07/23/2013 04:25 pm ET Updated Sep 22, 2013

The Future is Human

When I was a child, I imagined the future as something supersonic, living in shiny and smooth space-pod houses, with jet-pack travel and chewing gum meals.

Perhaps the most surprising thing as I consider the Brave New World I live in today is that my adult life is much more timeless than even my childhood was in neat suburbia with car travel everywhere, supermarket shopping and instant meals. Today I get about by walking and cycling, I live and work in old buildings in a shabby-chic city, and maybe the most important time I spend is going to the market and the ritual of preparing and enjoying meals with friends and family.

Many of us no longer have the dream of the shiny and efficient modernity. Instead we have recognized that everyday well-being has a slower pace, and comes from human contact and sharing, quality time with other people, spending time outdoors in the fresh air, regular exercise and healthy eating.

Since the fifties, Scandinavia has been famous for its modern society and its attractive design. But the sustained success of the Scandinavian countries and their economies, which still frequently top the tables for well-being and standard of living, must be put down to a basic understanding of people and their everyday needs.

In the same way, fifty years on, classic Scandinavian designs based on the dimensions of the human body and ergonomics, means that the chair is still comfortable to sit on and still worth buying.

Danish planner and professor Jan Gehl said, "First life, then the spaces and the buildings last. Always in that order."

Jan Gehl reacted against the efficient but soulless environments which architects and planners produced almost everywhere in the post-war years. Something was missing - an understanding of the basics of what makes humans thrive - summed up in the title of his seminal book from 1971 Life Between Buildings.

When we talk about life we mean everything to do with the quality of your everyday life: crossing the street, getting to work or school, buying your groceries, putting out the rubbish, parking your car or bike, watching your children play from your kitchen window, or simply getting a good night's sleep on a summer's night.

To deliver this quality of life we have to make good spaces, balancing the needs for privacy and public life. This starts in the street right outside your front door and in the courtyard at the back, and then continues to the bus stop and the car park, to the market place and the playground, to the civic square and to the public park.

If we want to invite people to live a better everyday life, it has to be attractive and comfortable to walk and safe to cross the street. We have to make the best of the climate we have, protecting from the prevailing winds and capturing the sunshine when it's there. The spaces between the buildings, large or small have to invite for conviviality, appeal to all the senses and respect the human scale.

Only once we have taken care of these things, can we start with the architecture, ensuring we make flexible and robust buildings, which can accommodate a range of activities over time, as well as the complex cycles of family life. It's interesting that many older buildings are so successful - perhaps something to do with generous dimensions and layouts, which seem to invite many different uses and users. When we build, we are investing in the future, thinking the long term.

However in the future we can be pretty sure that basic human needs will be the same as they are today: the citizens of the Brave New World will be the same kind of human beings they are today, they will enjoy the conviviality of human contact and the sensual experience of a beautiful park or piazza in the same way as they do today. I suspect they will have more or less the same hopes and aspirations as they do today: they will want to enjoy a high quality of life in pleasant surroundings, meeting old friends at home and making new ones in public spaces, watching their children play and getting a good night's sleep.

The human future is timeless.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in association with TEDxKalamata's conference on July 26-27 in Greece. For more information, visit