London Design Festival 2018
October 2, 2018
April 14, 2020
In January, prior to our current dilemma, I was attempting to picture the forthcoming decade for a future report for Dezeen, and two statements came to mind. 1. 65% of children going to school today will be doing jobs that don’t currently exist (from the ‘The Future of Jobs’ report by the World Economic Forum). And 2. a statement by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, scholar, statistician and author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: “Collapse is much easier to predict than emergence: innovation is likely to attack the new and spare the old.”
This now seems remarkably prescient as I update this piece three months on from a state of lockdown and self-isolation.
We had already started to see a renewed respect for the analogue in the resurgence in popularity of printed books and stationery, crafts, baking, live music and poetry jams. The point being, these things were never old. In this way, they could never get old. And the emerging recognition of this, even before Coronavirus, hinted at a future understanding of true value, which was surely a good sign.
Herewith then less of a prediction for the next ten years in the lifestyle and home sectors as a wish list of what else needs to emerge. And thus what must also inevitably collapse, if we are indeed to course correct away from the increasing levels of chronic illness, mental health disorders and climate change that are, despite hopes to the contrary, still our current global trajectory.
Albeit, what’s remarkable, is that right now, in the midst of the anxiety that both surrounds and unites us all, we’ve been given a chance to glimpse what an unchecked future might look like. Our planet is being given a moment to heal as cars stay parked, fossil-fuel-backed industry stops and planes are grounded. While these are certainly not all without repercussion, the true cost of them is now also crystal clear. With a caveat against sentimentalisation as detailed in my previous post, What New Normal?
We see too that we are all indeed equal. A virus does not care if you are a Prime Minister or Prince. And as much as we have seen one downside of our interconnected world, we also see its power and possibility as China sends help to Italy, and the Indian government send testing labs to Iran. And never before has the temptation to score points, or to accuse and blame, been seen to be so vehemently opposed to what is required right now of our world leaders. We are one world, one people, and this is our only home. What more do we need to prove to us that this is so? Here are eight things that might help us maintain a new, if fragile, future equilibrium…
Just a few decades ago, manufacturers packaged everyday appliances with instructions on how to repair them. Today they come with tamper-proof cases and stickers warning that attempting repair will void the warranty.
So, we throw things away rather than fix them despite a body of research indicating that repair fosters social cohesion. Mending things prompts the same nurturing instincts as gardening, growing your own food, having a ‘tinkering’ shed or pottering in an allotment: all age-old restorative pursuits. Quite literally, repair encourages us to see solutions and build communities rather than imbibing the helplessness inherent in mindless disposal.
Back to a future then, cue an increasing network of Repair Cafés, social environments in which to learn new skills with a cuppa and slice of cake on the side. Also, a surge in the economic retrofitting of old housing stock, especially as it’s estimated that 80% of the homes we will be using in 2050 have already been built. But, as it stands, domestic energy consumption accounts for about 20% of UK greenhouse emissions so what’s needed is a holistic ecological approach that fixes fabric and utilities at the same time — for example, installing solar panels alongside improving insulation.
On a bigger scale, this repair and reuse ethos had already been evidenced in Back to the Countryside regeneration projects in China. Here villages abandoned by younger inhabitants for a more prosperous life in the city, were slowly being revitilised. Those same urbanites sought to not only preserve their cultural heritage but also to support rural economic development. Projects like that seen in Bishan Village, spearheaded by Ou Ning, an artist formerly based in Bejing. Projects that inspired reassessment of what already exists rather than the continued thoughtless capitulation to the incessant march of assumed ‘progress’ seen elsewhere.
However, our relationship with ownership and place must also change. We must accept that the current model of enforcing affordable housing quotas as part of developer-led housing schemes, doesn’t work. Even in the ‘my home is my castle’ obsessed UK, a 2018 report by The Resolution Foundation stated that one in three UK millennials will never own a home, half will be renting into their 40s and a third will continue to do so by the time they’re collecting their pensions.
But here’s a thought, perhaps this offers an opportunity to rethink our existing model of mortgage-based purchase or deposit-based rentals? Millennials and Gen Z (those born between 1995 – 2010) are allegedly already less focused on possessions in favour of investing in experiential pursuits so a more flexible housing model seems way overdue. Why not in the future, imagine homes on subscription? In this way a community builds around like-minded people that value freedom, diversity and sustainability, alongside the ability to easily upgrade or downsize as need and means dictate. It’s a model that could work for older folks too, encouraging inter-generational living (proven to be good for mental health). It also avoidss our arguably questionable habit of sequestering the elderly in late-life retirement ghettos.
Collective housing, or co-living, is currently one of the fastest growing development sectors in housing, usually in the form of single buildings divided into rentable studio apartments that have ‘free’ access to shared workspace and leisure facilities. Think student-style living but with hotel-grade services, and bookable for a day to forever. Companies like The Collective were early co-living champions, marketing itself as “for anyone who values community and convenience.”
With two buildings already in London and another about to open in Brooklyn designed by none other than Japanese starchitect Sou Fujimoto, The Collective promises a large-scale, yet homely, flat-share vibe with the sophistication of having an independent, fully-furnished, private space. Plus cleaners and a gym as part of the deal. Another brand offering spaces at the boutique end of this sector is Mason & Fifth. It includes “holistic wellness” in its membership package, with in-house chef services, yoga, Pilates and meditation classes on tap.
