Recap :: David Zach Lecture

Image: Rand Lemley
By Rand Lemley, BArch Candidate

What is the future of architecture?

This opening question posed by David Zach in his lecture, titled “Designs on the Future,” framed his discussion on various ways in which the uncertainty of the future can be played as a strength. With a degree in Studies in the Future from the University of Houston, Mr. Zach is well-qualified to ask this kind of question and uniquely positioned to help us think about the answers.

As an exercise, Mr. Zach asked the audience which was a more futuristic object: a pencil or a iPhone. While many of us think that the iPhone, with its myriad functions packed into a tiny package, is an object of the future, a pencil has the power to create the future. Futuristic, for David Zach, is about future value. The pencil has far more value in the future than the iPhone will have. Multiple times during his talk, Mr. Zach praised the ability of architects to draw and think with their hands, a skill that will never lose value.

Image: Eran May-raz + Daniel Lazo
Painting a more sober picture, Mr. Zach also talked about the blurring boundaries that are occurring in design fields. Graphic design moving into architecture, architecture moving into game design. He gave two examples of short movies to illustrate his point -- Sight and World Builder.
In the first, a man has augmented reality contact lenses that paint visual information on anything he looks at. His apartment has completely bare walls so the contact lens display can operate uninterrupted. This raises the question: what is the role of an architect when the users of a built environment interact with graphic design instead? A similar topic was raised in the recent Architecture Boston article “Beaux Arts & Back Again,” in which David Hacin and Nader Tehrani discussed the challenges facing architecture education in this age of constant flux.

Image: BranIt VFX
According to Mr. Zach, the world is divided into two sectors: logistics and design. Logistics deals with counting and function, while design deals with creating and form. Architects are suited to think in both modes. In a future where boundaries are being blurred between fields, an architectural education allows a person to see multiple points of view. In cooperation with a few colleagues, Mr. Zach has created a blog that demonstrates this idea by identifying personalities who were trained in architecture, yet are known for their success in other career paths.
To find success and joy in the coming age, Mr. Zach asked us to consider how we would react to the automation of architecture through advances in 3D printing. What can you do that a computer cannot? What passions are you suppressing because you have to worry about computing?
Cross pollination of ideas is critical to innovation, but we must not lose our passion or attention, nor forget our freedom to fail spectacularly. One of the many quotes Mr. Zach recalled during his talk came from Eden Philpotts: “The universe is full of magical things waiting patiently for our wits to grow sharper.” Through our special skill of thinking through our hands, our wits have the ability to grow sharper in a different way than most. Let us use those wits to radically change the future.