arcVision 9 – Man and the future


A deeper understanding of the limit concept. On the one hand, the human inclination to exceed all limits by expanding knowledge, and, on the other hand, the need to set a limit and keep it under control.



Limits and what lies beyond

The idea for this new issue of arcVision came from a chat with the French futurologist André-Yves Portnoff. Debate over human cloning and genetic manipulations inevitably raises a question. In the third millennium, are we talking about “man without limits” capable even of recreating himself or is he just “beyond limits”? Is technology the result or cause of this époque-making loss of direction? Is it an alternative or different form of wisdom or is it actually a form of human wisdom itself, aware of its own deepest nature and limits? If it is indeed true that SARS was caused by genetic manipulation deriving from playing around with a virus in a laboratory, then these questions are disturbingly topical and up-to-date.

Portnoff’s answer is startling for its simplicity, but it means we have to face up to some dramatic thoughts: as man’s ability to subjugate nature to science increases, then there must be an ever greater capacity to self-govern and self-control these new discoveries. If science is a form of human ambition and ethics is a way of controlling ambition, then our moral conscience is entitled to show science how it must act in relation to the rights of human ambition itself. But will we be able to walk along such a high (risk) and precarious ridge?

André-Yves Portnoff’s views place man at the focus of society as the artificer and leading player in socio-economic growth. The masses are replaced with individuals with their own freedom and personality. And it is only our conscience that will save society from committing suicide at a time when technology and progress are threatening, unless kept under careful control, to overwhelm it.

Progress in computer technology is in full swing, making it capable of what was previously quite unthinkable. This takes us to Diego Marconi’s remarks on artificial intelligence and its limits. Limits which, analyzing the progress made over recent decades, are unknown.

Progress, growth, technology and science are the touch stones of the start of this new millennium. At this point we cannot help raising a very simple but fundamental question: will we be happier in the future? This question is emphasized by Edoardo Boncinelli, who claims that progress in medicine and science will certainly help improve the quality of life and even lengthen it, but there is no easy recipe for happiness.

Then there is the question of the limits of architecture. This is the issue Maurizio Vitta addresses in introducing the Projects section devoted to seven designs by leading contemporary architects: Rogers, Calatrava, Kurokawa, Piano, Perrault, Gehry and von Gerkan. The first answer to come to mind is of a physical or rather spatial nature. But, widening the base of this discussion, we can talk about cultural, natural, vertical, technological or even ethical limits. These examples highlight the shifting, unstable and dynamic nature of the concept of limits in architecture.

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