“A picnic. Picture a forest, a country road, a meadow. Cars drive off the country road into the meadow, a group of young people get out carrying bottles, baskets of food, transistor radios, and cameras. They light fires, pitch tents, turn on the music. In the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that watched in horror through the long night creep out from their hiding places. And what do they see?”
– Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (1972), Roadside Picnic
As if humanity had woken up from a night-long party full of excesses, the sudden realization of being in the Anthropocene fills many in confusion and despair. Climate breakdown, environmental degradation, and mass extinction are tangible reminders that promises of human progress upheld by modernity have not really ended up in the landscapes of our dreams. What is more, the overwhelming complexity of their unintended consequences destabilizes our capacity to imagine ways to move forward. But, what if, simultaneously, such landscapes of unintended encounters, with the technologies, monuments, ruins, traces, and waste of seemingly supernatural forces, may also afford, and teach us, new designs and tools for survival?
With a combination of essays, memoirs, guided imagery, and speculative story-telling, this book reenacts Roadside Picnic, a sci-fi story addressing the problem of humanity’s contact with another intelligence through the environmental effects and wreckage left behind by the visitors. The bewildering nature of worldly Roadside Picnics pushes human and non-human beings across the planet to a similar situation. In the face of that shared condition, the book Roadside Picnics highlights the ways in which architecture and the built environment participate in and condition both our encounters with the unthinkable—How do we face trouble?—as well as the futures that are possible in the unintended landscapes of the Anthropocene—How do we stay with the trouble?