The third and final year of The New Normal speculative urbanism think-tank has started at Strelka Institute. Twenty-nine researchers from 15 countries joined Strelka’s postgraduate program in Moscow last week. During the intensive five-month course, they will work in small teams to research and develop original speculative interventions and platforms. The final projects will include urban design projects with an emphasis on strategy, cinema, and software. The research will be curated around a series of conceptually interrelated themes and modules, such as Algorithmic Governance, Inverse Uncanny Valley, Human Exclusion Zones, and others. Provides Ng. Architect from Hong Kong, SAR (China). Based in Hong Kong. “I have always enjoyed reading, during which in recent times I often felt myself stuck, as there ceases to exist a cohesive descriptive model of the ‘now.’ I do not believe there exists a universal model as such, but it does seem to be hinting at a crucial need for criticality and revision of our existing vocabulary. This last year of The New Normal program is an exclusive chance to explore disciplines and interdisciplines, to be critical on metaphorical vocabularies, to raise questions instead of rushing to give ostensible answers and designs. It is extra attractive to be modelling in the metamorphosing Russian context.” Tony Yanick. Artist/programmer/philosopher from the USA. Based in Buffalo, USA. “I have been a follower of Russian art and literature for most of my adult life. I have always been drawn to the culture and experimental nature of artists from this context, and have always wanted to work in a similar context, as well to learn from a position that differs from my own. I’m excited to be here for the first time, learning and hopefully contributing to such a rich and interesting history!” Antonia Burchard-Levine. Urban planner/consultant from Canada/Chile. Based in Berlin, Germany. “I am strongly motivated by the possibility of exploring design aesthetics, artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and algorithmic governance, among others, and how we can use these to challenge current systems in place, as well as the role these can play in gaining a sense of urban complexity. I am also very excited by the opportunity of gaining a first-hand view of Japan’s robotics industry and automation landscape, as well as exploring the notion of Human Exclusion Zones.” Svetlana Gorlatova. Curator from Russia. Based in St. Petersburg, Russia. “I am a young curator of contemporary art exhibitions, and I think that almost all formats of art representation need to be updated. I would like to see curatorship on a bigger scale and see associations between cultural institutions, city infrastructure, economics, and policies of local authorities and national governments. This program will give me an opportunity to extend the borders of the curators’ job, which in the long run will allow me to be more professional in helping to make our cities better.” Alexey Yansitov. Artist/3D animator from Russia. Based in Moscow, Russia. “The entire 20th century in Russia was dedicated to experiment. Artistic, scientific, socio-political...Feeling as though I am a successor to this strong tradition, I will follow the path towards utopia and beyond.” Olga Chernyakova. Architect from Russia. Based in Moscow, Russia. “The New Normal program complies with my aspiration to acquire knowledge of contemporary urbanism methodologies. I am interested in the research of urban and rural reconfiguration in the condition of technology determination. I aspire to acquire a transformative educational experience with a multidisciplinary approach. Moreover, I am highly motivated to extend and reconstruct a personal way of design, due to the fact that emerging technologies are changing the paradigm of design theory and traditional architecture practice. I want to be part of the reinvention of the architect profession.” Don Toromanoff. Architect/researcher from Sweden/Canada. Based in Montreal, Canada. “I’ve harbored an interest for Moscow since studying Constructivism (in particular El Lissitzky’s Wolkenbügel) for my thesis. Without blindly transposing qualities of previous institutions such as the Vkhutemas directly onto Strelka, there really is a creative power to the place, perhaps as a liminal stage for ideologies and geopolitics.” Maria Anaskina. Designer/art director from Russia. Based in Moscow, Russia. “I applied because I want to use my skills to deal with important problems that can occur with AI implication on a planetary scale. I’m interested in emerging technologies as well as speculative philosophy and need to explore more contemporary theories to enter this discourse. I come from a fashion/beauty/advertising consumerism background and see a problem with this mindset, such as Earth pollution and social inequality, which I would like to address." Evgenia Vanyukova. Lawyer/project manager from Russia. Based in Moscow, Russia. “Besides being my mother country, I find Russia to be a perfect place to create the future in. The outdated infrastructure in cities needs to be modernized and even replaced, and this provides a wide range of opportunities for implementing the models of future urban development today by combining technologies, theory, and urban practices.” Alexander Geysman. Engineer/artist from Russia. Based in Moscow, Russia. “I aspire to be part of the force that shapes the future, to do something meaningful, to find a missing piece, something that will help me use all my skills and passions the best way possible. The New Normal seems like the right place; a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I devoted years to an engineering job in smart automation, where I felt confined with being bound to technology that aged before being implemented. I turned to study politics then, but academia is not what I wish for either – though my pursuit of knowledge will never be sated. The world is changing at a pace never before seen, and I want to comprehend it. This year’s topics explore in depth all things robotics and future politics in various combinations, which excites me, along with working with the best team possible.” This year, the students will continue to study the Eurasian shift toward the Pacific Rim. They will travel to Japan , where they will look into the country's complex robotics industries and explore its fully automated landscapes. The New Normal is a