The future of airports

The latest in my series of infographic opuses on the future of the built environment. This time, it’s about airports: how they’re expanding, how they’re being automated, how they’re becoming cities in their own right – and how urban aviation could very soon make cities themselves more like airports.

This was published in issue 04 of The Possible, the thought leadership magazine I edit for WSP, and as a standalone A4 booklet too.

See also: shopping districts, education and the office.

Cities by numbers

One of the great things about living in Cambridge is getting to hear top academics talk about really interesting things in pubs. And one of the great things about being a journalist is that you get to ask them loads of questions.

I went to see historian Poornima Paidipaty speak at the Pint of Science festival about how the metrics we use to measure society influence the interventions we make. And then I interviewed her for issue 04 of The Possible magazine about what this means for cities: how new data streams can give us a much more nuanced pictures of how places work, and the reasons why they fail.

The Possible issue 04

We’ve just published issue 04 of The Possible, the thought leadership magazine that my company Wordmule produces for the global engineering company WSP.

In this issue: making cities resilient to terrorist attacks, and to climate change, a bird’s eye view of the future of airports, the lost art of drawing makes a comeback, and how we change things just by measuring them.

Factories for creativity

Every day millions of people around the world go to one place: the office. Why? Technology has freed knowledge workers from the commute and the cubicle, and no one has their best ideas at their desk – and we’ll all be replaced by robots soon anyway. But the office continues to occupy a hallowed place in the corporate mindset and, if anything, a company’s premises are becoming even more essential to its identity and culture. In this article for issue 03 of The Possible, the thought leadership magazine that my company Wordmule produces for WSP, I explored the future of the workplace in an AI era.

The trouble with brilliance

Architecture and engineering are both fixated on the idea of genius. Could this be the source of their enduring gender imbalance? I interviewed psychologist Andrei Cimpian about the implications of a groundbreaking piece of research.

The piece appeared in issue 03 of The Possible, the thought leadership magazine I edit for WSP.

Graphic featured in an interview with Andrei Cimpian in The Possible 03

The Possible issue 03

Out now: the latest issue of The Possible, the 72-page thought leadership magazine that my company Wordmule produces for global engineering company WSP. I plan, commission, write and edit the content; my partner Nick Jones takes care of production, and the design is by our long-time collaborator Sam Jenkins at Supermassive. Cover artwork by Noma Bar.

In this issue: the pursuit of wellness, the future of the workplace, how digital modelling is changing building design, gender equality in architecture, and what on earth are humans going to do when robots can outperform us at our jobs?

Cover of The Possible issue 03

Who are you calling a NIMBY?

Let’s do a thought experiment. Close your eyes and picture a NIMBY: a local resident adamant that an offshore wind farm should not be built in their backyard – a wind farm that could generate many thousands of megawatts of clean, green energy, and stop an equivalent amount of climate-changing carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. Now imagine that the same person is protesting against a new nuclear power station or fracking underneath their home. How does that change your feelings about them, and the validity of their arguments?

Weighing local interests against national ones is a fundamental dilemma for decision-makers, and it’s one of the themes of a research project by University College London’s Bartlett faculty, which I wrote about for the Bartlett Review 2017. The research team explored how the concerns of the public are handled in the fast-track, centralised process for approving Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs). NSIPs include transport routes, power stations, offshore wind farms and, more recently, associated housing, and there have even been proposals to extend the definition to major commercial developments. But the research team chose to focus on renewable energy – an area where national policy sets a strong presumption in favour and where local people often find themselves cast as refuseniks in the face of an overwhelming public good.

“They looked at me, flabbergasted. They said ‘we never do anything for an entire afternoon’”

Education is a booming sector, thanks to a growing global population with a thirst for knowledge. But how can today’s schools and universities prepare for a world that doesn’t yet exist? In the latest issue of The Possible, the thought leadership magazine my company Wordmule produces for WSP, I compiled this 14-page infographic feature on the many challenges that the Fourth Industrial Revolution presents to educators around the world. What should next-generation learning spaces look like, how can we pay for a transformation on this scale, and how do you teach a digital native anything when they can just Google it?

A different shade of green

In February, I travelled to Sweden to interview Johan Edstav, a Green party councillor in Uppsala who is leading a nationwide programme to build sustainable new towns. Sweden is one of Europe’s fastest growing economies, but it’s seriously constrained by a lack of affordable housing: in 2017, 255 out of 290 municipalities reported a shortage and the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning says that it needs to build approximately 710,000 homes by 2025. Like many other countries, it is struggling to balance city prosperity with affordability, help an ageing population to downsize, and decarbonize its economy. What sets Sweden apart is that this small country of barely 10 million has welcomed more refugees per capita than any other in Europe. In 2015, at the peak of the European migrant crisis, more than 160,000 people arrived seeking asylum. Sweden’s immigration policy is justifiably a source of national pride, but it has also raised questions about how so many newcomers can be integrated – or even housed.

So the challenge for the government, and Edstav as its representative, is not only to increase a paltry rate of housebuilding, but to plan new developments to bring people together in more integrated, better functioning communities. The Nordic countries already lead the world in environmental sustainability; now Sweden is seeking to isolate the DNA of the more complex and much less explored social dimension. I asked him how in this piece for The Possible, the thought leadership magazine that my company Wordmule produces for WSP.