The New Normal 2018/19 to explore Japan’s unique robotics and automation culture

In its third and final year, Strelka’s speculative urbanism think-tank will look into Japan’s complex robotics industries and explore its fully automated landscapes, all the way to touring the Fukushima exclusion zone.


Each year, at the midway point of the program, The New Normal researchers depart Moscow on an international trip to conduct original field research towards their collaborative final projects. Previously, researchers have traveled to Los Angeles, La Jolla, San Diego, Hong Kong and Shenzhen, visiting companies, schools, governments, and some unforgettably weird sights and situations.

The New Normal is a three-year Strelka Institute initiative focusing on research and design for the city, and exploring the opportunities posed by emerging technologies for interdisciplinary urban design practices. The program is tuition-free and each cycle runs for five months with a group of 30 Russian and international researchers in Moscow.

Applications for its third and final year are being accepted until November 1, 2018. Learn more about the program and apply at

In 2018/19, Strelka will continue looking eastward and will visit Japan. Design theorist and The New Normal Program Director Benjamin Bratton explains what makes the country particularly relevant to the research currently underway at Strelka:

“This year we are continuing our study of the Eurasian shift toward the Pacific Rim and will be traveling to Japan where we will explore the island’s unique technological culture. Our research on urban automation will engage Japan’s extremely complex robotics industries. From intimate spaces to infrastructural scales, robotics play a fundamental role in everyday life in Japan that are unlike anywhere else but which may signal tomorrow’s new normal. Our interest is cultural as much as technical. We want to get to the core of the uncanny unease about robotic figures that plays out quite differently in different contexts. We are our own best test subjects, and we want to challenge our own comfort zones. What does the seam between cuteness and creepiness say about each of us? What does this reveal about how cultures absorb or resist or even identify with non-human machines in different ways? The answers ultimately play out on an urban scale and the design questions are much more difficult than merely solving the technology.

Photo: iStock

Everyday landscape robotics may mean both a deeper integration of people and automated systems in some areas and also a more distinct enforcement and exclusion of humans from other zones. These zones may be at the scale of a factory floor, automated agriculture, or even the site of a disaster that forces evacuation. This odd new territorial typology (Human Exclusion Zones) has emerged not by master plan but in response to similar problems and patterns. While in Japan we will map them across different scales, all the way up to touring the Fukushima exclusion zone, a site of risk both real and imagined.

Photo: Flickr

For every trip, we end up finding many things that we knew we were looking for, but more importantly we are ourselves found by things that we didn’t know we needed to know. These insights are what has driven some of the most ingenious ideas for our design projects.”

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