Future Cities


Project Snapshot : Crime in the Future City

With increasingly urban populations, changing migration patterns, political and economic instability, weak government, and a growing youth population, crime will continue to be an issue in future cities in India and beyond. Many cities get the crime they deserve and so it is important to make interventions that can make a difference. Inspired by campaign groups such as the Gulabi Gang, Blank Noise Project, The Fearless Campaign and performance artists such as Mallika Sarabhai, the project aims to make a small contribution to those who seek to demand the end of sexual violence against women in cities, through three creative ways.

Team : Aliya Curmally, Ben Eaton, Lorraine Gamman, Louise Armstrong, Virkein Dhar (supported by Sijya Gupta, NID)

Project Snapshot : Other Cities

What will the future of cities look like, not the buildings and the streets, but the way we live in them? Whittled down from over 100 stories of our imagined far-futures the project presents three of the most compelling narratives. Grouped under the term of Other Cities the project imagines how we will live in a world governed
by data and our access to it; in a world where antibiotics no longer work and where nuclear wastelands reaching their half-life are treated as nature reserves. Through stories, artifacts, and pictures, we can begin to touch and imagine what these futures, some inevitable others less so, might feel like.

Team : Ayaz Basrai, Ben Barker, Ben Eaton, Cassie Robinson, Carlo Zapponi, Dan Watson, Patrick Stevenson-Keating, Sara Anand

Project Snapshot : Reimagining the Future Census

Census statistics have been the core of social architecture for thousands of years and it is the key
tool that directs huge amounts of funding for nation states. Yet the purpose and methods have altered little
in that period. In a time of great change in our cities
due to rapid urban development, increasing technology prevalence, open data movements and growing civic movements; it is now time to re imagine the census and view it as a tool that engages and empowers citizens and governments with the information it collects to support the basic human needs of city citizens. The project explores developing a pilot between India and the UK to re-imagine the future census.

Team : Cassie Robinson, Julia King, Louise Armstrong

Project Snapshot : Learning from the Unruly City

People are the basic element that make-up a city. They are also the soft power that is essential within its hard infrastructures to effect change and develop resilient social and spatial structures. By focusing on street-level knowledge derived from the people of the ‘informal’ city, the project seeks to understand and utilize the unspoken rules and behaviours operative within city contexts to empower citizens to thrive in the complex urban settings of future cities.

Team : Louise Armstrong, Tom Corby, Virkein Dhar, Vivek Sheth

Project Snapshot: Build Your Future City

The project envisions a time in the near future where needs and desires of people inform the design of a city, where people have the opportunity to engage in and make the change. It seeks to engage and inform people, create awareness, trigger excitement for them to participate in the design of future cities while providing feedback to developers and market forces on the interests of consumers (future residents) to create a collaborative and integrated vision. Focusing on one aspect of the city- open spaces- the project also looks at “Go Outside”, an interactive tool of engagement where people have the opportunity to express the type of open space they want and explore what they would like to do there.

Team : Aliya Curmally, Shantesh Kelvekar, Vishal Kundra (supported by Thommen Lukose, NID)

Project Snapshot : Quiet Polease

“When, as today, environmental sounds reaches such proportions that human vocal sounds are masked or overwhelmed, we have produced an inhuman environment.” – R. Murray Schafer
The project tries to raise awareness of the effects of noise pollution on people’s health and sense of well-being. Peace and quiet are essential to rest and recuperation. City traffic and other noise pollution raise blood pressure and heart rate, disturb sleep, and can lead to hearing loss or deafness, in extreme cases. The project seeks to focus on
a changing sonic landscape and experience the extremities of sound in our modern world.

Team : Aditi Kulkarni, Ankit Daftery, Michael Edwards, Persis Taraporevala, Shradha Jain, Tatjana Schneider (supported by Vivek Sheth)

Tabula Rasa: Notes from Halfway

What makes a city? Last week I wrote about the blank slate city, Le Corbusier, his influence on Ballard and the new city structure that emerged around Heathrow. Ahmedabad was something of a playground for Le Corbusier, he did some of his most experimental work here. DNA India points out some of his best known architectural ideas can be traced to Ahmedabad. His building at the Musuem of the City was the first to use his internal form circular exhibition, and by all accounts the Mill Owners Association is beautiful. Ahmedaabad offered a lack of constraint to Le Corbusier and the modernist movement.

I’m interested in the Tabula Rasa and about what the seeds of an experiential, playful city might look like. Ahemedabad and India in general can be a sobering place to do that. 50% of people live in slum housing, there is a massive disparity between rich and poor and huge sanitation and health issues. There is a phrase spoken with a mixture of pride and frustration here: ‘We have more malls than parks.’ Public space is a hot topic. The National Institute of Design, where we are working, was built in Corbusier’s modernist style following a report from Charles and Ray Eames. That report though written over 50 years ago and relatively brief, is surprisingly similar in it’s message: India has huge social problems and all design and artistic effort must be mobilised to improve living conditions. So it’s into that historical context with pressing social issues, that we are designing and thinking about cities in a universal sense.

