Learning from the new urban centers
As we hurtle into 2014 the studio is humming with new work focused on the deep changes in consumer culture worldwide. One aspect of this change is the way we have to reassess our understanding of the geography of consumer culture. The city is becoming the focus of all life as massive migration to cities in the Majority World redefines the nature of society itself. These cities, such as Lagos or Singapore, can no longer be viewed through the lens of industrial urban life in the West. Rem Koolhaas (in above clip from the film Koolhaas Lagos), along with many architects, has engaged with the issues and ideas of cities at the systemic level. In short: the city he observes is not the same as the cities that defined urban life in the past.
Today every city is becoming an island of society and culture less contained by industrial or agrarian infrastructure than cities in the past. Technology is unleashing a more creative, organic and varied architecture of urban life that is challenging our notions of cultural segmentation on the regional, national or even sectarian levels. A city such as Lagos is, in effect, a self contained society whose culture evolves alongside the organic growth of the city itself. By 2015 there will be twenty five million people living in Lagos. There are entire nations that are smaller than Lagos.
Looking forward we see a challenge to the monolithic notion of a global economy, created by the West, with markets either mature or emerging. We see a Majority World within which powerful islands of culture are being created. The cultural islands, energetic cities, are connected to each other but also have technology as the basic infrastructure rather than roads and sewers (although they remain important). If we want to understand the energy flows of a global economy we need to engage urban life where it is at its most creative and innovative: the growing cities of Asia, Africa and South America. At the same time we have powerful crucibles of creativity in the West. Berlin has been that. Detroit is one today. Liverpool was one during the recession of post war Britain.
There is no formula here, Detroit and Lagos are different. Singapore and Sao Paulo are different. But there are patterns and the speed at which new ideas diffuse is faster and faster. Nearly everything global marketing does is derived from old notions that assume cultural influence flows from the West. Our interest is in the opposite flow: from the fringe, from which innovation and creativity flow, to the mainstream of the global economy.