The Nature Smart Society – reframing the future meta-narrative | 3021

By combining local ecological, environmental, individual, and social information, data and wisdom through geo-design and systems thinking, we can start to build a powerful future meta-narrative, that of the nature smart society, which is based on nature wisdom and the quest for human-nature wellbeing.

  1. Towards a Humane Society
  2. The Power of Narratives
  3. From Global to Micro-Local
  4. Setting a New Framework of Design
  5. Reframing the Next Meta-Narrative

For a More Humane Society

My father, Professor Helmer Stenros, an architect, delivered the following in his inaugural address fifty years ago:

He continued by claiming that neither in theory nor in fact, architects possessed the abilities necessary to create a society that was compassionate. His argument was that we didn’t know enough about people to address the underlying causes of issues.

We are still in the same situation now, 50 years later: we just lack the knowledge of people or environment necessary to address the complex issues of our time. The pandemic and climate crises have amply demonstrated our ignorance of the relationship between people and nature as well as the current state of human flourishing. In our We have forgotten our innate connection to other people and the natural world due to the rapid advancement of technology.

Already in 1966, architect Cedric Price voiced his disapproval, saying: “Technology is the answer, but what was the question?”

To develop a future that is more compassionate and sustainable for both the built environment and the natural environment, we must rethink the issue of human civilization, cities, and nature in order to comprehend their interdependencies.

The more compassionate a structure is, the better, according to architect Frank Gehry, who recently stated in an interview, “I’m up for anything that helps build a city into a better environment.” According to Gehry, the “humanity” of his structures is what makes them stand out and connect with people.

And in fact, Gehry’s work speaks for mankind by providing storylines in a constructed form, which is undeniably an aesthetic aspect. The trick, he continues, was translating the movement of the fish into a structure. “I think Bilbao (1993-97) was the first time I got to do a curve shape that’s from the fish fascination,” he adds. This straightforward metaphor conveys a great deal about the strength and complexity of storytelling in architectural form.

The Influence of Stories

Any culture has always placed narratives at its core. They produce the societal fabric that endures over the ages. In her most recent book, In AI We Trust (2021), Professor Emerita Helga Nowotny describes a narrative as a type of storytelling, stating that they are about what transpires to actual or imagined events, people, or processes. She goes on to argue that they are an effective means of communication, allowing us to work together via our shared interests or driving us apart. Additionally, modern technology have made it simpler to fake them while also enabling them to spread quicker and farther. According to Yuval Harari, humans are a kind of creatures that tell tales rather than think in terms of statistics or graphs.

According to Nowotny, the meta-narrative of development and the pursuit of public pleasure has so far been the most potent one that eclipses all others. Nowotny contends that knowledge is necessary to respond to both what is not yet foreseeable and what occurs at the level at which complex systems function. The future and mankind both require wisdom, he claims. ‘Solutions’ are not the focus of this sort of wisdom. Instead, it is a temporary solution, whether it be technical or otherwise. In his observation, Nowotny notes that “awareness about the issues and problems where wisdom is needed is growing.”

In a word, narratives are the embodiment of communal knowledge since they condense complicated information into a brief and enduring form. One common story and thread—the climate change—should be immortalized in a tale. We have lost our innate ability to comprehend complicated social, cultural, and situational phenomena, such as the system of ecosystems, because our schooling is mostly centered on facts and statistics rather than legends and stories. We no longer possess the knowledge’s soft power, creativity’s wisdom, naturalistic intelligence, and communal narrative. What type of story could one day be potent enough to save both the earth and us?

Global to local, then microlocal

Ezio Manzini first put out his now-famous SLOC model of closeness and social innovation over fifteen years ago. He asserted that every site might persist and encourage pleasant occupancy by being tiny, local, open, and linked. Although a lot has happened since then, the fundamental concept of small units within larger ecosystems exchanging ideas in order to improve human existence is still true and merits greater examination.

The first-generation SLOC model has the potential to “become a powerful social attractor, capable of triggering, catalyzing, and orienting a variety of social actors, innovative processes, and design activities.”

