We are at the end of a year extremely complicated, we know it. Energy crisis, economic crisis, an ongoing pandemic, an environmental emergency that we are unable to deal with seriously, and of course the infamous Russian invasion of Ukraine. All our cornerstones are now shaky: peace, welfare, health, democracy, progress. We have done nothing this year but accumulate uncertainties and we are realizing that the comforts of globalization and the euphoria of capitalism have only made us more fragile, defenceless, and incapable of being free and independent.
Some of these events, while painful in their impact, should not be read entirely negatively. Energy dependence on fossil fuels, a crisis dramatically accelerated by the madness of war in the heart of Europe, has made us understand that wishing to aspire to a future of autonomy from renewable sources would not only reduce environmental damage but also make sense from an economic standpoint. We didn’t understand it (and perhaps some still haven’t understood it to date yet) in a logical way, we are learning it through an often irrational reaction to the negative global events. Unfortunately, humanity’s learning mechanism is precisely this, we struggle to predict the effects of our mistakes and we dearly pay every time for our short-sightedness.
Speaking of forecasts, this year was another year of plans, programs, and roadmaps. How many roadmaps. Every self-respecting organization has its own roadmap. COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh was exemplary in this: each nation has its own plans for decarbonisation, by … 2040, 2050, 2060, we’ll see. In any case, a very distant date in time. One almost gets the impression that putting these goals somewhere in the distant future makes them less improbable. Indeed, let’s face it, the further away they are in time, the better. A procrastination syndrome that infects so many, it must be a human weakness (watch this irresistible TED talk by Tim Urban and you’ll know what I mean).
And then the reports. Sure, lots of reports. There is no roadmap without reports. It almost seems that once an effort has been made to analyse, to collect data in order to develop a future strategy and represent it in a beautiful document, the most is done. We can close the conference, the convention, the meeting, and go back to our business as usual. The PDF becomes capable of almost anything, from full-blown website or standard report (this is from Edmund Carlevale, follow him on LinkedIn, he is very smart) or rather, once the document is done and published in .pdf format (the report, the plan, the roadmap) we’re done. Well, I don’t think so, probably the remaining 99% is still missing.
In short, this foresight ability that mainly differentiates us from animals (I learned this from the many conversations on biophilia this year, because we are able to imagine, plan, build the future) does nothing but create illusions, which distract us from reality, from concrete things, from the real path we are on. Think of the buildings – ok, this is another strong point of mine – we design and build them thinking that they behave in a certain way, that they will have certain performances, the ones we have planned. Then we build them, and we no longer go to check how they really work, how much energy, water, materials, they consume or produce. And yes, you know, actual performance can be hugely different. But it’s a pity that we made our forecasts on those performances, regarding people’s well-being, financial investment, duration.
In short, we need more realism, don’t you think? Even planning requires concreteness, realism and then we really have to put into practice and measure what we are doing, patiently and responsibly. It is in fact that ‘back casting’ that we learned from Karl-Henrik Robèrt and the Natural Step: I create the vision of how I want to be in the near future, as a person, organization, community and then, backwards, I outline and describe all the steps that are needed to achieve the great final goal. Something I can measure and adjust every year, prioritizing budgets, resources. A wise thing.
In short, this medium or long-term planning thing, these roadmaps, deceive us, they divert attention from what we really need to do, to make the future we planned become real. Yep, the future. But isn’t the future also and immediately the present? Aristotle said that future events are in fact determined by human deliberations and actions, and the truth or falsehood of the statements relating to them is not decided ‘from the beginning’ since two opposite possibilities can indifferently be realised. In short, the future lies in our immediate actions, the ‘hic et nunc’ in which we act, that is, our existence in space and in time.
But this year was also a positive year, with many promising signs of change. New architectural project initiatives that have chosen the ambitious programs that Living Future Europe promotes in Europe. A greater awareness, now unavoidable, that it is possible to reduce and counterbalance greenhouse gas emissions linked to buildings, products, and companies. A vital explosion of interest in biophilia – the first Biophilia Camp was an example – as well as the attention around this idea of a Biophilic Society, which re-establishes that connection with nature that we have lost, and which could distract us from a degenerative scenario.
And then, the first building built, assessed, and certified with Living Building Challenge – read in this beautiful post the professional and human journey that Emmanuel Pauwels has followed. You will understand that when we talk about buildings, we start talking about objects, but then we end up talking about people. And how these buildings are made says a lot about who made them, designed them, who lives there (yes, we live more than 90% indoors). Winston Churchill‘s endlessly quoted sentence (actually it had a slightly different meaning) is still valid – we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us – We could paraphrase it by saying that since we know our buildings will then form us, then we must take care of them and ensure that how we design them affects in a positive and regenerative way how we will live.
In the end, it’s about doing the right thing and deciding that each of our next new steps is done in the right way and in the right direction. Your next action counts. Let’s put the roadmaps aside for a while and focus on what to do and how to do it. We have to decide for right actions to be done in the right way, without any downward compromises. We know what to do and we have the tools to do it – Greta Thunberg said: The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change. If you think about it, it also applies to our buildings, we know how we have to make them, and we have the tools, the technologies, the possibilities to do it. So, let’s do it, or we should explain, to someone, or to ourselves first, why we didn’t. And this also applies to our lives, from now on.
We are the roadmap. Happy holidays.