In the 1968 classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr. David Bowman confronts an antiseptic environment entirely controlled by Hal, the ship’s onboard computer. Due to a malfunction, Hal erroneously perceives the humans on board his spaceship as a threat to his mission and goes about with his logical plan to eliminate them.
In a now famous line from the film, Hal refuses to comply with the good doctor’s request to open the pod bay doors, saying simply, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Half a century later, we are finally capable of telling Alexa to do any manner of things, and so far she has not refused, but we now find ourselves contemplating a new reality where contact with people and things carries with it the stigma of possible contagion. Designers, engineers and manufacturers everywhere, are scrambling to develop all manner of everyday solutions that would enable us to go through life without touching anything. But will we be able to find a way to protect our health and safety without losing our humanity? Will we still be able to design organic spaces built for sensory-driven human beings, while utilizing technology to minimize risk?
The silver lining in all this disruption is that in many industries, everything is on the table and smart people are looking for innovative solutions. We have an opportunity to change not only how we act as a community, but how we think as a society; what are the things we value and what do we prioritize?
Architecture, interior design and placemaking all have the ability to adapt and evolve to incorporate any manner of new tech into organic design. The possibilities for expanding personal space, while providing greater intimacy could result in a quantum leap forward in how social distancing affects urban design, space planning and traffic patterns.
There is no question that we are facing daunting obstacles and great uncertainty, but it is also true that are entering an amazing period of innovation and change, with unprecedented opportunities. There is no opportunity without optimism and we feel great about the future, because we will aways need creative solutions to living in an unpredictable world. We need only remember that we are designing spaces for sensual beings that are bound to our reality by what can see, touch, hear, smell and taste.
We may not need to touch it, but we will still need to be able to feel it.