The walls are also painted with art and sciences.

Pilot: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is our captain speaking, we’d like to draw your attention to the Line, part of Saudi Arabia’s NEOM project and the city of the future. Through your windows both to your right and left you can see the construction of this incredible project all of Saudi Arabia is proud of. Please find more information in the brochure in front of you.”

Taking the brochure, turning and inspecting it from all sides:

Architect: ”Ah yes, look, isn’t it wonderful to have a whole nation of people stand behind an architectural project, it’s like a shared dream!”

(There has been a build-up for the past) Sitting in the seat in front, visibly annoyed until he can’t hold it anymore and turns around:

Critic: A dream that they will soon wake up from in a coarse and brutal sandstorm!

Slightly appalled by the interruption

Architect: Sir, dare you doubt the power of dreams!

Critic: I doubt the desert will give into the human attempt to tame it, I doubt the reasoning behind building such a monstrosity in the middle of nowhere, and I doubt this act of constructing one’s fate by manifesting it in some inflexible structure. No good has ever come of megalomania, because that’s what it is, it is manic!

Architect: I see, I see, a pessimist. Well this sad way of thinking is exactly what the line will need to hold up against. Manic you say, i tell you it is exactly this what defines us human beings: dreaming! Designing a better future, defying the constraints of the presence – Utopia!

Student: Why don’t you join us in our discussion, the professor is in the mood to argue and you seem like the right person to counter his idealism.

Critic: Gladly! Utopia you say, if history hasn’t taught us to abandon this nonsense. Look at all these modernist dreamers and what they have done to our cities! Failed! Le Corbusier – a criminal!

Architect: Well, criticising modernism is only fair but relying on our past experiences as a basis for causal explanation would inevitably imply that everything we do is derived from past probabilities and therefore restricted. We need Utopianism. I strongly believe that having this nearly unachievable goal ahead of us is what is needed for progress.“

Critic: Having a goal is honourable but this does not change the fact that future events must be considered as probable rather than certain. If planning adhered to this uncertainty, our built environment would be much more inhabitable today.

Architect: One does not expect that the future will resemble the past but one may have reasons to believe that the rules that oriented past successful inferences and decisions will be helpful in the future.

Critic: Give me one example of a successful utopian project! Architecture is an inherently future-oriented discipline but constantly fails to live up to its own ambition!

A tries to remember some concepts from 20th century

Unfortunately, all attempts to implement utopias not only did not bring prosperity, but ended to be dystopias.

Architect: Perhaps they were unnatural. Our project is not the case. The Line is a very holistic approach.

Critic: Holistic, that’s a joke! You know, your project reminded me of my teenage years. I grew up in post-war Berlin. Just imagine, the city divided by a wall. Is it not dystopia?

Architect: Why this comparison? The Berlin Wall wasn’t a residential formation, it was just a wall like any medieval fortress.

Critic: You see it as a fence. Might be. For us, the wall was not an object, but its absence. What if I tell you that a district was planned within the wall? Does it make more sense now? Geometry was always used in utopias to set a border between the realities.

Architect: But my line is not a border! It does not separate anything.

Critic: Oh yes, the line exists out of context, an oasis among the desert, but what kind of people will inhabit the line? Don’t you find it strange that all utopias involve resettlement? Architects believe that conditions will change a person. How naive, because it always ends with the fact that a person changes conditions. So how do you expect your line to grow?

Architect: I know where you are leading! The outdated topic of urban development. It seems absurd to you to build in the desert. You claim that geometric concepts are used to control society. Well, it is no longer relevant! You see geometry, but modern algorithmic architecture is not based on geometry, it has algebraic combinations at its core.

Critic: So you say architects do not plan anymore, but predict?

Architect: Exactly! Our ability to predict is becoming stronger every day. With the increasing power of digital technologies and computational power we are able to do more and more complex analysis in order to accurately predict the future. We architects are not modelling the future as it was before, but use predictive power to prognose it.

