Finally out: A competition to design a future Denmark. Twelve contributors have been invited to write inspiring texts for the program; MAP is delighted to be one of them “IMPLAUSIBLE PRESENTS AND PROBABLE FUTURES; Four suggestions for time travellers” From Black Swan Theory to NASA memory weavers. Here, the link to the competition, in Danish and English.


Here my contribution essay, in English:

“IMPLAUSIBLE  PRESENTS AND POSSIBLE FUTURES: Four suggestions for time travellers.

To speculate about future events, to entail in fiction, is a necessary pitfall. Necessary due to its unavoidability, that is, humankind’s innate drive to speculate about tomorrow (out of fear? A desire of control perhaps?). Such impetus has been richly formalized throughout history in many of our fields of expression, art and literature being the most obvious.

A pitfall, since any prediction of the future, rarely gets it right ( is this its most fruitful of intentions anyway? More on this later).

This is not necessarily a problem. At worst, it keeps us busy. At best, it simulates scenarios that we strive to resolve, engage in discussions that we hope prepares us for the unforeseen, and develops solutions that we might or might not implement. What ever the result, speculation creates ripples, that bounce back to the present.

More often that not, scenarios beyond the “now”, propose challenges to be overcome. It is not by coincidence that the disaster film genre, ramp up their production in cycles that axially match historical distress peaks. From the 70’s oil crisis (perhaps the birth of the genre all together) to the revamp in the nineties after the stock market crash of the late 80’s, to the latest boom due to climate change. Another example that speculative futures are offshoots of challenging presents.

I will not try to define the immediate or future challenges that Denmark might find itself in, instead I will describe a journey through “landscapes” that might appear as fiction, but are present and past realities; events worth considering when defining scenarios to come.


Statistically, we live in a safer world today than at any other time in the history of human kind, even considering the most serious of present challenges (according to UN and WHO). Collective memory, quickly forgets how societies (and the world) have been threatened just a couple of generations ago. A reality that becomes clearer, the more we travel back in time.

Nonetheless research shows that fear and anxiety permeates deeper in the world societies than ever before, from the individual to the collective. It is not only defining a great part of our social structure, how we relate to each other (and the distant “other”), but fear is also defining political agendas, strategies for the public space, foreign policy, diets, tourism, just to name a few.

One way of measuring the impact of fear is by charting its impact on risk. At present, risk seems to be the parameter to eradicate from any project, enterprise, or daily action; from the domestic to the entrepreneurial sphere. Inversely, it has been risk that has defined many of civilization’s greatest (read “greatest impact”) achievements.

On that note, and being personally involved with flooding solutions in Rotterdam, I cannot avoid reflecting on how the Dutch relationship to flood disaster has evolved through the generations, and could be understood as a relationship of fear and risk. Since the 1953 dike breach that killed thousands in a single day, to the higher/heavier engineering venture that motivated the Oosterscheldekering barrier completed in 1987, The Netherlands is today looking at more subtle ways of dealing with flood risk, literally, accepting floods as a reality, not by eradicating it, but, one could say “softening” it, designing with water, instead of against water. Ballardian worlds inevitably come to mind.


Although we are slightly more doubtful today about western society’s deterministic take on history and science, we are still bound by a positivistic mind set which expects present and future challenges to be resolved, controlled and surpassed by rational and analytic processes.

It is necessary to point out, that our fascination for control (understand), extends even to the events which are unpredictable. Enter the “Black Swan”

This phenomenon, although tackled by thinkers such as Hume, Mill and Popper, reaches more critical levels with epistemologist Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In his case, Black Swans are events “…outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”

Black Monday market crash of 1987, 9/11 terrorist attack, or ebola virus appearing Reston Virgina in 1989 were Black Swans. They were sudden events of high social impact, unexpected, impossible to predict, and yet, heavily post rationalized. Often, our desire for rationalization cannot accept the fact that some historical events cannot be predicted.