We are turning back to more regional and localized solutions and networks in an effort to maintain them open to collaborative development now that globalization has shown its ugly face in the open. The post-globalization era is now upon us, and micro-localism is taking hold.

The overarching design story for the past twenty years has been Design Thinking. It has demonstrated its strength over that period in both the social and commercial contexts. However, opposition to its oversimplified design and widespread application in the absence of any professional structure is emerging. The necessity for a new sort of design approach at the scale of city planning has arisen from the current understanding of the blending of digital space and physical space, particularly in cities. Geo-Design is the newest tool in the toolkit of the designer.

This is how Dr. Stephen M. Ervin describes it:

He goes on to say that projects utilizing geo-design would focus on improving environmental quality, sustainability, minimizing effect, and attention to ecological structure and function while keeping human communities and concerns in mind.

Geo-design becomes a potent tool for placemaking and urban design in the future by incorporating local data into design processes. With geo-design, it is feasible to mimic several design options in a local setting in all of their complexity and power.

Creating a New Design Framework

The partnership between BMW Design Works and the City of Rotterdam is an illustration of how design and data may be used locally in a complicated setting. They have teamed together to collaborate on developing solutions that improve city livability. Rotterdam will serve as a model for urban development globally. This illustration demonstrates another way a car manufacturer may contribute to the design process outside of only cars. The intricate representations, or “visual city narratives,” are fascinating and include many highlights and illustrations of how people will move about the city in the future. According to their vision, the city of the future is productive, eco-friendly, and computerized. “Multimodality” is the key, meaning choose the most effective mode of transportation.

Doctor Ervin asserts:

The future narrative of the City of Rotterdam by BMW Design Works, with a concentration on the microcommunity level of the city, is in many ways a modified version of Ezio Manzini’s SLOC idea.

The SLOC model, which is backed by the geo-design framework and local data, may serve as the foundation for city planning procedures in the future. Additionally, it makes use of the information that locals have learned about their environment by collecting it themselves. In the end, by doing this, we are all contributing to the future story of sustainable cities and the happiness of their residents.

The Next Meta-Narrative Reframed

A while back, I put out a fresh urban narrative called the Nature Smart City that was based on Howard Gardner’s notion of multiple intelligences. We can build more sustainable, loving, and livable cities by using the natural world’s knowledge. Individual cities, however, are not enough to reframe global concerns; we need a broader perspective and a new meta-narrative for a more sustainable future, doing and living well.

By merging local ecological, environmental, individual, and societal knowledge, data, and wisdom through geo-design and the goal of human-nature welfare, we may start to build a powerful future meta-narrative, that of the nature smart society. It challenges the dominant meta-narrative of technological advancement and substitutes a story of peace, health, humanity, and optimism.


The architect and thinking leader Dr. Anne Stenros holds a PhD in technology. She has over 25 years of expertise in strategic planning and creative leadership. She served as the first Design Director of KONE Corporation, a renowned elevator and escalator firm, from 2005 until 2015. She was hired as the first chief design officer ever from 2016 to 2018. officer CDO for a city, namely Helsinki. She has also held a Creative Leadership professorship at Aalto University. She has taken part in a variety of EU forums as an expert, and she served on the World Design Organization WDO’s selection committee for the 2022 World Design Capital. She currently speaks, teaches, writes, mentors, and sparks change. She is interested in the development of urbanization, architecture, and cities. She is a proponent of group creativity, cooperation, and co-creation.

Additional readings

S. Ervin (2012). a GeoDesign system. Pdf. January 2012 on ResearchGate.

E. Manzini (2009). Design for social innovation and sustainability with a focus on the small, local, open, and linked. 30.3.2009, Journal of Design Strategies.

W. R. Miller (2022). Introducing Geodesign: The Concept

H. Nowotny (2021). I believe in AI. Press Polity.

C. Steinitz (2012). Changing Geography through Design: A Framework for Geodesign. Esri.

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