The 1950′s was a period of great optimism for the future. 1951 saw that great national celebration, the Festival of Britain, attract millions of visitors to London’s South Bank, while the Royal Festival Hall was opened in the same year. The architecture and planning were new and looked to the future, being modernist in style and anticipating some of the principles to be used in the post-war rebuilding of London and other cities and towns, for better and for worse. 1956 was a mixed year. On the one hand, we had the Suez Crisis, on the other hand, Elvis Presley entered the US charts with ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, Marilyn Monroe appeared for the first time when Norman Jean Mortenson changed her name and Doris Day recorded her keynote song song ‘Que Sera, Sera’ and, on the 9th of August, the exhibition ‘This is Tomorrow’ opened at the Whitechapel Gallery in London with 37 well-known British architects and artists creating 12 artistic installations imagining the future in different ways.
Over 60 years later, the Gallery has returned to the theme with a 21st century reinterpretation ‘Is this Tomorrow’ by 10 groups of international architects and artists presenting their thoughts on the future in very different installations which visitors can explore, interact with and ponder, along with an Ideas Gallery which includes information on the original exhibition. It is only appropriate, given the current exhibition at the Design Museum, that Adjaye Associates should be one of the firms of architects represented.
We are invited by 6a architects and Amalia Pica to experience life as an animal in the modern farming industry, penned in and given toys to keep us amused and exercised, leading to Adjaye Architects and Kapwani Kiwanga’s reflective pavilion in which we can ponder and reflect on the past and its lessons for the future while nearby APPARATA and Hardeep Pandhal have created chaos as systems collapse around us. Cao Fei and mono office are more optimistic, creating a totem, like something from a 21st century Wizard of Oz, that directs us towards a better future, celebrating the positive side of the contradictions and complexities of modern technology in old societies, rather than worrying about the negatives while ahead, to be navigated on the rocky road to the future, a rocky structure rises like a volcano overflowing with many of the concerns of todays world drawn together by Andres Jaque/Office for Political Innovation and Jacolby Satterwhite.
Moving upstairs, things start optimistically with Mariana Castillo Deball and Tatiana Bilbao Estudio playful structure reflecting an ancient Mexican ritual calendar as it plays with space, time and human interaction, followed by Rana Begum and Marina Tabassum Architects’ spiritual space with its dome and oculus leading up to the stars, a space for meditation and reflection, after which the tempo changes completely as the viewer explores the intricately detailed models of David Kohn Architects and Simon Fujiwari’s ‘Salvador Mundi Experience’ where the only art on show in a variety of different settings is the Salvador Mundi. Which is the real one? Does it matter? Are replicas in a virtual museum as valuable for visitors to experience as the real thing?
After that, it is downhill. Inevitable, not all of the thoughts about the future, reflecting current issues in society, politics and technology, are positive: Farshid Moussavi Architecture and Zineb Sedira enclose the viewer within a maze of black turnstile gates, not all of which allow you to pass through, while finally, Rachel Armstrong and Cecile B Evans create a laboratory of living and dying organisms asking questions about how our future will be influenced by the failures of the past, failures that often go unresolved, failures that return to haunt us, failure that society’s leaders seem unwilling or unable to tackle.
We live in a complicated, confusing and fast-changing world, bombarded with a range of environmental, cultural, societal and political issues. The conclusion? The future is full of options. It is down to each of us to work together and to take responsibility for achieving the best future that we can.