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What is normal? Or better, what is “The New Normal”?

This is what design theorist, professor and tutor at Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design in Moscow, Benjamin H. Bratton asked himself.

His large-scale research project required three years to be completed and it is based upon many researches carried out by different designers. These studies gave birth to the written publication “The New Normal”.

How is urbanization and the development process of Russian cities and the cities of the world changing? “The New Normal” tries to answer this kind of questions, analyzing different data and different ages/eras that have marked the evolution of the cities. However, why has technology influenced our adaptation to the cities that much? And how has it evolved so fast leaving us behind? Can the lack of communication between society and the abrupt evolution of cities be perilous?

Strelka is the ideal platform to ask and hopefully answer these questions, as they extend directly into the mission of the Institute to reimagine and refashion the future of Russian cities.

Strelka’s first research context is Russia because, over the years, it has been the first place which mixed a sort of futurism and tradition. Its capital city Moscow evolved very fast in a short period of time. Actually, Russia has never “respected” the “traditional times” of evolution: its history is characterized by accelerations and decelerations.

From this kind of evolutionary manner and “past futurism”, at Strelka Institute they concluded that “progress is not a myth but something that is always possible, something that will always occur”.

So, at Strelka, designers studied technologies that influenced the development of the cities, in an explorative way. Actually, new technologies create great expectations but also a sort of anxiety because we do not really know what to expect and how to face and relate them to our reality.

“The New Normal” at Strelka is a speculative urbanism think-tank, a platform for the invention and articulation of a new discourse and new models for the present.

The Strelka research program is based on a collaboration between students and experts from varied disciplinary backgrounds who produced different outcomes.

The curriculum is structured as a sequence of intensive modules in which students will engage both traditional and new methodologies. They analyze different scenarios as well as different cultural and aesthetic models but also different forms and formats, such as urban data, urban economics, urban philosophy. This speculative research has been and is useful because it is crucial to understand how and in what ways our model of cities are changing.

Only by mapping the “New Normal” and modeling what is possible we can hope realizing what is preferable.

In order to see the possible development of things in all their strangeness and uniqueness, we need solid bases to start from and also a pinch of imagination because the future is something we have not experienced yet, but surely something we can think about.

Thinking about new urban models and imagining how they could work, will let new platforms for urban engagement and governance including applications, simulations, protocols appear.

The Speculative Urbanism think-tank project at Strelka Institute is something that can help us understand our present, but especially our future.

Interview by

Riccardo Aimerito

Images provided by


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