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Strelka Institute Unveils The New Normal Book

Strelka Institute has released its first expanded publication in English titled The New Normal. The 548-page multi-authored book is the result of a three-year collaborative program and think-tank at Strelka in Moscow which investigated the impact of planetary-scale computation on the future of cities in Russia, and globally.

The New Normal book has been edited by Benjamin H. Bratton, Nicolay Boyadjiev, and Nick Axel, and published by Strelka and Park Books. The design and layout were developed by Swiss collaborative design office PIN (Larissa Kasper, Rosario Florio, Samuel Bänziger).

The multi-authored publication is a comprehensive record of the questions posed and designs created in response to what the new normal is, and more importantly, what it should be.

“As we all anticipate with uncertainty what a post-pandemic world will look like, Strelka researchers spent the last three pre-pandemic years mapping, modeling, and prototyping the new normal,” said Program Director Benjamin H. Bratton. “If, as we say, the future has not been canceled, this only means that we are all thrown into it on terms not of our choosing. But even so, design as in designation will have its say.”

The work of The New Normal think-tank was conducted in the period between 2017-2019 by ninety interdisciplinary researchers from thirty different countries and over forty faculty members, drawn not only from the field of architecture but also from the areas of computer science, philosophy, art, cinema, economics, and more. At stake for the work was not only what the urban future looked like, but also how it worked; how it circulated ideas, value, and power.

“Working on the publication extended our engagement with this research allowing us to reflect on these ideas and make sense of what we have accomplished,” said Strelka Institute CEO Varvara Melnikova. “The book manifests the result of this work, engaging with both the past and present and proposing bold visions for the future. Highly topical, this comprehensive survey of research work will appeal to all readers interested in the future of cities and urban design.”

According to Bratton, the book represents the collective efforts of the researchers and the faculty to ask together: “What is a city in the age of planetary-scale computation and what else might it be?”

“You will see the answers are neither utopian nor dystopian, neither technological determinist nor social determinist, but occupy an unsettling place that is not so easy to interpret. Taken together they show a world in which software simulates us and we simulate ourselves, where the lines on the map don’t fade away but multiply, where the real materialism of the landscape has the last laugh. The projects and essays are less a recipe of answers than a portfolio of provocations that will, inevitably, become more and more familiar as the new normal takes shape,” he said.

The book includes all The New Normal final research projects, interlinked in newly written thematic essays by Bratton which reflect on the questions posed and designs created by the think-tank, and a series of newly commissioned essays by the following faculty members: strategist and designer Ben Cerveny, architect and writer Keller Easterling, philosopher Yuk Hui, writer and researcher Anastassia Smirnova, architect and engineer Lydia Kallipoliti, writer Geoff Manaugh, digital culture theorist Lev Manovich, filmmakers, artists, and writers Metahaven, artist Trevor Paglen, designer Robert G. Pietrusko, artist and writer Patricia Reed, filmmaker and designer Liam Young, contemporary strategists Rival Strategy, conceptual artist Julieta Aranda, researcher Stephanie Sherman, and designer and writer Molly Wright Steenson.

The visual stream running through the publication is compiled from design studies, archival footage, and curated fieldwork material originating from the research process of the think-tank over three years. Complementing and partitioning the individual authors’ essays, these interwoven illustrations, photographs, and collages are the outcome of a collaborative and unified effort and render a montage-like “cinematic” experience throughout the book.

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“To intentionally frame, design, and run The New Normal as a think-tank over the past years has allowed us to step back and develop work far from the hype or pre-established focus of one particular discipline, while simultaneously taking part in the shaping of an alternative design discourse outside the confines of a single institution,” said Strelka Institute Design and Education Tutor and faculty member Nicolay Boyadjiev. “While The New Normal sits at the tail end of what may arguably be the last/most “normal” decade of the twenty-first century, its resulting outcomes and new normative claims may provide early blueprints for the types of urban design practices needed to face the challenges at hand.”

Projects developed by the researchers ranged from short-form cinema and software design to proposals for new political systems and economic models. The twenty-two interlinked projects show how speculative urban design can move upstream in decision-making processes.

“Some strands of the book are arranged chronologically, while others more rhizomatically, with no clear start or end. Yet throughout, there is rhythm,” said Nick Axel, deputy editor of e-flux Architecture and Head of the Architectural Design department at Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. “The book is ultimately designed to give the reader enough structure so that they can start extracting their own narrative from its diverse concepts, media, and voices. There is no one way of reading The New Normal, just as there is no one way of living within it. The best one can hope for is to detect a pattern and begin to decipher the noise.”

Park Books is the international distributor of The New Normal, which can be ordered on Amazon. In Russia, the book can be purchased directly from Strelka Press.

Find out more about the publication and The New Normal initiative at thenewnormal.strelka.com

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