Icon 176: The rise of the robots, plus Terry Farrell, OMA, Flores & Prats, and designers confronting pollution 10.12.17

In our latest issue, we embrace the automation revolution, look at young designers seeking to tackle pollution, interview Terry Farrell one the pomo renaissance, profile Spanish restoration masters Flores & Prats and investigate OMA's very Dutch approach to urbanism

Punch the word robots into Google and you will be confronted by a myriad of overwhelmingly negative headlines. Here is a sampler: Robots could take 4 million British jobs (Daily Mail); Rise of the Robots: 600k construction jobs could be lost to automation (Cityam); Will a robot take your job? (BBC); Robots are racist and sexist (The Guardian, obvs). Apart from being a neat little experiment in media bias, there is no disguising the general sense of panic. It is due, in no small part, to the types of job that are now perceived to be under threat. 

Once upon a time it was the lower skilled who had the most to fear from automation. I suspect what is prompting much of the current anxiety is that it now appears that middle-class jobs face extinction. But, as this month’s cover story asks, how realistic is this proposition? As with the industrial revolution, technology has brought upheaval before and yet we are all still here.

To take one example, the ratio of humans to robots on Toyota’s factory floor is the same as it was 15 years ago, which suggests the argument is not so clear cut as some would have us believe. In truth, most of us know little about the world of robotics and, in our ignorance, robots have become a cipher on which we place all our fears about economics, societal status quos and the future. As such we tend to grossly underestimate our own unique capacity for intellectual enquiry and invention. And there is no shortage of footage showing robots failing spectacularly at the most mundane tasks. One of my favourite moments of last year was the fate that befell a security robot in a Washington office, which, possibly disillusioned with a life of patrolling bland corporate workspace, simply toppled into a water feature. The images of Knightscope K5’s corpse bobbing about in algae-infested waters, as three human observers glumly looked on, deservedly went viral. Prophetic? 




Scene Hill House hysteria and dodgy donors’ cash

Global Grad Show Ingenious ideas from the world’s bright young things

Show round-up Highlights from UKCW, Design Joburg and Design Shanghai 

Diary The V&A floats a show on ocean liners, and more

Crimes Against Design The ugly ego of personalised number plates

Opinion Keep London weird, says Rohan Silva

01 DESIGN Pollution 02 web


Pollution solution With dirty air now a ‘national emergency’, can designers stop the smog?

Don’t fear the robots Reasons to be cheerful about the upcoming automation overhaul

Emerging studio Switzerland’s Egli Studio wants you to get how things work

Icon of the month: The Garden Egg Chair Peter Ghyczy’s cult creation is 50

Q&A: Jason Bruges The lighting designer’s 6m robot arms embrace Hull

02 ARCHITECTURE Farrell 02 web


Delirious Netherlands The unadulterated Dutchness of OMA hides in plain sight 

Flores & Prats A profile of the Catalan restoration masters

Model citizen Bloomberg’s not-so-glitzy HQ isn't that bad

Icon of the month: AA Files Otto Saumarez Smith celebrates the architectural journal par excellence

Q&ATerry Farrell The architect reflects on the brutalist revival and his contribution to British pomo

03 REVIEW Jacquettes 02 web


Review: Ward Bennett The overlooked American modernist’s career documented

Review: Jacques Hondelatte Betts Project showcases the ethereal French architect

Rethink: Brit-tech What if technology had a more British sensibility, asks NB Studio

ObsessionBraun Peter Kapos has a serious soft spot for the champions of German functionalism  

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