postgraduate program directed by Benjamin H. Bratton, who joined Strelka Institute in 2016. He is a design theorist and author, professor of visual arts, and director of the Center for Design and Geopolitics at the University of California, San Diego. Apart from Bratton, The New Normal faculty also includes Liam Young, Keller Easterling, Ben Cerveny, Anastassia Smirnova, Metahaven, Lev Manovich, Etienne Turpin, Rival Strategy, Nathan Su, Gene Kogan, Julieta Aranda, and many other notable theorists and practitioners. George Papamatthaiakis. Architect/geographer from Greece. Based in Athens, Greece. “Having to catalogue my research agendas, I would probably first cite my encounters with large infrastructural systems – an interest triggered by their potential to serve as shared means to common ends, or, in other words, from their apparent dimension of citizenship which, nevertheless, largely remains obscured.” Hira Zuberi. Architect/lecturer from Pakistan. Based in Karachi, Pakistan. “In the extreme conditions that we live in today, there is a dire need for design to be radical and unorthodox. As an architect and urbanist, I am interested in steering my practice towards raising questions and initiating discussions around undesirable and desirable urban futures. Strelka offers a unique setting to explore the relationship between emerging technologies and urban life, to speculate on the most pressing problems our cities face.” Igor Sladoljev. Architect/urban planner from Croatia. Based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. “A big believer in speculation as a methodology myself, I am in awe of the framework which was established within the The New Normal as something unique in education. As part of this peer learning environment, I will benefit from exploring The New Normal horizon, challenging my own perception of what is contemporary and what lies beyond, and recalling Cedric Price’s aphorism: ‘Technology is the answer, but what was the question?’” Eli Joteva. Artist from Bulgaria/USA. Based in Los Angeles, USA. “As an inter-media artist, my studio practice thrives on the cross-pollination of disciplines; a mode of thinking that is akin to Strelka’s own mission. I am excited to further the research and conversations around computer vision, 3D scanning, and AI sensing in respect to its implications for structuring embodied experiences for both humans and non-humans.” Artem Nikitin. Architect/designer from Russia. Based in St. Petersburg, Russia. “For me, TNN is a unique challenge to continue a shift towards other professional fields, where I try to enlarge and assimilate the new skills needed to adapt to current-age emerging design requirements and to understand what information technology in urban planning might be about.” Ksenia Trofimova. Architect from Russia. Based in Moscow, Russia. “I was impressed by the projects of TNN made in previous years. Although I could hardly say I understood a lot, it seemed to have a strong intellectual impact on me and offered an opportunity to go beyond the usual way of thinking. Moreover, it is a platform where I can share, expand, and develop some ideas I have. As an architect, I feel that this discourse may help me reflect and recognize some layers of the rapidly changing reality we are living in.” Gleb Papyshev. Researcher/consultant from Russia. Based in Moscow, Russia. “Overall, my research interests lie on an intersection between robotics technology, urban governance, and political will. I would like to work on projects related to the exploration of the mutual influence that these domains have over each other, with the aim to determine the patterns that define the framework within which human, robot, and city cooperate, compete, and conflict with each other.” Mariia Fedorova. Architect/artist from Russia. Based in Moscow, Russia. “I’m interested in the human-robotics interaction in everyday life, particularly in a new utopia of intimacy (developments of sex robots, virtual avatars in the porn industry, holographic virtual assistant-girlfriends, etc.). I’m also excited about an ecosystem of sentient machines and computer-generated simulations that interact and recombine in open-ended narratives.” Mark Wilcox. Strategist/product manager from New Zealand. Based in Cambridge, New Zealand. “Russia has an eclectic history when it comes to urban design and cybernetics, which creates an interesting culture where ideas need to be more strongly proven than would be typical in San Francisco, with its culture of radical optimism. The history of speculative design is to some extent a history of failed experiments.” Sofia Pia Belenky. Architect/researcher from the USA. Based in Milan, Italy. “It is a particularly crucial time to interact with new communities and practitioners, to get outside my own bubble – The New Normal’s insistence on engaging students and teaching staff from a wide variety of backgrounds is essential; not just for me, but I believe for the future of architecture and design. I do not believe simply thinking is enough. I find the program’s emphasis on developing new media and mediums to be in line with the ambition I am seeking.” The third year builds on the research of the previous two years, expanding the scope of The New Normal. “When we started to conceptualize the program, we wanted to develop design research that was able to ask questions, map territories, and build up a body of work over a longer period of time. We concluded that to go deep into these questions is just impossible in one short five-month session. It had to be something that would grow over time,” says Bratton. “With this special circumstance of Strelka, we had the flexibility to invent a program that would be unlike anything else in the world, which would be both cumulative over this longer timespan of three years, and iterative in that it would go in these three cycles.” By the end of the third cycle, 90 researchers would have gone through the programme with over 50 experts and faculty contributing to this collaborative investigation. “In the projects of the previous years of the TNN we’ve developed a kind of New Normal style of work. When I go with the lectures around the world people recognize the work, they recognize the things that we’ve done and they refer to them as ‘Oh, that’s very New Normal,’” Bratton says. “I am very excited about the third cycle. The cohort that we have here is really amazing, it’s a really strong