Stories are powerful. They create shared languages embedded with collective wisdom that can pass ideas across time and space. Stories have been key to the evolution and progression of humanity, extending across societies and generations, helping us make sense of the world.

Through world building, we return to collective storytelling with all its pathways and possibilities and begin to develop the future we want to inhabit.

By envisioning desirable futures - or the parallel universes we may be grateful to prevent - we reassess our narratives and related actions in the present world. The further out we look, the more it changes our view of the present.

Connecting past to future

World building as a practice draws on the historic power of storytelling, combined with breakthrough innovations, to prototype and deliver tangible and actionable outcomes across multiple immersive delivery platforms. Within the framework of these evolutionary worlds, we can leapfrog our persistent constraints and connect our past to our future to create radical change, now.

The worlds we create incorporate the diverse cultural viewpoints of engineers, artists, scientists, technologists, sociologists, storytellers, and more. Together, we gather deep knowledge that, informed by the power of systemic co-creation and multimodal design, provides the structure and flow of an imagined future. The outcome is a powerful ecosystem that stimulates change.

All the stories in any world exist at multiple scales. They stretch globally. They are about time and place, land and sea and sky. And most importantly, they are about people. They connect across continents, nations, and in cities. They link us, the inhabitants of these future worlds, directly to experience at a human scale in schools, neighborhoods, and street corners, and through characters and places and multiple perspectives.

Once we’ve built the container of the world, we can begin to understand its rules. As the rules evolve, they elicit more questions, which in turn strengthen the world’s logic and drive the ongoing and parallel narratives. Finding the right questions to ask determines the directions and the contours of the stories being told, and the characters they contain.

The interdisciplinary nature of world building makes it attractive to a wide range of professionals for whom overspecialization, de rigueur within institutionalized training, is a barrier to new insights and thinking creatively. World building is not only a means for speculating upon and visualizing future scenarios, but it’s also a method for constructing bridges across the boundaries of professional silos; maximizing the creative potential of the individuals engaged through adept collaboration; reconfiguring and reinventing conceptual models; and stitching together the various threads of rigorous research into a contextual fabric capable of supporting even the most reality-altering design provocations.

Where creative thinking meets deep research

ASCE asked Experimental Design to employ our world-building methodology to envision five city worlds at 25- and 50-year time horizons: Mega, Floating, Rural, Frozen, and Off-Planet. The first of these five cities –– Mega City –– was developed to collectively demonstrate the new challenges facing the built environment as technology rapidly advances and becomes increasingly complex, and to provoke new strategies based on a combination of deep multi-disciplinary research and creative thinking. Mega City 2070 allows engineers with diverse skillsets and expertise to explore and thoroughly immerse themselves in a projected urban environment driven by key macrotrends.

The areas of focus considered to be essential drivers of change for engineers and the built environment within these city worlds include alternative energy; climate change; autonomous vehicles; high-tech construction and new materials; smart cities; and policy and finance. Maybe most crucially, these city worlds track how all these factors play off one another, framing the future through an all-encompassing lens that cuts across industries and sectors. Collectively, they provide engineers with an unprecedented opportunity to understand the impact of these trends and their interrelationship on the future of infrastructure development, and to inform the decisions that need to be made today.

After three years of extensive research and expert interviews, narrative development, and digital prototyping undertaken through a deep collaborative partnership between ASCE and Experimental, ASCE’s Future World Vision initiative is now ready to be fully experienced by its members and partners.

The immersive Mega City 2070

Mega City 2070 is an immersive desktop experience that explores from various viewpoints and scales how current cities will grow in density, develop circular economies, and preserve historic character as their structures and materials evolve and adapt.

Mega City 2070 can be explored, experienced, and navigated from numerous vantage points. The Aerial City view shows the growth of Mega City over time; a fly-over District View includes data visualizations of the city’s core infrastructure systems; a Core Sample more closely examines the interrelationships of systems within that district; and a Street Corner view immerses us in the vibrancy and advancement of the city and its neighborhoods.

Each of these perspectives contains multiple, unique pathways that reveal a holistic future we might one day inhabit. Within each vantage point, a wide array of narrative “Callouts” prompts an exchange of ideas and observations. They provoke innovative thinking and storytelling around the actions needed to develop our preferred future. Within the experience, a central repository “Dashboard” for Callouts further stimulates in-depth group discussions and debates among civil engineers.

The FWV Mega City 2070 will grab your attention and entice you to explore and immerse yourself in this future city world. We hope that you will feel compelled to actively contribute to the city’s development, to add new stories along with your unique and data-supported insights, and to engage in vigorous conversations with your fellow engineers.

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