Rotterdam’s newest bridge isn’t like its many others. It was funded by the crowd. Its timber panels bear the names of thousands of people and organisations who backed its construction with their own money. Although crowdfunding books, albums and other creative projects has become common, using the power of the crowd to build a big piece of urban infrastructure is new. In a world where a demand for citizen participation collides with declining budgets for public works, perhaps this bridge offers a glimpse into how our cities may be built in the future?
This project will form part of a forthcoming exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) on the future of design. By examining the products, technologies and innovations of today, we believe we can discern where design is heading tomorrow.
A restaurant comprised entirely of tables-for-one points to the increasing number of us living alone, and the need to break down the social taboo of solo dining in public. A portable tower that cleans the air of pollutants reflects our anxiety about the health effects of smog, and provides the tools for small organisations such as schools to do something about it. A range of T-shirts and dresses that incorporate solar panels for charging devices proclaims how our phones have become indivisible from our selves, an extension of our bodies.
Some of these projects are not yet released, others exist only at the fringes, but all are full of potential. They are signals to where design is heading next. (The V&A is selecting a few of them for display at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.)
But what hope do these weak signals have against the power and drive of Silicon Valley? While we wait for new public products to emerge organically, some of us are intent on defining the future through sheer force of will. The future is a collective project: if we don’t want it imposed upon us, it’s up to us to back the ideas that embody the future we want, no matter how marginal they may appear today.