group.” Alyona Shapovalova. Artist from Russia. Based in Moscow, Russia. “I love Russia, but it’s full of contradictions and archaisms. I have always been struck by this huge gap between real-life Russia and the discussions raised in Strelka, because I am from a small town and I know the Russian context not by hearsay. Now I would like to feel the whole context of The New Normal and try to narrow this gap, here and now. Because, for my pragmatic mind, it seems that the future in this country is something that may never come.” Ricardo Saavedra. Designer/artist from Brazil. Based in Berlin, Germany. “I was into a lot of weird things that apparently didn’t make sense to anyone from one particular background, but they all seemed very connected to me. TNN seemed like a nice place to put them into question. Post-human ecologies and alternative instantiations of agency. Interfaces that connect living organisms (bacteria, plants, ecosystems) to economical/legal stacks. I see Russia and Brazil (where I’m from) as being related, and possessing similar challenges from a social, political, and economic perspective. So I hope to transpose the work I develop here onto other contexts abroad and beyond.” Nashin Mahtani. Architect from Indonesia. Based in Jakarta, Indonesia. “I seek to explore different ways to register design imagination with augmented infrastructures, tools, and methods of sensing afforded by computational infrastructures. I believe the program at Strelka will provoke multidisciplinary modalities of interventionist thinking that will be critical to meaningfully respond to contemporary ecological challenges.” Nabi Agzamov. Architect/urban designer from Uzbekistan. Based in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. “I am both fascinated by the ways the advent of technology is shaping the future of our built environment and alarmed by the limited understanding of these concepts at the majority of architectural studios. As an architect and an urban designer, I am eager to learn what role global scale computation will play within multidisciplinary and multiscaled design approaches to ecological and social activism that address the ramifications of man-made environmental disasters.” Grigory Chernomordik. Computer vision engineer from Russia. Based in Moscow, Russia. “I am curious how I can apply my computer vision background to urbanist projects. At the same time, learning the philosophy of technology seems important for an engineer. I want to investigate, in the time of technology transformation, which technologies make humans happier by bringing new opportunities, and which are dangerous for psychology or replace people's jobs. As an engineer, I feel how fast everything is changing around us.” Natalia Tyshkevich. Philosopher from Russia. Based in Moscow, Russia. “Strelka provides me with rich material on my research of neo-modernist ideology, a grand style that is emerging right before our eyes.” Anna-Luise Lorenz. Graphic designer from Germany. Based in Berlin, Germany. “I am excited to look more deeply into the mutually constitutive relationship between bodies and cities, where non-physical/non-human agents become the determinant of urban organization. How does the dissolution of previously accepted cartographies affect how we see ourselves as post-human? How do complexities of new concepts of bodies and space affect mutual interactions? And how do new urban fictions – emerging from these diametral ontologies – help to affect and rethink the social order?” Valdis Siliņš. Foresight strategist from Canada. Based in Toronto, Canada. “I'm looking for ways to scale critical design practices and build relationships with others, expanding the possibilities of these post-disciplinary settings.” Olesia Kovalenko. Architect/project manager from Ukraine. Based in Kyiv, Ukraine. “I’m interested in a range of issues that are raised by emerging politics, economies, and cultural norms. The whole economic system requires a rethinking of value-defining and exchange. This process becomes a core question for platform-like systems, and I would like to study methods of its design. Besides that, utopias and dystopias were always fascinating to me. Walking away from classical examples which pretend to delineate the perfect world or the perfect catastrophe, the question of the potential of multiple totalities is one I would be excited to work on.” These are some of the main themes that will be covered this year: Algorithmic Governance Politics and technology are interwoven as means to remake the world by design: not only does technology express a political arrangement, but any polity emerges only within a technical milieu. Through different genres of computation – such as smart grids, cloud platforms, mobile apps, smart cities, and the Internet of Things – automation can be seen not as many species evolving on their own, but as forming a coherent whole. The research theme will look at ways that algorithmic governance shifts our perspectives on political geography, sovereignty, citizenship, and regimes of rights, and how leverage is embedded in computational technologies. Inverse Uncanny Valley The uncanny valley refers to the feeling of unease that people feel when confronted with something human-like, but not quite human enough. When talking about the “Inverse Uncanny Valley,” we refer to seeing yourself from an outside robot perspective. This research theme looks at uncanny valleys on the individual, group, urban, and geopolitical scales. The obvious examples of humanoid robotics, deep fakes, camouflage, chatbots, and machine vision are of central concern, but so are bigger stakes of post-anthropocenic design. Human Exclusion Zones This theme will explore the programmatic separation of the human and the non-human. Automation at the urban scale may mean opening the factory doors and generalizing its environmental motifs more widely. Bringing automated factory logics into the city means learning to live with or in Human Exclusion Zones (HEZ). The extreme of the Human Exclusion Zone may set half the Earth’s surface aside for recovery, rewilding, remediation, repair, or return to other evolutionary selection pressures. The program is tuition free, and participants are provided with a monthly stipend. All courses and lectures are in English. The program will run until July 2019. Learn more about the program and see final projects from the previous years at thenewnormal.strelka.com.