Wow! That was something! Jason Kelly Johnson’s lecture stretched our brains and imaginations and took us to new places. Future Cities Lab imagines a new future, one that faces, accepts and raises awareness of realities like global warming, sea level rise, and extinction, and sets about testing ideas and making things, with live models, prototypes that really work. This new fabricated world is dynamic, responsive, interactive, with sensors activated by data, signals and energies, for instance, by Twitter feeds and touch, maybe swipeable like an iPad. It is high tech, state of the art, fantastical and aesthetic. We learned about fascinating projects that sometimes turned out quite differently than expected. We learned that glue is banned from their studio. Instead models are stitched and sewn together.

JKJ Future Cities Lab

After an engaging lunch with students from the transduction team, and architecture, engineering, and commerce schools across Grounds, Jason added an extra, captivating part to his talk. He told us about workshops and a creative process class that he teaches at California College of the Arts, wherein students build their own tools and fabrication devices to make 2D and 3D drawing and printing machines to process materials of their choice, wax, clay, sugar. Why limit ourselves to a few standard ones, only laser cutters, CNC routers, 3D printers that rely on plastics and petrochemicals? Experiments must be precise, measurable, reproducible, and documented, he noted, yet not focused on the predictable, not mastering and repeating the ordinary, what is already known. Instead he pays attention and points to the mistakes, bizarre accidents, rogue ventures, and messy monsters. Wow! What is that? How did that happen? Can you repeat it? Therein lies the key to new discoveries. How to harness the monsters. Jason challenges his students and us with that question and advocates for research, experimentation and thinking through making. Future Cities Lab entices us to join them out on the frontiers. The stakes and standards for society and design are very high.