Letters from Lockdown: Why couldn’t the car-building robot be managed from the worker’s home instead of Wolfsburg? asks Pippo Ciorra
My premise is that I hope that things will slowly go back to normal. It will take time and there will be social and economic casualties, but – needless to quote Hobsbawm – human progress is also based on the ability to forget and leave behind mistakes and wounds. The alternative would be paralysis and regression. However, this is a big trauma, just like a world war, and recovery from global trauma always implies that humankind learns something from the experience and turns it into some kind of positive innovation.
If this interview aims at identifying areas in which innovation (or relevant changes) should or will happen, I propose three fields of action, all related to the spaces of living and working.
The first and most obvious directly concerns the space of the house. There are already thousands of COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 projects posted on the web showing how to expand your home into a mini-office, mini-gym, mini-restaurant, mini-garden etc. It is certainly interesting and useful, and will probably give a new impulse to research on residential space. Still, we should acknowledge the incredible resilience of the typology of the house, which has been basically the same for four millenniums, and which has easily absorbed any similar changes in the past.
“In the short run, cities will have to manage the persistence of fear and the need to bring back activity”
What will probably achieve more radical change than both living and workspace is infrastructure. Going back to war-fuelled innovations, they mostly happened in the field of infrastructure and tools. It seems clear that this will also happen this time. In the short run, cities will have to manage the conflict between the persistence of fear and the need to bring back the previous degree of activity in physical infrastructure.
In the longer run, every home will need to be provided with a much broader broadband and instant connectivity. It is not simply us teaching students online or companies run from home. Why couldn’t the robot building a car be managed from the worker’s home instead of in Wolfsburg? We will also need to investigate how to combine
anti-virus measures with climate consciousness, being aware it could be a very productive alliance.
Coming to the third point, I would like to speculate on the idea of dystopia and ‘smartness’. What we have learned in these days is that the two concepts seem to love each other more that we had already expected. We are seeing a new kind of dystopian space: not the chaos, pictured by Blade Runner or JG Ballard, but images of clean, empty and unpolluted cities with everybody at home and nobody disturbing the beauty of monuments and landscapes.
Control in this kind of dystopia is transferred to the invisible activity of a trillion networks and devices, monitoring and influencing our lives. We already knew that smart had a lot to do with control and we have already lost most of the battles in this war, but clearly the virus condition pushes this to the limit. This is where we will have to watch carefully and build some conceptual resistance. It will be important both to go back to the streets, the original space for democracy, and to build consciousness and counteractions in the digital world.
Pippo Ciorra, March 2020
Pippo Ciorra is professor of design and theory at the SAAD School of Architecture and Design, University of Camerino. He is senior curator of architecture at the MAXXI, Rome, and director of the international PhD programme Villard d’Honnecourt, IUAV Venezia