On the Edge – future adaptation challenges: The role of futurology, scenario planning methodology and off grid design in architectural and urban teaching

Zdeňka Němcová Zedníčková

Cite this article
Němcová Zedníčková, Z. (2022) ‘On the Edge – future adaptation challenges: The role of futurology, scenario planning methodology and off grid design in architectural and urban teaching’, Architecture Papers of the Faculty of Architecture and Design STU, 27(3), pp. 8-16. https://www.doi.org/10.2478/alfa-2022-0015



The article describes the role of creative thinking about the future and its importance in architectural and urban education, and suggests ways how it could be implemented into the design process. The first part of the article, ‘Futurology’, deals with the scientific discipline of futurology and the possibilities of its use in architectural and urban practice. It asks what our world, and our cities, will look like in 15, 20, or 50 years with the global urbanization process accelerating, together with the growth of the world’s population, climate change, environmental pollution, and new technologies, which will bring many challenges for cities to face. Additionally, it covers topics that futurology makes available to architecture and their influence on the urbanized environment. It relates the creation of strategic visions for urban development to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the UN Habitat III initiative and looks back at Agenda 21, a non-binding United Nations action plan with regard to sustainable development. It appreciates that the challenge for cities of the future could be to achieve the highest possible self-sufficiency in energy, water, or food systems as well as in waste management. Finally, it examines the role of architectural education and how architects should prepare for their profession so that their future work solves problems rather than but creating them. The second part, ‘Scenario planning’, is dedicated to introducing of the futurological method of scenario planning, and its origin and use. It mentions so-called megatrends as the driving forces of future scenarios, effecting future challenges, threats, and opportunities that cities will have to deal with. It refers to scenarios by the Millennium Project, Royal Dutch Shell, and the Slovak Academy of Science’s Institute for Forecasting. Further, it provides insight into how this method can benefit architectural and urban work and represents the way it was used during architectural teaching. It reflects on the advantages of creating vision in the educational process. The subchapter ‘On the edge’ describes how futurology and scenario planning were used in addition to standard current urban and architectural assignments as a part of the teaching process in the architectural studio at the Department of Urban Planning, Faculty of Arts and Architecture of the Technical University in Liberec, Czech Republic. It suggests that such assignments, freed from the binding stereotypes of everyday reality that incline to routine approaches, are an ideal way to train conceptual thinking that discourages the automatic adoption of safe, proven procedures and attitudes, and thus to practice independent critical thinking. Then it explains how visionary projects provide an opportunity to become familiar with futurology and give space for incorporating the futurological method of scenario planning into the architectural planning process. Finally, it shows how this approach seems to have been long valid in architectural education, as for example as Otto Wagner mentioned in his Inaugural address to the Academy of Fine Arts in 1894. In the last part, ‘Off grid’, it shows off grid design as a suitable simulator of structural and system thinking, leading to a better understanding of how complex architectural and urban systems function. It highlights the contribution of space architecture projects as a source of innovative thinking, and that these topics opening up many unknowns and fill gaps in the global knowledge is not a futile dream, but rather an important initiator of the emergence of new technologies, processes, materials, and knowledge that enrich our daily lives. It refers to the leading Japanese construction, architecture, and engineering companies Shimizu Corporation and Obayashi Corporation and such of their space architecture projects as Obayashi’s Space Elevator Construction Concept, and the Shimizu Dream projects of Luna Ring – Solar Power Generator on the Moon, Lunar Base, or Space Hotel. Attention is also given to Moon base projects by national or private space agencies like NASA and ESA or Bigelow Aerospace and Moon Village. It anticipates that working on space projects where self-sufficiency is a necessity can also benefit thinking about ecology, self-sufficiency, and the sustainability of settlements on Earth. Finally, it explains the intention of work on space architecture and off grid projects in architectural education to enrich not only the creation of vision of terrestrial ideal cities, but also real assignments. Work on two of the author’s off grid Moon Base designs is described at the end of the article, based on the aforementioned considerations and assumptions: MOONFLOWER BASE / 2090Experimental Agricultural Base with Hotel for Scientific Tourism, and MOONWORM – Nomadic Moon Base, a self-sufficient exploratory scientific kinetic base traveling in Mare Imbrium. Both designs are based on fictional future scenarios. In these future stages, Moon colonization has gone beyond the simple and confined modules of the pioneering research, service, and mining bases. The reason is that these modules were not compatible with long-term residence because of their minimized space, both in terms of the human psyche and as they provided only limited physical space, which could not sufficiently serve the increasing number of activities needed to ensure the Moon’s independent sustainable development.

Keywords: space architecture, architectural education, moon base, adaptability, futurology, scenario planning, off grid