Architecture at the End of the World

How to start thinking about the use of modern spaces in the near future

Jared Barlament

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The headlines are clear: the world is ending and we’re all going to die. The latter isn’t true, and with humanity at the point we’re at now, it may never be true. The first, however, on the simple basis of considering a long-enough timescale, is inevitably true, and considering the way things have been going these last few years, it may be imminent. Every world order ends. Every political system governing a huge number of people has, as a rule of history, eventually failed, and it is hubris to think that ours won’t end eventually too.

There are a lot of factors — most obviously, war, shifting global alliances, diseases, extremism, inequality, supply chain instability, resource depletion and climate collapse — which threaten the global neoliberal world order standing tall (if shaky) today. The time and date of collapse is anybody’s guess. Perhaps there won’t even be a “collapse” in that classic dramatic sense as much as there’ll just be a gradual decline in quality of life that might last our (being anybody old enough to read this now) entire lives. However, considering the combination of compounding factors and the refusal of world leaders to meaningfully deal with the problems they personally benefit from, that something happens looks all but certain.

Supposing, then, that global franchise capitalism as it exists today falls to the wayside sometime in the next few decades. What then? The question poses an infinite number of other, more important questions. What I mean, though, in this context, in an issue visible everywhere and yet unseen, is this: what happens to the unprecedented amount of physical space we have dedicated all over the globe to the continuous functioning of franchise capitalism? What happens to the KFCs, the IKEAs, the Whole Foods and McDonald’s of the world, and the buildings that house them? What about all the thousands of multinational brands and their hundreds of thousands of locations? What about the unfathomable mass of land on Earth we have dedicated, on the assumption that our supply chains and our worker pools and our customer bases will last forever, to buildings only useful for the hyper-specialized functions of their tiny part of a multinational corporation’s fragile ecosystem of asphalt and concrete?

There is an image floating around online, which I can’t seem to find now, so you’ll have to imagine…

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Jared Barlament

Author and essayist from Wisconsin studying anthropology and philosophy at Columbia University.