Designing for the future of Equilibrium Cities

type - big idea
Big Idea
category - design
category - future city
category - society
The Future Laboratory and creative network Dutch Invertuals are exploring how design can foster Equilibrium Cities – future urban zones where collective ownership, fluid identities and nature are empowered to thrive

The Future Laboratory and Dutch Invertuals

In The Future Laboratory's macrotrend Equilibrium Cities, we explore how autonomy, flexibility, regeneration and equity will shape tomorrow’s urban centres. In collaboration with design studio Dutch Invertuals, we are now further envisaging how societies' shift towards de-growth and deceleration will be manifest through design in tomorrow's built environment.

Based in The Netherlands, Dutch Invertuals is known for its vision-driven projects, combining creative thinking and work from an international network of designers. Renowned for its experiential exhibitions that explore form, material and conceptual thinking, Dutch Invertuals tells visionary stories for the future. Working to a brief, its designers have been tasked to imagine and design the future Equilibrium City – one that is built on the foundations of nature, intersectional design and alternative economic models.

This partnership with The Future Laboratory will explore the new objects and spaces that will be required in this new kind of urban society, tackling environmental challenges and issues that lie ahead, and driving positive change for a better, more sustainable future. In this article, we look at the designers putting forward concepts and explorations around de-growth, fluidity and digital engagement.

Through a series of upcoming articles, The Future Laboratory will further examine Dutch Invertuals' thinking, design process and final creative responses, with more revealed in October 2021 to coincide with Dutch Design Week.

Designing for De-growth

Looking ahead to the design responses that will be revealed in October, Johanna Seeleman will be reviving old techniques and radically re-envisaging how cities are built in her project, Hortolanus. Inspired by nature-centric technologies and encouraging intergenerational collaboration, Seeleman seeks to strengthen people's relationship with nature, proposing that future city builders will only use objects and materials that can be grown or made locally. In this way, cities will be more resilient and able to adapt to the shifting needs of a new generation and changing climates, while championing a de-growth mindset that is in balance with the planet.

Seeleman's work is inspired by the many indigenous and ancient design principles explored in Julia Watson's book, Lo-Tek, merging nature and architecture while simultaneously questioning the aesthetics that have long been associated with high-tech design and urbanism. In turn, Hortolanus will question whether the high-tech solutions society is currently pursuing will have the longevity and reliability of their nature-centric alternatives.

Combining found objects with collective action, Elly Feldstein will explore a similar community-centric concept with Come Together, a design proposal that is designed to combat loneliness by encouraging collaboration within local communities. Feldstein will urge citizens to focus on their needs as part of the design process, proposing a system where local people can decide what their future neighbourhood will look like and how it will function. Fuelling togetherness and community through design, Come Together will utilise local and discarded materials, empowering city residents to build together and create a sense of collective ownership and responsibility for their new streetscapes.

Published by:

20 October 2021

Author: Britt Berden and Kathryn Bishop

Image: The Butterfly Bridge by Christoph Dichmann


Tele-nomadic sheltering unit by Anna Resei

Designing for Fluidity

Considering citizens’ identities in tomorrow’s Equilibrium Cities, Dae uk Kim's Elektra project will focus on the need for intersectional urban spaces and objects – a rejection of heteronormative architecture. Kim hopes to transcend design rules associated with rigid gender boundaries to explore a future in which intersectional developments and inclusive spaces and systems will flourish in synch with cities’ more diverse communities. Reflecting the evolving needs of future residents, Elektra will define a safer, more supportive built environment fuelled by community autonomy. By questioning architecture's current design standards, Kim wants to design for an ambiguous society where fluid demographics excel and gendered tropes are no longer relevant – or powerful.

With a more elastic approach to living set to infiltrate society further in the 2020s, Anna Resei will examine the changing ways that future generations will want to live, work and travel, and the solutions that will emerge in response. Also focusing on fluidity and flexibility, Resei proposes the Tele-nomadic Sheltering Unit, a dwelling that is durable, moveable and designed to combat overconsumption associated with urban living. This reductionist and alternative way of living will straddle retro-future systems; it is designed to be repaired but is also imbued with connectivity, therefore supporting more nomadic living.

Designing for Digital Engagement

Swapping tangible urban concepts and activations for a phygital future of urban engagement, other designers are envisaging cities that are interactive and shaped through digital platforms or experiences. Christoph Dichmann's project aims to improve biodiversity in the built environment, handing digital tools to citizens so they can have an active role in the development and appearance of their urban surroundings, informing and crowdsourcing planning and ideas for planting and green spaces.

Dichmann's AR game Butterfly Bridge, for example, encourages urbanites to collect biodiversity data through their camera phones. Taking this one step further for the exhibition, Dichmann is proposing a physical fountain that represents this data. Not only will this be a place where residents can interact, make connections and build community, but also a focal point to promote dispersion of seeds to grow and encourage more urban butterflies.

Expanding on the aforementioned flexible future of living, Sorrel Madley will explore new economic models in a scenario in which anything and everything can be rented. Madley wants to push the idea of a post-ownership world towards the bizarre and absurd through radical new metrics of progress. At a time when the world and its residents are seeking to reduce consumption, Madley asks: ‘What will it be like to create the last objects people will choose to own?’ Fiercely questioning the ethical implications of our consumption society, her project will position urban renting as a way to tackle overconsumption and the desire for material goods.

‘We have to start understanding plants as a cost-effective method of providing food and architecture to insects’
Christoph Dichmann

Learn more about our collaboration with Dutch Invertuals

Join The Future Laboratory, Dutch Invertuals and two of this year’s exhibitingdesigners on The Future Laboratory's Instagram, as we explore how design can foster our future cities, where collective ownership, fluid identities and nature will thrive.