“This is… is no longer tenable.” – Rem Koolhaas

Looking at situations and resources with “This is” in mind keeps us right where we are. Thinking “This could…” creates the fulcrum point for a more creative, resourceful future.

As Rem Koolhaas said in a conversation with Mohsen Mostafavi at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, reliance on “this is” thinking has become a problem:

“Architecture has a serious problem today … We’re working in a world where so many different cultures are operating at the same time, each with their own value system. …You need to be open to an enormous multiplicity of values, interpretations, and readings. The old-fashioned Western ‘this is’ / that is’ is no longer tenable. We need to be intellectual and rigorous, but at the same time relativist.”

Rem Koolhaas

Architects are some of the most visible practitioners of “This could…” alchemy: warehouses become apartment buildings, power stations become art galleries, the list goes on. The scale may range from an entire city region to a single building, but everything begins when something is observed not as “this is” but what “this could be”. 

The magic is in the intention to create a new reality using available resources. Instead of designing for a location and consuming additional resources, the future state is realized by designing with what is there, using existing resources in new ways, in a context relative to local needs and cultures.

Bruce Sterling has suggested that as resources become scarce in the future, a role of “re-designer” may take the place of the designer. 

It is a role already being played across the fields of the circular economy, recycling, pre-cycling, reuse – all centered on the impermanence of material and objects and the promise of a changed future state for existing resources. Wikipedia’s description of reuse as “a form of pre-cycling that reinvents items after their initial life” revels in the nature of impermanence and an implicit future state.

“This could…” understands there are multiple futures contained in everything. The object, material, surface, structure or system at hand already contains the seeds of its next reality. “This could…” brings the intention of its future to life.