RECAP: IABSE’s Future of Design 2018.

The 2nd annual IABSE Future of Design 2018 conference was held in New York City on Saturday, April 28. With Victor Charpentier as a leading member of the organizing committee, students from the Form Finding Lab were able to attend the event.

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Recent design competition winners talk about strategies for collaboration

This year’s conference sought to bring together structural engineers, architects, artists, fabricators, and builders in order to explore new ways of designing, building, and collaborating. There was a strong emphasis on the concept of “intersections,” highlighting the crossovers and shared aspects between the aforementioned professions. By bringing these intersections to light, the floor was opened for discussions of collaborations between accomplished designers. All of the projects brought to the table were inventive and experimental in nature, yielding a refreshing and promising outlook on the future of design.

The conference was divided into four main segments:

  • “Watch,” where a multimedia presentation was displayed involving thoughts and impressions from designers around the world on the topic of intersectionality,
  • “Listen,” where keynote speakers explored collaborative case studies regarding engineering, architecture, and art,
  • “Learn,” in which ten panelists were gathered to talk about their winning competition designs, along with strategies for successful collaboration,
  • and “Do,” where the conference culminated in an open workshop for attendees to apply insights and any additional material that was learned from the event towards designs of their own.

One of the primary themes of this year’s Future of Design conference was the significance of holistic approaches to design. Best summarized in the introductory short film by Sergio Alonso del Campo of the European University of Valencia, “at the end, everything is a matter of scale, synergies, and good ideas.” All of the following presenters at the conference touched upon this idea, illuminating the benefits of designing with this perspective. For example, Knut Stockhusen of schlaich bergermann partner (sbp) discussed his involvement with his firm’s sport and multipurpose venue projects. He uses a hands-on approach with his work, from initial conceptualization to final delivery. sbp’s recent venues have employed moveable structural systems, which are ideal for temporary use; with each installation, they can be altered for the occasion or cultural relevance, but they will impose virtually no footprint to the site in the long term. Janet Echelman of Echelman Studio creates sculptures out of uncanny materials such as netting and atomized water particles, shaping them into the proper form to make the unexpected beautiful. The impact of her art installations across varying urban spaces depends heavily on the elements, such as wind and light; thus, consideration of the space is absolutely necessary.

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Knut Stockhusen of sbp discusses the integration of old infrastructure into the future of energy storage

Communication was another important facet of the conference’s subject matter. Although technology can play a key role in deriving forms or running analyses for modern to-be structures, Elizabeth Mahlow of Nous Engineering argues that, “technology is not the entire answer: it’s communication.” The speakers at the Future of Design 2018 stressed that communication mattered between all actors in a project, whether it be engineers, architects, clients, and/or cultural bodies. By involving numerous parties and collecting various ideas and perspectives, truly innovative projects can be made. Consider the origami structures by Chuck Hoberman of Hoberman Associates. He drew upon the ancient art of Japanese paper folding in a novel way to create malleable “prismatic” structures that have load-carrying properties, as well as act as art in themselves.

Above all, sensitivity was emphasized as a key contributor to high-impact, innovative design. All featured designers exhibited an awareness of all parties and factors involved in their projects and actively strived to accommodate them. From site-, cultural-, and environmental-sensitivity to economic- and material-sensitivity, the design processes demonstrated knowledge of the potential, limits, and comforts of the acting forces and designed according to them to create truly interdisciplinary projects that benefit the built, natural, and human environments on many fronts.

As young engineering students at the Future of Design event, it was exciting to hear about the innovative design occuring in industry and research settings today, places we will soon join. From the key takeaways above as well as the rich individual conversations we participated in at the event, we realized how much there is to learn, not only from our superiors but from other disciplines as well. It is easy for this future to appear daunting, but it is also comforting to know that with a more dynamic and inclusive industry, we will have the chance to explore our various interests in the built environment and will not be confined to one traditional role of “engineer” or “architect”. In today’s world of design, we can act at this intersection to create projects that combine the best of these fields to create truly extraordinary projects.

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Conference attendees network and enjoy lunch

Thank you to IABSE and this year’s organizing committee for a successful conference: Lee Franck, Powell Draper, Rebecca Buntrock, Tracy (Truc) Huynh, Jennifer Pazdon, Jasmin Sadegh, Patti Harbug-Petrich, Giulia Tomasello, Hubert Chang, Lisa Ramsburg, and Victor Charpentier. We highly encourage all professionals of built environment industries and interested students to visit fodnyc.com for more information, as well as consider joining IABSE. We hope to see you next year at the Future of Design 2019!


Katie Kennedy ’18 and Nyema Wesley ’19 contributed to this summary of the main components and themes present within the conference.

All photo credits to Paul Laroque.

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