However, most of the current co-living models cater predominantly to a young, free and single clientele. Yet social isolation knows no bounds of age, gender or status. If we want a true sense of community, what’s needed is something more akin to an urban village with a mix of homes designed to accommodate couples and families, single parents and retirees, as well as footloose singletons (see the Marmalade Lane development in Cambridge). Crucially it’s a model for the future built around IRL connections. People choose where to live based on the quality of those communal spaces, the social amenities and event programmes. All alongside potentially pooled resources like childcare or even bulk food deliveries, all included with their rent or subscription.
But perhaps the most important wellbeing aspect is that any such model of community living contributes to alleviating the loneliness experienced by many in today’s resolutely digital era, wherein an active online life can mask a much more solitary reality.
Hand in hand with the above, if you’re drawn to ease of movement between home, city or job, then you don’t want the accompanying hassle of having to ship all of your furniture with you. The waste of disposing of it. Or repeatedly shopping for new. All hail then the rise of the quality furniture rental market.
According to Michael Barlow, co-founder of Fernish, a subscription-based furniture rental company already serving Los Angeles and Seattle, the world has to move to a more circular economy model. One in which “you have bought, use, refurbish, re-use, refurbish, re-use… then maybe donate.”
After all, figures from the Environmental Protection Agency show that since the 1960s, the amount of furniture and furnishings taken to landfill in the US has risen 455% to 9.79 million tons in 2017. And in the UK, an average of 22 million small items of furniture are thrown away every year. Whether this is a function of the widespread availability of cheap furniture, or it’s linked to an ingrained resistance to repair, a future mandated move to a circular model would make both manufacturers and consumers more conscious of the quality of any product they put out, or purchase, in the first place. Even IKEA has committed already to using only renewable and recycled materials by 2030.
In the words of Professor Olle Johansson, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, “we are now living in an environment estimated to contain more than 10 billion times more radio frequency radiation than in the 1960s. This is the sort of radiation classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. And it’s the sort of radiation casually emitted by all of our mobiles, cordless phones, wi-fi routers, radio transmitters and any other device that uses Bluetooth or wi-fi to connect to the internet.
Certainly, medical opinion ranges from absolute verification that this is highly injurious to body and soul, to complete denial. Regardless, Johansson points out that “if this environment is safe we’re talking about 15,000-20,000 papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, all being wrong.” Add to this official UK government guidance (echoed by many other countries from Sweden to Russia) that “strongly advise[s] that children under 16 should not use mobile phones except for short essential calls” on account of their thinner skulls and higher water content (ie heightened ability to conduct such radiation). And the fact that the World Health Organisation accepts that glioma (a form of brain cancer which has seen a five-fold increase in those under the age of 20) is directly linked to mobile phone usage. Suddenly, blindly accepting those plans to roll out 5G and wi-fi enable the world? Not looking so smart, particularly for our children. So much so that wi-fi is already banned in all French nurseries. Likewise, living within a fully wi-fi connected home is probably akin to slowly cooking yourself in a large microwave.
It serves as a salutary wake-up call about convenience in general. Especially when you can get a faster, more secure, internet connection using a good old-fashioned radiation-free ethernet cable.
Incidently, I have no truck with the currently circulating ‘theories’ that 5G has anything to do with the Coronavirus. This is clearly nonsense.
In the same way, our doctors and healthcare practictioners should be seen as our partners in the quest for a healthy life, rather than people we automatically rely on to patch us up. Or even all-knowing medical sages trained to guesstimate what’s wrong with us in the first place. Medicine is an inexact science. It’s obviously based on extensive study and experience, but this doesn’t extend to absolute factual knowledge of your unique body.
Thus, if we become unwell, we will want to know that we are making informed choices about our treatment options, judging for ourselves the findings of medical trials. At present, this data is largely concealed, despite initiatives like The Sunshine Act in America, which compels pharmaceutical companies to reveal how much they pay doctors and websites to refer and prescribe their products. The scandal enveloping Purdue Pharma and its opioid painkiller OxyContin (with patients unaware of the addictive risks of long-term usage) is a prime example of what can go wrong when transparency isn’t the norm. And it must become so.
If we are to trust Big Pharma, and reduce conspiracy theorising (from undermining the necessity for childhood vaccines to the deliberate release of viruses), then certainly making a Coronavirus cure available on a not-for-profit basis would be a good place to start.
In author Carl Honoré’s latest book, Bolder: Making the most of our Longer Lives, he argues that “many disciplines have matured to the point where future breakthroughs will be made by mastering multiple domains and building upon work done by others. In other words, they will depend on two things that only ageing can confer: time and experience.”
Over the next decade then, countering our currently prevalent veneration of youth at all costs, chronological age becomes irrelevant in the jobs market with only an individual’s ability to learn and adapt of relevance. Reflecting Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s earlier quoted observation, it’s a truism that experience never gets old. Caveat: as long as we learn from it.
Especially interesting to ponder this in light of the seeming ‘vulnerability’ of older generations in the face of Corona. It’s not that we need another reason to ‘save’ them, but the idea that they are, by virtue of their longer lives already lived, more expendable, is ever more repulsive.
As the American philosopher Fredric Jameson once said, “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” Thus, despite the wake-up calls we will inevitably keep buying and spending. What’s changing though is the awareness that every time we do so, we advocate for the provider to stay in business. By 2030 I predict that conscious consumerism will drive market value.
Anything that supports energy efficiency, good health, authentic connection and community will thrive. Anything rejected by the mainstream will be undermined. Whether that’s individually voting with our wallets for sustainability to boycotting apps that unnecessarily distract or hook users, or globally demonstrating for cleaner air and ethical governance. In this way even the most established edifices become vulnerable unless they move with the times. Which was arguably ever the case. However, never before has the power to proactively prompt big change for our best interests been so vested with the Everyman. In that alone lies the opportunity for us to get back to a future.
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Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.