The Future of Universities, Offices and Cities: Highlights From Digital Futures 2020

Like most functions in recent months, this year’s Digital FUTURES, which is held annually since 2011 at Tongji University in Shanghai, had to move online due to the pandemic. The organizers took this as an opportunity to give the event a global dimension, turning the festival into what they rightfully call the most significant worldwide event for architectural education ever staged, with a 24/7 display of workshops, lectures and panel discussions involving some of the most prominent architects and educators. Here is an overview of the festival, together with a selection of lectures from Digital FUTURES World.

Through its manifesto, Digital FUTURES 2020 called upon leading figures in architecture, technology and architectural education to offer their time for the benefit of students all over the world, granting them access to a valuable learning experience, in an effort to democratize architectural education. Prestigious architectural schools around the world answered the call, including AA, UCL Bartlett, Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, SCI-Arc, UCLA, Tongji, ETH Zurich, ICD Stuttgart and many more. With over seventy contributors, the event features leading architects such as Thom Mayne, Wolf Prix, Peter Eisenman, Yansong Ma, Jenny Sabin, Patrik Schumacher, Achim Menges, or Liam Young to name a few.

Peter Eisenman, Patrik Schumacher, and Alisa Andrasek among the speakers that participated at Digital Futures. Image Courtesy of Digital Futures

This architectural relay took place from June 26th to July 4th. It featured 80 workshops, as well as more than 30 lectures and panel discussions exploring a vast array of aspects concerning the digital and architectural fields. Topics ranged from AI within the Architectural Practice, Computational Design and Robotic Fabrication, to Digital Technologies in the Post-Pandemic Future and The Future of the University, to name just a few. The workshops provided information on tools such as AI, VR and covered the theoretical aspects of advanced computation, while the talks and lectures addressed the implications of both technology and the pandemic for the future of the architecture practice. The entire festival, with its continuous 24/7 series of events was available for free and gathered an online audience of more than 500,000 viewers.

Artificial Intelligence was one of the central themes of the festival, as the subject is steadily penetrating the architectural field. Below are some of the talks and panel discussions on this topic.

From Decon to AI: AI and Architectural Practice

Wolf Prix (Coop Himmelb(l)au) and Thom Mayne (Morphosis) discuss AI through the perspective of Deconstructivism and reflect on the technology's potential to generate architectural designs.

AI United 

This panel brings together a group of progressive, young designers discussing the opportunities and challenges of AI within architecture.

AI and the Office of the Future

The two leading companies in the world developing AI-driven tools, Xkool and Spacemaker AI, together with Daniel Bolojan (FAU) and Neil Leach (Tongji/FIU) discuss the future of the architectural office in relation to AI.

As the current health crisis triggered a thorough questioning and re-evaluation of most aspects of our society, the festival’s second core theme was precisely the future of architecture in a post-pandemic world.

The Future of the University

Prominent architects and teachers discuss the impact of the pandemic on architectural education and how universities are re-evaluating their positions and adapting to the new context.

Reappraising the City

Peter Eisenman, Nicolai Ourousoff, former architecture editor for The New York Times and Neil Leach discuss dense urban living in the wake of Covid-19, taking New York as a case study.

Digital Technologies in the Post-Pandemic Future

This talk addresses the role that architectural research into digital technologies could play in the development of the post-pandemic future.

Other highlights of the festival feature architectural projects within the digital realm, address design strategies and reflect on the future developments of the practice.

Architecture and Emotion / The Future of Architecture: Spontaneous and Virtual

In these two Digital Futures World Opening Lectures, Yansong Ma presents past and future projects by MAD Architects and Patrik Schumacher discusses the role of AI in architecture, referencing Zaha Hadid projects and the work of AA DRL.

Architects and Locality

In conversation with Chinese philosopher Lu Xinghua, French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, outlines his concept of ‘locality’ as a new strategy for how architects can work together. 

This year’s Digital FUTURES World festival opened a whole new range of possibilities for architectural education, facilitating the dissemination of knowledge to students from all parts of the worlds and all kinds of backgrounds. The series is also a valuable repository of information for practitioners, providing a comprehensive picture of the digital realm within architecture and the practice’s prospects. For more recordings of the lectures, panels and workshops, visit the Digital FUTURES YouTube channel.

About this author
Cite: Andreea Cutieru. "The Future of Universities, Offices and Cities: Highlights From Digital Futures 2020" 31 Jul 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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