Syd Mead dreams the future of Doha, Qatar


BBG's patron saint of design, Syd Mead, has released his latest vision of a future city: Doha, Qatar. Limpet dirigibles whale through the sky while oil barons cavort in martini glass sky parks.

As I am the luckiest person in the world — and beneficiary of the machinations of one Ms. Xeni Jardin — I will be sitting down with Mr. Mead tomorrow in his home to shoot an interview for Boing Boing TV. After I get done gushingly asking him to draw the future on my pot belly with a Sharpie, what would you like for me to ask him about?

Features: Qatar [ via PSFK via Treehugger]

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  1. The ironic thing? People in Qatar can’t see this post because Internet Qatar blocks BoingBoing.

  2. I would be interested to know more about how he gets the ideas for his art. Does he view the creations as practical inventions or a fun view of the future? Some of the concepts he throws down are pretty smokin’ cool and I wonder if in his mind he envisions real people interacting with these things.

  3. Does he have any green building ideas we might steal?

    Solar panels, windmills, hydro-electric, green roofs — these things should all look cool by virtue of being relatively new inventions. But, somehow, they all look the same and kind of sucky.

    Teh future, we wantz it.

  4. Please ask if the DVD re-release of Kronolog is coming out any time soon. When I last saw him speak a few years ago, he said it was in the final stages of production; I’m looking for an update.

    Otherwise, nothing but love for Mr. Mead and his incredible immagination.

  5. I would be interested to know more about how he gets the ideas for his art. Does he view the creations as practical inventions or a fun view of the future? Some of the concepts he throws down are pretty smokin’ cool and I wonder if in his mind he envisions real people interacting with these things.

    Basically, you want to buy his Visual Futurist documentary DVD.

  6. Mead is probably the single greatest designer/futurist influence in my career, but I’ve always been conflicted about the blind optimism vs. the (often) ugly reality of the urban mega structures he designs. While I love his work, I think that his brand of mega-optimism is very much a holdover from the “golden age” of futurism of the 50s through the 70s – a time when there was less cynicism and more belief that technology would continuously improve nearly every aspect of our lives.

    I’d love to hear his thoughts as to whether he feels any social responsibility to “update” his personal design manifesto to account for real-world issues. Or do clients just want to have him paint pretty pictures and leave it at that?

  7. #7: You have framed my question far better than I could. I’d like to know how he feels about places like Detroit or Houston. Places that might not fit into his idealized future.

  8. Has he noticed whether any of the pictures he painted 30 – 40 years ago have come into reality?

    If so, which ones?

  9. People in Qatar can see this post. It seems that our gracious censors have deemed BoingBoing fit for the masses 😉

  10. The martini glass skypark design seems really impractical on a basic level. They’re butted up against one another, but there’s no obvious or convenient way to get from one skypark to the other. And what’s inside those martini glasses? I guess the stem could be a kind of elevator shaft, but there’s a lot more martini glass than there is skypark, and it seems like a really poor use of space.

    It looks like in the distance there are some martini glasses capped with transparent globes. What’s that about?

    Syd Mead’s designs can be really cool, but his optimism about technology is informed by a turn of the century, Sci-Fi pulp, World’s Fair aesthetic that predates the whole 50s gee whiz thing. Oddly, our own conception of future technology still seems to be informed by Syd Mead.

    When we see visions of the future in movies and on sci-fi book covers they still look like Star Wars and Blade Runner. What’s not happened in the last 20 years to make us so shortsighted, or is Syd Mead’s influence just that persuasive?

  11. @7,8

    Interesting question and I’ll be looking forward to his answer. Although, I’ll throw this out there:

    Why should Mead (or any artist, philosopher, etc.) feel responsible for “updating” his/her world view? If he’s a complete “sun is always shining” optimist isn’t that good for the world to see a future that could and should be?

    Why do artists need to change their views to suit the world? Shouldn’t it be the world that has to change to make these dreams come true?

    We’re the most adaptable species on this planet, yet too many times we get in our on way. It’s perhaps the question of our time.

  12. I don’t think Mead should change, or anyone who has a retro conception of the future needs to update their approach. Mead is Mead. But in trying to visualize our future in a literal and practical sense we tend to defer to the same model, or at least, variations on a similar theme. Even the Matrix has a retro approach to high tech hardware.

    Though the Minority Report attempted to portray updated conceptions of current technological trends, the essential look of the film was very Mead. Even in the Johnny Mneumatic movie based on William Gibson’s progressive sc-fi, the look was more Microsoft than cyberpunk.

    I’m using movies as examples because special effects are one of the best ways to illustrate moving working models of what the future might be like. Even in most print sources: pick up the average sci-fi book cover and you’ll see something very similar to what you might have seen in the 70s. Spaceships burdened with clunky mechanical hardware that look more like what you’d see if you popped the hood of an average car than anything resembling contemporary ideas of where technology might be headed; robots that look like refrigerators with wires and machined parts inside. These images don’t resemble much the ideas expressed in the contemporary sci-fi of people like Stephenson and Doctorow.

    I don’t think artists need to change their views to suit the world, but art can’t help but reflect the culture, and our present culture tends to look backwards when imagining our future landscape. Has anybody checked out Epcot Center’s Tomorrowland recently?

    But are we talking about artists in general, or futurists? Mead was a futurist, and his images were meant to be projections of the future as he saw it. His view was a romantic one, and in his images he was able to predict many aspects of the future of industrial design as we see it today. But this was a future as conceived 20 or more years ago. Where are our contemporary futurists in the world of art and design, the Sid Meads of the world today?

  13. First and foremost, Mead is a salesman. From his car design days to his US Steel promotional books to his movie designs, his first job is to sell an idea that’s appropriate to the venue. Even this Qatar image is for Qatar Steel, who likely want to promote the use of their steel in building projects. A rendering of a run-down neighborhood or boring old airplane wouldn’t convey the forward-thinking image the company probably desires (though steel would be about the last material I’d use to build a cruise-blimp!).

    Mead has certainly imposed his own design style and technological beliefs into his work, even in his commissioned work. But my original point was that his optimism of culture and technology is firmly rooted in a bygone era, when many people actually believed they would live on the moon or fly to work in their hover cars. People are far more cynical (and realistic) about their technological expectations today.

    I believe that big technological breakthroughs (skyscrapers, moon landings, computers) are a thing of the past, and our so called “futurism” has been supplanted by consumerism of goods that are only incrementally and invisibly improved. We have been sold on the idea that products and technology are “innovative”, but the threshold of what is considered innovative is so low that everything is “innovative” now, so nothing is.

  14. Every image of the future doesn’t have to be a dystopia.

    Consumerism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While corporate consumerism is dehumanizing and a danger to our social and environmental ecology, a new kind of consumerism is being developed through open source and the creative commons. I see a future where many of the things we consume, particularly in the area of intellectual property, will be in the hands of individuals rather than corporations.

    We don’t know what kind of technology the future holds, but what if you could grow a computer in your backyard? What if many of the non-food items we consume, not just frivolous merchandise but products that are practical and necessary could be manufactured for free or almost free?

    The future may not resemble the one conceived in the fifties and I don’t think that all our problems will be solved by any means, but I’m not completely pessimistic.

    Human beings are pretty tenacious. It might be a difficult proposition to wipe us out completely. But then again, we’ve gotten very good at exterminating one another…

  15. Where does he go for his inspiration? It can’t all spring fully-formed from the perfect vacuum of his mind. Does he read magazines? Blogs? Hovering coffee-table books? What artists does he look at? Who are his favorite contemporary or historical desginers/architects?

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