There is an obvious “future-orientation” in the work of architects and planners, and yet it must be acknowledged that they cannot “know” the future for which they plan. The resolution of this problem has too often been their assumption of authoritarian positions. Whether the dictates from this position of authority have been applied piecemeal or sweepingly, the life of the community has much too often been as bad as before, and sometimes worse. The image of the architect as a social prophet and of the planner as an architect of the social state has lost whatever credibility it may once have had.
Planning for the future is made particularly difficult by the fact that trending, extrapolations from available data, and other seemingly “hard” approaches are suspect on at least two counts. Social and technical discontinues – sudden changes of scale or rates of change – call the accuracy of such projections into question. And, in any case, it is not obvious that a planner should accept the dictates of a trend, however well formulated the projection may be. But since the architect and planner will necessarily influence the future (whatever they do), even though they cannot prophesy it and should not dictate it, some other means of thinking about the future must be provided. The contributors to this volume suggest several alternatives possibilities to meet these difficulties. Their general position is that the free invention of many possible futures is to be encouraged, with the condition that these should be carefully criticized with regard to such concerns as present social welfare, accommodation of diversity, possibility of implementation, and increasing range of opportunities. This policy of invention and criticism has been called “critical utopianism,” in which the direction of the creative imagination is constantly corrected by the positive feedback of social criticism. In particular, the architect and planner should be as concerned with the process as with the product. Their designs should “build in” possible futures as well as accommodate the actual present.
And the architect and planner must join other professionals in the creative, critical, and practical application of future-inventing. There must also be active participation on the public's part. All possible futures will result from the interactions of these groups. Any desirable future will be the result of their mutually critical and mutually reinforcing interaction. A practical proposal that mediates between the elitist and populist poles is presented: an “advocacy” system in which professionals learn from one another, offer their advice to community groups, and return to advocate their interests in a larger public arena. In this way, the professionals, as disinterested students, and all directly interested and affected parties are fairly represented and heard. The considered confrontation of these varied viewpoints would tend to guarantees the survival and flourishing, the evolutionary development, of a desirable diversity within the complex ecology of our urbanizing society.
Another group of contributors address themselves to related methodological issues: social statistics, model-building, and the positive role of proliferation in the growth of knowledge or of a society.
This volume documents a conference held in October, 1966, under the sponsorship of The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the American Institute of Architects-Princeton Educational Research Project, and the Department of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.