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Building the 22nd Century conference web banner

BT22C Blog
Omaha / Lincoln, Nebraska, Oct. 14-16, 2013 spacer

Building the 22nd Century conference web banner

What will cities of the 22nd century look like?
What barriers and challenges must we transcend as much of the population resides in these mega-environments?

The UNL College of Engineering, in collaboration with the College of Architecture, is excited to host the “Building the 22nd Century” Conference in Omaha, Neb., offering an insightful and forward-thinking dialogue concerning cities of the future. Experts from Google, MIT Media Lab, international architectural firms, the U.S. military and others are here to share their visions concerning the 22nd century built environment.


DAY 1: Monday, Oct. 14

Tim Wei, Ray Kurzweil, Janice Perlman, John Rosenow, Kent Larson, Dror Benshetrit, Bjarke Ingels, Shohei Shigematsu


DAY 2: Tuesday, Oct. 15

Cindy Frewen Wuellner

Cindy Frewen Wuellner

What happens when you can design and build virtually anything? (Check her Pinterest pages!) Then the question is: while we're building these incredible things, what about shelter for a billion people living in contrasting conditions?

How do we know what to build? It's a balancing act. It’s hard to think 100 years ahead, but we need to do this with permanent structures.


  • What are we facing?
  • How do we think about the future?
  • How can you shape the 22nd century? Cities are really a phenomenon of the past 100 years. Sewers are more recent than that!
  • How do we do prosperity without growth? Look at the futures (always plural).
  • How do we take in the big picture to influence our work as architects/engineers?
  • What is the real value/meaning of what you're building? 99% of what you learn is about the past; 100% of our job is designing the future (multiple futures).

Be future-literate. Be aspirational. Hold these in your mind at the same time.

Kardashev: by 2200, will we create Type 1 civilization ... balanced. Type 2, Type 3 solar system ... we're now at Type 0 (nonrenewable).

Building cycle is in 25-year periods...22nd century is 4 cycles away.

Waves: industry, steam/rail, steel, electric ... now: micro/nano = 6th wave Rise, crash, rebuild with innovation ... applied to time pattern: 2030-45 would be golden age

Shanghai, 1990-today (23 years) ... New York took 50 yrs (1876-1932).

So, how can we shape the future (our job)? Get comfortable with uncertainty, that's where transformation comes from. Start with images ... Jetsons' Rosie robot maid 40 years ago to today's Roomba vacuum cleaner ... imagine your CAD drawings and start self-imagining, kinetic robots as part of our building process.

All of us can and should be aspirational pragmatists. Marry your dreams with your hero self & that will change the world.

Panel: Don Albinger and Brad Strittmatter


Brad Strittmatter, Olsson Associate


  • automated parking systems
  • efficiency sensors for road weather information systems
  • dynamic messaging
  • traffic systems communication...cameras now replacing dynamic loops in pavement (how much more data could be used?)
  • soil sciences & management
  • sustainable designs
  • stormwater management as quality more than quantity/past renewable energy /
  • sustainable food
  • renewable energy system – taking waste heat from a municipal waste water plant & using energy to heat/cool campus buildings and Nebraska Innovation Campus

What's the determining factors in projects? What clients need.

In our business, it’s less about materials and more about use: necessity is the driver ... things to fit smaller spaces ... that’s the biggest change in construction.


Don Albinger, Johnson Controls, Inc.

We’re building automation systems. I started a renewable energy business & lead the engineering organization for the company. Much has changed from my 1984 arrival with the company.

Net zero buildings - 40% of energy we use is for buildings.

Solar/thermal, etc., can make difference in costs and efficiency. There needs to be more effective ways to transport energy through buildings. For example:

  • insulation window chemistries - opaque to dim & sensors for lighting detects
  • need retrofitting in buildings – there are challenges but still plenty of opportunity to get to net zero.

Get ready for big data, such as predictive control algorithms - computing power

Circular, collaborative models (not linear) are needed.

Next century challenges: cost justifying next wave of technology., e.g. self-healing products.


Panel: Lance Collins & Larry Rilett

Lance Collins

Lance Collins, Dean of Engineering, Cornell University

Cornell & NYC have initiated an applied sciences competition for their new campus, to overcome current shortage of tech talent as bottleneck. We plan to grow a new campus and attract faculty and students from a global pool. It looks different than Silicon Valley because work is with media & existing tech in the city.

This campus isn’t built around traditional departments ... judged by amount of tech developed, startups formed. We made a matrix organized by hubs as interdisciplinary units, to drive industry sectors. We’re using an apprenticeship-style of education, with students supervised by faculty & industry. All together, the new campus will be the size of Cornell Engineering now, but in a differing place.

Our buildings feature energy, wireless, retrofit, advanced materials. Also we adapt for transportation advances with cars/trains/planes - tech discussed here at BT22C.

Larry Rilett

Larry Rilett, UNL Professor of Engineering

Even after 140 years, today we're still steel on steel. We’re still moving freight via water. There have been improvements via the EPA, but still negative externalities: congestion, smog, etc.