CEPT, the school of architecture here, describe Ahmedabad as the formless city. A place where there is no one public space and all are claimed by many. The multiple centres are activated according to time of year and day. Manek Chowk in the city is an excellent example. It’s a vegetable market early morning as traders make their way in to the city, jewellery and gold during the day, then a food market at night. It lives 24hrs. Ahmedabadis describe their chaotic, polycentric city with a pride for the empathetic chaos that defines how space is used. Interestingly Chandigarh, Corbusiers top down, full plan city here in India has two faces, as a protected city the concrete facades are listed buildings, yet inside, away from the view of planners and conservationists spill out chaotic, colourful interiors. Owners were forced to turn their expression inwards and there’s a much discussed tensions between the values of modernism and the way people actually live.

The imagination of a modern municipality doesn’t include the idea of cows on the street. Yet that is the truth of an India city, a society defined by a visible acceptance of what should remain public. This city has cow insurance policies and municipal organisation who collect bovine corpses. Indian cities are defined by an on going tussle for how things should be. So the values of testing systems and rules through iteration and exploration are very Indian. Though the Eames report is heavy reading in many ways, there is a suggestion of a more experimental approach:

Like most problems in design and architecture, [planning for an event] is a problem in true speculation. You must relive the act before and evaluate many possible courses of action.

Which in the discussions we’ve had in groups, and following the definition of a playful manifesto today, is how I see play. In a sense it’s the creation of an alternate space in which to inhabit other realities and branches of this reality. It’s the freedom to contest and re-articulate systems, to appropriate, to hack and subvert. It’s well documented in the work of Guy Debord and the situationists that play and the spectacle, in the French sense, can be a tool for political change. As it is in Eric Zimmermans idea of the ludic century. If we think of play as a way of both exploring the slack in a system and creating a new system that demands a different reality, then it’s potential both here in Ahmedbabd and globally, is to be our tool to challenge the status quo.

And of course India does play, at sports and in unusual spaces. In Ahmedabad they play in rusty old cars, they play catch in the crowded street and cricket in a 4 foot wide alley. In some sense play, and the constant re-articulation and contestation of space, and the consent achieved through public visibility is play at it’s most powerful. As we move forward I’ll be thinking of play as a way of exploring what an alternate, experiential city might look like. Whether that’s the spacial qualities of a game city like Assassins Creed’s Venice (Ahemedabad old town has a wonderful secret passage network ), the engineered social experiences of Disney’s Celebration or completely new types of city on other planets or in other futures.

Producing the Future City with the Misfit Academy

After two weeks of in depth discussion and intrepid design, wheels are turning and projectors are whirring as it finally feels like it’s real, we’re seeing the first fruits of the UnBox Labs spring to life.

We have a whole host of physical/ digital offerings as speculative future scenarios, designs against crime, new policy and experiential installations that all evoke a new reading of our cities propelled into a future. Each offering taking it’s own unique slant and understanding of the future cities space, however I can see a trend as the projects that are emerging from the UnBox Labs all seem to be rooted in human experiences and interactions. A recognition of the importance of human relationships and that in any future, how we build the frameworks and tools needed for people to make and sustain their own cities and communities is vital; The skills to enable citizens to be more resilient and the ability to adapt in a future full of unknowns.

I’d argue that this has in part been amplified by Ahmedabad itself as the setting for the labs. With it’s complex cacophony of noise and agile modes of transport that pervade the streets as tributaries and veins of the city where time flows at different paces and layers of life coexist in a seemingly impossible way. Ancient artefacts and infrastructure sit next to the new connected technologies you can almost feel seething exponentially in the background hum. Resourcefulness and a mixed use of urban spaces energise an informal economy that is apparent everywhere you look – as Jon Rogers righty points out, things are being made all over the place, unlike the UK where we even have services for building IKEA flatpack furniture.


Non more prevalent to my experience than at ‘Chai gate’ embodied in Lalu, the chai guy who greets us to hand out a shot or two of gloopy, sugary and gingery chai which has been super-fuelling our conversations throughout the lab. There’s no set price for a glass of chai but more an unwritten understanding that it’s around 10 rupees and as I’ve found out, you can rack up an informally agreed tab through trust. The chai is actually made outside on the street beyond the gates of the NID campus yet passed through the bars of the institution, no doubt to circumnavigate some rule or other.

Maybe an exposure to this unseen social and fluid social structure has influenced our thinking, but it’s clear that there’s a strong collective interest in exactly the opposite of the approach that authorities and companies are positioning themselves within, where a sense of control in the technologies and infrastructure of the city is paramount. Instead the Unbox Labs misfit academy of thinkers, tinkerers and designers have created a vision of the future city that makes space for reflection and contemplation embracing morality as integral.

REFERENCES FOR: Call to Action – Why D School For Prison?



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Vipassana Film in Prision





Jail products:


Quicksand 2014

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