The Future is Old: a fascinating and thought provoking glimpse of London over the next 100 years

Chatham House – of the renowned Chatham House Rule – is an independent policy institute and forum that (in their own words) seeks to assist the understanding of societies, governments and people, in a rapidly changing world.

To mark the thinktank’s 100-year anniversary, last month saw their unveiling of a 3D model that shows how London will look in 100 years and that ‘allows the public to explore a future of positive change.’  Here, the public can explore cities of the future, using Piccadilly Circus as an example.

Intended to ‘stimulate debate about the future of our cities over the next century’ – particularly pertinent given those places suddenly and drastically unpeopled by COVID -the model considers the real need to support increasingly sustainable living in urban centres, whilst urging new conversations about what people actually want there.

Introducing Futurescape

Futurescape emerged following consultation with scientists, architects, designers, sustainability experts and trend analysts concerning the need to create more positive futures for our urban environment; a need that is eternally evolving and in essence, never goes away. We struggle to get it right.

How might the future London look?

With Futurescape, four future dates are envisaged. In 2035, greenery and wildlife have been introduced into the city centre, whilst pedestrians share space with bikes, scooters and drones. CO2 emissions are therefore reduced; storytelling benches relate oral histories; and a solar-panelled food market offers new sources of protein (insects). Commerce and cars have no place.

In 2060, climate change and rising water levels result in new canal systems, whilst buildings, transport and businesses are sustained by renewable energy. Produce is increasingly local – utilising rooftops and waterways – whilst public space offers new, technology-based art forms such as hologram shows. Retail space is given over to leisure, and upcycling, upgrading and exchange have become standard.

By 2090 the clairvoyance perhaps runs out of steam – being fairly difficult to foresee accurately – albeit the environment is by then shaped by vertical farms, giant energy and lighting structures, new religious identities and floating, ‘sky barge’ dwellings. 2121 sees a prevalence of AI, buildings that shapeshift according to need and desire, and low gravity marketing pods that simulate Lunar or Martian living.

A future that remains rooted in the past

Futurescape – as intended – is undoubtedly an interesting basis for discussion concerning a subject in dire need of consideration. It’s also a lot of fun besides. But what is most heartening – despite the unambiguously futuristic cityscape that can be seen to coalesce around the Circus over the hundred years – is that many of its more famous monuments and buildings survive, with the real hub remaining Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain and its statue of Anteros.

As such, the future can be seen to remain explicitly rooted in the past. Here, the ongoing narrative evidenced by retained heritage, shows the central role to be played by conservation in the prospective making of our places. In an increasingly fast world – amidst what Chatham House describes as ‘seismic change’ – the survival ofoldfriends like Anteros nevertheless continue to provide some quantum of stability and security.

See it here: https://futurescape.chathamhouse.org

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