1982 total delay: 1.1 billion hours / 2011 total delay: 5.5 billion hours

Our research looks at what this place looks like one hour ago, one hour from now.

Driverless cars are great, but have engineers met class action lawyers?

I define sustainability as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Economic, social and environmental are some measures for sustainability. We must ensure equity between/among population groups. Sustainable transportation requires understanding, quantifying and applying solutions.

Tsunami in Japan: 18,000 deaths and billions of dollars in damage. Preparation helped it not be as bad as it might have been. Lesson learned: don't put backup generations where flooding can affect them.

Nebraska Ice Storm (2006) required replacing 10,000 electrical towers. We can engineer for less damage than there might have been. If you don't plan, you won't have a very robust recovery system.

Challenges for civil infrastructure systems: resilient, robust, reliable.


Henry Cisneros


Henry Cisneros, former HUD secretary and former mayor of San Antonio

Dean Wei, congratulations on this amazing structure--the event and your college, and then to bring in professionals is a tremendous thing and a testament to what you do for your state. I admire the Midwest cities' structures, parks, amenities--they show much care.

As a student at Texas A&M, I came to admire engineering and completed my studies in Urban Planning, part of Texas A&M's architecture programs. From Big 12 to Big 10, we see the great public universities and I commend you all for that.

I've been working in cities for 40+ years. Watching the performance of the mayors in 1968 amid urban crisis; I got my master's degree and have used that since. Now with Cityview, we aggregate capital to benefit cities. We reshape the skylines of cities.

At HUD I saw large-scale impacts: communities and cities that work. 2011 - 1st time in human history - more people live in cities than anywhere else. America's westward development with metropolitan economies changing how we live. The machinery of urban life has provided stepping stones to modern life. Governance - great cities find ways for civil engagement. Great improvements have been place-based: WPA, war on poverty and more.

Through our history, urban places have been essential to our progress. Not just more quantity but the application of technology to improve our roads, water systems, etc. Example: Akron, Ohio is changing from rubber manufacturing to a new place on that spectrum through chemical research with its university. We need sustainable neighborhoods and homes. Cities can be contributors to solutions for climate change. Iron rule: high skills equal high wages, so we must generate the highest skill base possible for our people.

As important as communication has been in the 20th century, bio sciences will be for the 21st century. I foresee an urban renaissance, the metropolitan era, with cities as the focal point.

Audience Question: using Detroit as an example: How can we avoid avoid future urban crisis? I would call that an American industrial crisis. In most cities, 30% of jobs were manufacturing. Industries left, but physical spaces (factories, warehouse structures) can't leave. The new economy is getting its sea legs though it's been difficult, due to being heavily invested in one industry. These places seem hopeless but to survive they must rethink their economic futures and find a new rationale. For Detroit, it will be automotive but not as it's been, with the specialized education available there. There's a role for these cities and they have to decide it for themselves. If they can't, they postpone the day when positive change can happen.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal , former U.S. Forces Commander; co-founder, McChrystal Group

Gen. McChrystal began by acknowledging the future has more unknowns than knowns--but, he confidently stated, we know we will need successful leadership skills. For the next 90 minutes he shared his perspective: centered on "adapt or perish." When an organization's or individual's learning curve naturally flattens over time, there can be an "adaptability gap" which he cited in dealing with terrorists such as Al-Qaeda.

Other factors include predictive hubris, organic adaptability, shared consciousness and empowered execution. Talent isn't enough--when hiring talented individuals you must also assimilate them into the team. McChrystal described the Joint Special Operations Command as world class but also insular and siloed when he arrived to lead it--tribal, with both plusses and minuses about its interactions. The JSOC faces challenges from working against an entity that is culturally different for us to understand, geographically dispersed, dynamic and morphing and just operating differently. The enemy no longer takes hostages and asks for ransom, but flies planes into buildings and says, "the world has changed; how do you like that?"

With this, we must have our ordinary people do extraordinary things by developing trust as the sinew between each other to form (or re-form) our organizations. We grow from disparateness to a common purpose and subordinate ourselves for the good of the team. With shared consciousness we achieve empowered execution, with our people able to act more quickly and own the problem.

Audience Question: How do we build trust in mega-environments? Is secrecy OK? It's hard to break down walls to achieve that. 9-11 happened because we (national security entities) didn't share info. The biggest fight in my command was to keep knocking down wall and building trust. We had a daily 90-minute teleconference, which was an effort but paid off because by involving our entire command we could make more informed decisions. There will be people who don't quite buy-in--"I'm not sure our leader is right about this, but I know what we're doing now isn't working"--that's a starting point.

How do we affect change "uphill"? The follower role should be much more interactive--in democracy, it doesn't stop after you vote. You need to help leaders be informed. The USA is 330 million individuals who made a pact together to be a nation together, yet that does sometimes mean some sacrifices. The great thing about teams (sports, as you know in Nebraska) is that everybody gives something of themselves and commits to something special.