Ana Jeinić is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Architectural Theory, Art History, and Cultural Studies in Graz, where she taught from 2010 until 2015. She graduated from the Graz University of Technology and was a guest scholar at the IUAV University in Venice and the Delft University of Technology, as well as a guest lecturer and researcher at the University of Edinburgh. She co-edited and co-authored the book Is There (Anti-)Neoliberal Architecture? Her curatorial project Architecture after the Future (architecture-after-the-future.org) was awarded the Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky Grant by the Austrian Federal Chancellery in 2016 and was promoted by the pan-European Future Architecture Platform the same year.
Which Speculation? Open Questions of Future-Oriented Design
Design practice is, by its very nature, directed to the future—designing something means to systematically imagine and represent a socio-material relation that does not exist yet. In modern times, this future orientation inherent to architectural practice has been given a utopian dimension. At the latest for the generation of designers working at the Bauhaus, designing meant not only the design of future objects and spaces but also, and primarily, the design of society in the future.
However, as a consequence of World War II and the continuous degeneration of technical development into an arms race and ecologically unacceptable practices of production and consumption, the optimistic approach of the Bauhaus generation was slowly replaced by more skeptical views of the future. The speculative designs of the radical architects of the 1960s and 1970s no longer served to develop affirmative utopian scenarios of the future but rather set out to consider development trends in a critical manner by projecting them into a future that seemed dystopian. The anti-utopian atmosphere of the 1980s and 1990s, marked by the rise of the neoliberal right and a left that continued to dissociate from Marxist ideas, finally resulted in a general restriction of forward thinking in design disciplines.
The impending environmental catastrophe, geopolitical conflicts, and global economic crises during the last decades have promoted the need for alternative ideas of the future and a consequent reorientation of design practice. The rapid advance of speculative design to become one of the most popular buzzwords in architectural discourse suggests that future-oriented design concepts are relevant again. But what types of ideas of the future will be promoted by speculative designers and design theorists—for example, will objects, spaces, and infrastructures be designed with a view to creating better socioeconomic coexistence in the future, following the tradition of the affirmative utopian approach, or is the objective to use the design process as a tool to provoke, warn, and question, in line with the radical architecture of the 1960s and 1970s? The future of future-oriented design will depend on the answers to these questions, which are often neglected in the current discussion of speculative design.