Liam Young is a speculative architect and heads the MA in fiction and entertainment at SCI-Arc in Los Angeles. He has published several books including the recent Machine Landscapes: Architectures of the Post Anthropocene. Before joining a Zócalo/Getty panel, “Is Civilization on the Verge of Collapse?” at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, Young talked in the green room about missing Australia, worrying about the future, and why he’d want to meet Arthur C. Clarke.
What do you miss about your native Australia?
There’s a spot in Australia called Noosa, which is the beach I grow up on. I used to be a surfer. Believe it or not, before the weight of the world crushed my shoulders, I used to have long, bleach-white hair down to my shoulders. I surfed, and I haven’t been on the water since I left.
What’s your favorite pizza topping?
Margherita. Plain, proper, real Italian pizza, I suppose.
What does it mean to be a speculative architect?
A speculative architect is an architect who doesn’t design buildings but rather tells stories about architecture, cities, and spaces.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?
I’ve read a collection of Chinese sci-fi short stories, translated by the author Ken Lu. The compilation’s got a bit of a passus, and it was a fantastic compilation of futures from the perspective that isn’t normally talked about: the Chinese sci-fi as opposed to white, old Western men talking about futures.
What worries you most about the future?
We face so many problems right now; it’s difficult to pin down just one. Uncontrolled biotechnology, unregulated tech development, planetary-scale climate collapse, emerging AI, economic collapse. All of these things—any one of them can radically change the future in a way we don’t want to see, so what’s interesting about the world is just how many of those open questions there are.
What year, past or future, would you time travel to if you could?
All future. 2050 is a good year just because for me, the things that interest me about the future are a future that is still recognizable and still to some degree familiar—but at the same time you can see the consequences of all the decisions that we’ve faced today. I think to time travel, to see the consequence of the present moment, would be most interesting.
What’s the last thing that inspired you?
A big part of my practice is to travel around the world to see sites that aren’t normally on traditional tourist routes, so we’ve traveled a lot to look at the indigenous landscapes that lie behind the scenes of technology. So seeing the growing forms of resistance, where community groups are trying to act against multinational mining companies or livestock technologization … seeing those struggles play out becomes really meaningful right now.
On that note, if you could only take one more journey, where would you go?
I’d go home. The climatic research studio that I run called Unknown Fields which does all these journeys to different places; our next project is going back to Australia, actually. Because Australia, for a long time, has been what we call the quarry of our world. So much of our modern world has been built from the ground and earth of Australia. And right now, it’s in a very critical moment because the first round of easy-to-get resources has been almost exhausted. So we’re now looking at broadscale prospecting of what that next generation of extraction looks like.
Who’s one person, living or dead, you’d most like to have a coffee with?
I’m interested in the power of stories and the way that stories have the capacity to affect large-scale change. So, it would be one of the world’s great storytellers whether that’s Stanley Kubrick, or Arthur C. Clarke, or Margaret Atwood. People that tell very powerful stories about the futures we might be encountering. They’d be worth a coffee.