ACT -2

Extinction rebellion protestor: Heey! HEEEEEY! THE EARTH IS DYING!!!! Climate is changing faster than even the most pessimistic scientists predicted! Biodiversity loss! Crop failure! Society is going to collapse! Your children and grandchildren will curse you for not taking action! The line project is an ecological disaster! I will glue my head on to this plane now until no plane will ever rise up into the sky again! Aaaaahhrhg.

Flight attendant and handcuffing and gagging the protestor.

Towards the professor:

Critic: Was this event inside your prediction analysis? This man has just glued his head onto the roof of the plane. Don’t you see? Unpredictability is all around us at all times.

Student: I see his point, although it doesn’t mean these prediction tools are completely worthless. There are most certainly cases where they serve their purpose.

Architect: Yes, the government seems really eager to not have any unforeseen trouble completing the project. Anyway, see? Every individual is an exception to the rule. We always rely on AI prediction ability that should, in principle, drive out uncertainty but that is impossible! Demand prediction models do not take into account how data is generated, but simply explore apparent relationships in aggregated data that has been transferred from other functions in the organisation.

Critic: Well, if the prediction tools are so accurate, why are there more and more doubts?

Architect: What doubts? There are many future-oriented projects being developed nowadays. Smart cities are a global tendency. You surely heard about projects like Masterplanet or Paris 2050? There are many more competitions, they are all generously sponsored and highly supported.

Critic: So you tell me that all the possible outcomes were calculated for these projects? A prosperous future is easy to dream of, but don’t those statements sound unrealistic?

Architect: I know for you utopias used to be the way to escape reality, but for the current generation technologies allow us to shape the future. We already know how much our population will grow and how the climate on the planet will change.

Flight attendant: Excuse me, would you like a refreshing beverage? We have coffee, coke, orange juice, ..

Loosening his gag.

Protestor: CocoCola is one of the biggest polluters in the world! Boycott CocaCola!!!

Flight attendant: Is Pepsi ok?

Student: I see both your points. But as much as I value utopianism, it’s clear that these projects distance themselves from reality. I like this idea of thinking about the future not in terms of project, but projectiles. Projectiles are future-oriented, but in dynamic and open-ended terms, consistently and almost constantly subject to revision, reassessment, and remaking.

Architect: The line is actually a projectile not a project. It’s my vision for the future we all want! I know this for certain as I designed it to be that, I spent the past five years perfecting this vision

Protestor: A projectile? The line? Really? Are you seriously going to design for a future with extreme weather conditions, droughts, flood and starvation? Don’t you see that by designing for this future you’re all accepting it? How can you think this way!

Critic: You can’t seriously say that something as static as a 500m high wall in the desert is adaptable to change and uncertainty.

Architect: We must try to discover the practices that most efficiently respond to the problem posed by an unpredictable environment. We know that we’re changing the climate, but not exactly what will result from this change. That’s why we need bold ideas like The Line. Even if on the global scale something like this might not seem sufficient to tackle the problems of our whole planet, I believe that small changes can have a big impact.

Protestor: Not when they’re built on a foundation of injustice and exploitation!

Architect: I’m willing to believe in the good intention if someone’s putting so much of their money into one idea.

Critic: Today’s problem of possibility: everything is always incorporated into the current world of capitalism

Protestor: We have to end capitalism! Abolish the system. You can’t let failed ideologies of the past dictate your pathway of the future! Don’t let these voices of standstill and conservatism deceive you…

Pilot interrupting in the middle of the sentence.

Pilot: Welcome to Jeddah. You can now loosen your seatbelts. Thank you for choosing Saudi Arabia Airlines. I apologise for the inconvenience on my behalf and want to inform you that our authorities will deal with it appropriately. Nevertheless, we hope you had a pleasant flight and that we will see you again soon! Goodbye!

Critic: Good luck with your wall!

Architect: Well, good luck with your face.

Critic: My face?

Architect: Your faith, in humanity

Passengers leave the plane.


– Construction site for possible worlds.

-Anna Longo Knowladge and the Risk of Knowladge: How Uncertainty Supports the Illusion of Freedome. pg. 65 -Amanda Beech

Art Beyond Identity: Constructive Identification for Real Worlds. pg. 101 Robert Mackay Introduction pg. 5