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Liam Young

Practicing Architect

Today is a conversation with architect Liam Young about his recent movie Planet City’.

Liam Young

Liam Young, Planet City

I don’t have a particularly clear idea of who the audience is for this show. Web hosting applications can tell you the numbers of people listening to the show, the countries those people live in and the software platforms used to do so, but not much more. It could be a broad mix of designers, accountants, schoolteachers, lawyers and cheese mongers or… it could just be all architects. 

I’d like to assume it’s a wide swath of peoples, and so with that in mind, I’ll say something you probably already know. Being that any one of us listening has only been around 20, 40, or 60 years, we can’t really be sure to what extent today’s various political, technological or economic pressures differ from those in the past that brought us where we are today. It seems a little too easy to say that the current view outside your office window of environmental crisis, gene editing, artificial intelligent, and class warfare makes prescient visions or our futures more important now than ever before, but lets run with that for moment.

Architecture (and now when I say architecture, what I really want to say each time is something closer to environmental designers, something that spreads a wider net. But until I resolve such terminology, lets stay with architecture. Architecture of course works not only in various scales of size, but scales in time. From the idea that realizes its built form two weeks from now, to those ideas diagnosed as speculative’, escaping ahead years or decades from now. Certainly, the interest in Night White Skies has always been this act of foreshadowing. And as you’ll hear in this episode from Liam Young, even when engaging a design for the years or decades ahead, those investigations are rooted in our present. It is our present that serves as the point of departure. And though the resulting images and story may appear in the future, their intention is often to better understand our current conditions and influence the decisions still yet to be made tomorrow or next week. 

The so-called practicing architect’ doesn’t just deliver on expectations; the practicing architect’ seeks to influences the decisions that soon become future expectations. Of course there is always someone who can say it better than I can. In this case it’s the author Kim Stanley Robinson from the December 21st issue of the journal Nature.

Science fiction is the realism of our time. It describes the present in the way a skeet shooter targets a clay pigeon, aiming a bit ahead of the moment to reveal what is not yet present but is already having an impact.”

And maybe what I like most about the quote is that unlike the science fiction writer, architecture is in the position to circle back around and nudge the trajectory of that clay pigeon. But before you can do that, you have to have a pretty clear idea of possible trajectories. And that’s what it means to be a practicing architect!

Liam Young

Liam Young is an Australian born architect who operates in the spaces between design, fiction and futures. He is founder of the think tank Tomorrows Thoughts Today, a group whose work explores the possibilities of fantastic, speculative and imaginary urbanisms. Building his design fictions from the realities of present, Young also co-runs the Unknown Fields Division, a nomadic research studio that travels on location shoots and expeditions to the ends of the earth to document emerging trends and uncover the weak signals of possible futures. He has been acclaimed in both mainstream and architectural media, including the BBC, NBC, Wired, Guardian, Time Magazine, and Dazed and Confused and his work has been collected by institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum. He has taught internationally including the Architectural Association and Princeton University and now runs an M.A. in Fiction and Entertainment at SCI-Arc. Young manages his time between exploring distant landscapes and visualizing the fictional worlds he extrapolates from them.

N Ws Episodes 3