Jun 19, 2019 | Updated: 09:31 AM EDT

One Engineering and Architectural Designer Has Big Plans for Future Cities

May 03, 2019 07:48 AM EDT

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Take a moment to imagine; walls made of water, mobile phones that measure bridge stability, skyscrapers that burst apart to reveal tropical gardens. Carlo Ratti's ideas sound like science fiction, but for a man who has written a book called The City of Tomorrow, he is not persuaded towards prophecy. "It can be very difficult to predict the future," the engineer, architect and designer said. "The future is not written in stone; the future is something that we all build together. So it depends on the decisions that we make today, tomorrow, in a year and so on."

Maybe that is why Ratti's designs-from schemes that use big data to reimagine infrastructure use in urban areas, to high concept installations in expos and festivals-seem to transform the future into something that can exist right now. "What we can do is experiment with the present," he said. "And I think that's what we really should do as architects, designers, engineers-to try to look at the potential of the present and how we can change it. That's a way to try to build the future, not to try to predict it."

 

A native of Turin, Italy, Ratti gained his knowledge of math and physics studying structural engineering-first in his home country and then in France. "And then I liked architecture, so I went to do architecture at Cambridge," he said. He earned his PhD at the esteemed UK university and added studies in computer science to his repertoire. "The path was very weird," he said. "Those things started converging into this space, which is in between computer science, design, and engineering-which is the space of cities and intelligence."

Today, he is the Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Senseable City Lab, a research initiative that studies how digital information and layers of networks are transforming the way cities can be designed and understood. He is also a founding partner of the architecture firm Carlo Ratti Associati, and has been described, by Fast Company, as one of the 50 most influential designers in America and, by Wired, as one of 50 people who will change the world.

His Digital Water Pavilion, an installation created for the Zaragoza Expo 2008, was listed as one of the inventions of the year by Time magazine. The installation was a structure with controllable and reconfigurable curtains of water dividing its spaces, rather than walls. "It was a way to show people in an exciting way how digital could allow us to control atoms in this case drops of water in a new way," Ratti said. "To create an architecture made of that."

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