Reinier de Graaf

Partner, OMA

Reinier de Graaf is a partner at The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), where he heads the work of its think tank AMO, dedicated to demonstrating the wider relevance of architectural thinking beyond building and urban planning. Projects include: The Image of Europe, addressing the European Union's iconographic deficit; D-40210, a strategy to prevent further gentrification of European town centres; Eurocore, about the contours of Europe's first cross-border metropolis (spanning parts of the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium); and The State of Moscow, a proposal for a more accountable system of governance for Moscow. De Graaf is also in charge of AMO’s increasing work on energy planning, including Zeekracht: a strategic masterplan for the North Sea; Roadmap 2050: A Practical Guide to a Prosperous, Low-Carbon Europe, with the European Climate Foundation; and The Energy Report, a global plan for 100% renewable energy, with the WWF.

Nov 10, 2014 | Architecture column
Foresight in Hindsight

The phone has too many flaws to be seriously considered as a means of communication[i]… Television won't last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night[ii] …There is no reason why someone would want a computer in their house[iii]… A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere[iv] … By 1992, all oil reserves will have been used up[v]… The world will end before 400AD[vi]… Jesus will return in 1843 1844 1878 1881 1914 1918 1925 1975 1976 1982 1992 1999 2000 2008 2011 1843 1844 1878 1881 1914 1918 1925 1975 1976 1982 1992 1999 2000 2008 2011 2015.[vii]

Predictions manifest in many forms: from biblical prophecies to Marx’s dialectic course of history; from Kennedy’s man on the moon to Kubrick’s Space Odyssey; from projective assumptions about the effects of climate change to assessments about the future of the global economy… A desire to ‘know’ the future is what binds almost all forms of human thinking: from the analytical to the speculative, claimed by the scientist and the fortune teller alike.

The advance of the digital has, in recent times, been an interesting catalyst. With its ability to endlessly simulate the future consequences of present decisions, cyberspace has given the future a whole new aura of transparency. Medical science takes this transparency yet a step further, subjecting even our own health to a genetically predestined path... Still, despite our enhanced vision of the future – a promise implied by both science and technology – history’s major overhauls are rarely predicted through calculation. In this respect, the Y2K syndrome, or rather the absence thereof, served as an unparalleled anti-climax.

More often than not, it seems that breakthroughs in history are the product of a leap of faith. Maybe therein lies the essence of predictions: a strategic imperative in the absence of proof – the ultimately mythical drivers of a supposedly linear process of evolution. Maybe that is what we call progress: nothing other than man’s ability to believe his own predictions, even when the validity of these predictions remains questionable… A good reason to take our fortune tellers very seriously.

[i] 1899, Western Union, Circulated in an internal memo

[ii] 1920. Darryl Zanuck, movie producer, 20th Century Fox in an interview given to the Los Angeles Times

[iii] 1977, Ken Olson, President and Founder Digital Equipment Corporation

[iv] 1920, The New York Times editorial (The NYT offered a retraction on July 17, 1969, as Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon)

[v] 1972, Club of Rome: The Limits to Growth

[vi] 350 AD, St Martin of Tours

[vii] Multiple religious sources claiming knowledge of the matter