Published in 6/2020 - Development


Editorial 6/20: Back to the Future

Mika Savela

The Covid-19 pandemic is one of the greatest challenges facing Finland, and countries across the world, since the Second World War. It has generated exceptional levels of uncertainty in all our lives, and, for now, there’s no clear end in sight. Since this unprecedented situation began to unfold, many a status quo has been upended. But along the way new opportunities have been created too.

In historical terms, humanity’s leaps forward (and backwards too) have often coincided with moments of great disruption. Could it therefore be argued that the time has again come for us to do something radical? Especially as the bar for what constitutes radical is currently set so low. The phrase “the new normal” has been overused to such an extent in recent months that the glimmer of optimism it once conveyed has dimmed somewhat. Most respondents to the traditional year-end vox pops currently being conducted on street corners across Finland are eager to see the back of all this uncertainty and want to return to the old and the familiar. The trouble is that we have a track record of responding to other pressing issues facing us with precisely this sort of crisis fatigue. Now’s not the time to… Before we do anything we ought to… If we want to see real progress… 

The question is: if not now, then when is the right time for change? When are we meant to start making things happen? During the past few socially distanced months, I’m sure many of us have begun to reflect on where the opportunities for change might lie, both in a personal and professional sense. How do we open ourselves up to that change? What stands in the way of it? Normality matters, and creates valuable cohesion between us too, but its sheer momentum can also prevent us from ever committing to a change of direction.

How do we go about telling the stories that are currently excluded from our contemporary discourses? How can we start to engage with the voices we’ve not yet learned to listen to?

As fascinating and diverse as our profession is, architecture is not immune to the risk of reducing itself to an echo chamber. The world looks very different depending on whether you’re sat looking at it from inside or outside a bubble. The pandemic has presented us with the opportunity to view it from a new and different perspective. Take sustainable development, for example, a powerful social narrative. The UN’s Agenda 2030, published in 2015, defines sustainable development in the broadest sense possible, setting out a series of complex and tightly interwoven goals. It makes clear that a shift in construction methods and technologies alone will not be enough to deliver a fairer, healthier, more equal, more responsible and more prosperous world. In addition to tracking construction industry carbon emissions, we as a profession could perhaps turn our attention to structural inequality or poverty reduction too. How do we go about telling the stories that are currently excluded from our contemporary discourses? How can we start to engage with the voices we’ve not yet learned to listen to?

Change doesn’t always equal progress, but if we’re willing to be open to the world beyond our own bubbles, we could find ourselves at the start of something new and different. Our inner thought processes and our innate capacity for empathy are the real drivers of human progress. For now, we exist in a state of paralysis, or of hibernation perhaps, as we wait to see what spring brings. But before we rush headfirst back to the old normal, now might be a good time to take a moment and acquaint ourselves with something unknown. ↙