Any project for the future should consider including an exercise in radical imagination, incorporating the highly unexpected and improbable, since these events are an inescapable part of history. Simultaneously, this puts into question the value of the “usual.” Can we test the resilience of our built environment from a statistical breakdown, or is it only under the exceptional that we can study its relevance


Our present relationship towards the “other” is still characterized by polarities. Inside and outside, them and us, open or closed. Although we have fascinating examples, even in our own back yard, of more fluid and complex realities. Baarle-Hertog, in Belgium is a small town, well, perhaps two, actually it’s not really Belgium…not all of it in anyway.

Let me try to explain. Baarle-Hertog, due to its special history, is a checkerboard of national fragmentation. A patch work of Dutch and Belgian national boundaries, twenty or so in total, that, as islands, result in Belgian enclaves inside the Netherlands. To give a sense of scale, a short stroll, will have you wonder in and out of a nation, easily about ten times.

This results on the most curious of events. Some mothers can choose the nationality of their child (Belgian or Dutch), by choosing on which room of the house they decide to give birth in. Postal offices, churches and police stations, repeat themselves from street to street, and for every national pocket. At one time, Dutch laws regulated restaurants to close earlier than Belgian law. In many restaurants, the guests just changed tables to the Dutch side, to continue their meal into the night. House and business taxes, depend on where the front door is, which has prompted many shops and individuals to move the front door back and forth in the facade through out history, in an effort towards better tax breaks.

This example, blurs the rationale of frontiers. Laws start to loose perspective (car accidents, as you can imagining, are a legislative nightmare) and boundaries are put into question, forcing often solutions beyond the accepted norm. This society is broken into pieces nationally, but united as a collective, in their desire to resolve the everyday.


 When confronted with overwhelming challenges, and very little time, only the unconventional approach can achieve seemingly impossible goals. Lets take a look at the iconic pursuit of traveling to the moon. When NASA’s Apollo program was nearing its end, on-board computers designed to navigate the lunar module to its target, still lacked a program storage system, a way to reboot and load the software once in flight. At that time, only magnetic tape, very unreliable and fragile, highly distrusted and heavy (tape player had to be included), was the technology available to store computer programs. Rope Memory was devised as an alternative. A weaved thread around thousands of rings, defining zeros and ones. To achieve this, NASA had to abandon traditional industrial processes, and collaborate with a weaving company, where hundreds of women, wove kilometers of thin copper wire, creating a hardcopy of the program, that would guide the on board computers.

NASA’s farfetched collaborations don’t stop here. The bid for the lunar spacesuit, was not won by the aerospace or military industry, but by the women’s underwear manufacturer Playtex, who was the only company able to offer a suit which was flexible, functional, light and compact enough. The most iconic tool of space exploration ended up being manufactured by a bra company. When propellant tanks, containing rocket fuel at very low temperatures had to be insulated to avoid boiling at earth temperatures, NASA spent months testing methods to cover the steel containers with foam, failing at every attempt. Until NASA hired a group of Californian surfers, to apply their knowledge of surf board construction, and resolved the tasks engineers could not muster. The only problem was keeping them at work when the surf was up.

Problem solving, the driving force that has defined so much of western history, if not much world history, has seldom been the task of a sole individual, or an isolated discipline. Often, the greatest leaps in solution finding, come from the most despaired of fields, by merging their competences, hybrids one could say. If this approach was embraced in the speculation of our future built environment, who, beyond architects and city planers, should participate and be the game changers?

 To conclude, I wonder if fictional futures (are there any other kind?) are not speculations of how our tomorrow might be, but instead reflections of our present challenges in a territory where they can (perhaps with more freedom) unfold, formalize, and play out alternatives that could mirror back to the present. The question is, do we dare use the full potential of speculation to reach creative peaks, or do we fall in to the normalized framework of the present when we speculate about the future.

David A. Garcia

Architect and Educator,

Founder of MAP Architects