Producing mutations — Prof. Carlo Ratti

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Laka: What is the city of your dreams like?

Carlo Ratti: I do not think that the ideal city exists. I would like to imagine it more like a collage of many cities. We could take inspiration from Georges Perec’s ideal home—split across all the arrondissements of Paris. So, I would say that my ideal city has the climate of Naples, the topography of Cape Town, the fusion cooking of Sydney, the architecture of Manhattan, the frenzy of Hong Kong and… why not? The exuberant nightlife of Rio de Janeiro!

Your practices implement a wide spectrum of various innovations, but they are always set in the specific social, natural, or built context, and they always respond to a specific need. What is the methodology behind the work of Carlo Ratti Associati and MIT Senseable City Lab?

In terms of focus and methodology, I would like to refer to what we call “futurecraft,” as we discuss in our latest book. This is something that is rooted in Herbert Simon’s definition of design, which he put forward in his classic ‘The Sciences of the Artificial’: “The natural sciences are concerned with how things are.… Design, on the other hand, is concerned with how things ought to be.” I like to see our work as something that contributes to the production of mutations, accelerating the transformation of the present into how it “ought to be.” I think design can be used as a systematic germination of possible futures, intervening at the interface between people, technologies, and the city.

Which emerging technologies of smart cities seem particularly interesting to you?

As you keep on using the word “smart city,” I would like to point out that I do not particularly like it. However, it is nothing else than the outcome of a broad technological phenomenon that has been unfolding over the last two decades and is now undergoing a dramatic acceleration. The Internet is entering physical space, becoming an Internet of Things (IoT)—and ushering in a series of unprecedented possibilities in terms of how we can understand, design, and live in a city. Applications are manifold: from mobility to energy, from water to waste.

For instance, let’s look at mobility. We know that mobility will radically change thanks to the advent of self-driving. Over the next decade, self-driving vehicles promise to have a dramatic impact on urban life. This is not mainly because you do not need to keep your hands on the steering wheel but because they will blur the distinction between private and public modes of transportation. “Your” car could give you a lift to work in the morning and then, rather than sitting idle in a parking lot, give a lift to someone else in your family—or, for that matter, to anyone else in your neighborhood or social-media community.

The advent of self-driving cars will change part of the urban infrastructure. Something that will probably change is parking. Today, our cars are parked on average a staggering 95% of the time. As a result, the parking infrastructure is so pervasive that for every car in the United States, there are approximately three non-residential spots—amounting to 5,000 square miles, an area larger than Puerto Rico. Autonomous cars can keep on being used in the system and hence could free up some of today’s parking areas.

‘Roboat’ is an autonomous on-demand infrastructure that can transform into bridges for pedestrians or be used as individual transportation through the city’s canal system. Photo (c) MIT and AMS Institute.

Prof. Carlo Ratti is a director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and a founding partner of the international design and innovation office Carlo Ratti Associati. Images © Carlo Ratti Associati.

Banner image (c) Carlo Ratti Associati. Paris Navigating Gym’: a project by Carlo Ratti Associati in collaboration with Technogym, Terreform One, and URBEM. It is a 20-meter-long boat that cruises along the Seine thanks to passengers’ workouts; Image “Roboat.org” (c) MIT and AMS Institute

This is an excerpt from the Laka Perspectives book vol. 02, published by Laka Foundation (non-profit, Poland) with the support of Solarlux GmbHwww.lakaperspectives.com. Follow Perspectives on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/laka.perspectives/