You can often tell a lot about a country by simply walking around, browsing and observing the social interactions of the small market stalls that sprout up outside those corporate organisations that sell the latest consumer goods.

A memorable trip to Akihabara electronic district in Tokyo last February springs to mind. These individual electronic components, displayed alongside new and old products, gave me such delight, and made me think of possibilities for our built environment. The material world we consume is often taken for granted, yet nearly every element has been designed or considered by someone. For example, the average flip phone uses 363 components – all pieces I could have bought in this very market.

Everyday, emerging technologies promise new opportunities that will apparently change the components we use to design our physical landscape, so what might the market stalls of the future look like? Will the promise of nanotechnologies and synthetic biology really deliver new ways of shaping things from the ground up?

Such developments will only continue to strengthen the opportunities designers have to think about new ways to shape our interactions with the products and environments of the future. It has never been a more exciting time to question the fundamental beliefs and behaviours that shape society’s values.

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