Smart Thoughts

About Designing the Future

Make New History: Create the Book of Four Days

Written by: Elena Rocchi

If you could create a box for us to dream in, what would it be like?

How do we consider ourselves concerning the notion of history, since we are history?

Is it working material for architects?

Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee reintroduced that notion in the Chicago Architecture Biennale 2017, “Make New History.”   The exhibition has created a vital conversation.  How do architects inherit legacies to inform collective thinking about the future?



The exhibition lifted its title “Make New History,” from an art object Ed Ruscha designed in 2009. It is a book. Ruscha printed the words “Make,” “New,” and “History” on the three sides of the book block, as well as his name on the spine.  Inside the book, all pages are blank.

This art piece elegantly captures the mutability of this thing we call history: in trying to read the title, one must turn the book all around, showing history as a process rather than an objective timeline.

Ruscha’s book speaks of how history operates. It is a great source of freedom – a field that is infinite in every direction. It is operable in all senses – an object people can expand to verify and legitimize proposals.

There is more: the blank pages inside and the few printed words on the exterior speak of history as something that emerges in a specific time when memory is endangered. People remember this unfolding movement of time as an interruption of the historical experience. History manifests in fact where it disappears as a process. This image has no past, no present, no future. It exists here and now, within a time that is synchronic with the present time of whomever is looking at it.

The Four-Day Box of Deep Dreamers

As a step previous to the creation of the actual The Guidebook: How to Design the Future, I would like to let history emerge as the image of ASU community in our campuses. If I could create a box for us to dream in, it would have the shape of the world of buildings of our campuses. They are objects not consciously noticed during our subsequent visits. The invisibility of research hidden in rooms as the metaphor of the future we are engendering can be turned into a presence many can feel like an idea.


A "Future Past" image by Elena Rocchi.   Based on the Gammage Auditorium at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus and inspired by “The Giant” by Royal de Luxe. “Once upon a time, he climbed onto the roof to watch people for four days…”




For four days, people can collaboratively engender their dream of the future in real time in a simultaneous series of events taking place in all the campuses’ buildings’ interiors. Under the topic “How to Design the Future Here and Now,” and combining science with arts — as making with thinking — we can observe future possibilities as a theoretical basis of future constructions. 

Every discipline can shape the form of design, observing people’s change of behaviors. Every ASU school and institute can construct events as the fundamental desires on which the next civilization will be founded.  They can play with the time and space of our campuses to manifest the collective unconscious as an affirmation of designers as creators.

The “Future Us” event will be a stage considered as a means of knowledge and action.  Subdivided into “district’s quarters” around the university, people will drift to form new groups. Future will naturally tend to gravitate there. Everyone will speak from his or her personal district’s quarter to design the future as an illusion to live in a moment of four days.

 The Book

The results will fill the pages of our dream box book with a sense of presentness – a call to work with the material of the “here and now” using partnerships within schools at ASU that are designing future potential imaginability. The Book in this sense can reveal ways different disciplines receive the past to inform through design collective thinking about the future as a rich mosaic of stories of places and creative practices.

This will be a book as a message we sent to ourselves from the future as a consequence of what we are doing now, something we have in common. In being here and now, in avoiding a look at the past – since we are the past – we can better embed design in a larger field, cultural and physical, while practicing our duty to touch the lives of the many.

A "Future Past" image of the Gammage Auditorium, ASU, Tempe, Arizona – present site of ASU's main campus: “Open structure under construction since 1958” by Jussara Scarle, a student of Rocchi’s, transcends past idealistic aesthetic of an object in the field to a future complex open-ended network of fragments.




About Elena Rocchi  

Elena is the program coordinator in the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Design program at Arizona State University.  BSED aims at creating a deep awareness and knowledge of issues that influence the design of built environments and the design of artifacts in general.  She is a clinical assistant professor in The Design School, and a PhD student in the Design, Environment, and the Arts program at ASU.  Elena is a former fellow at Taliesin the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. She has been professor at the Architectural School at ESARQ-UIC, Barcelona, Spain, and Professor of Thesis and Co-Director of Master Interior Design for Commercial Spaces” at IED Istituto Europeo di Design.  She was Senior Architect and Office Director of Miralles Tagliabue Associated Architects from 1995 till 2008. She has given lectures and workshops throughout much of the Western world.