While I was a graduate student at UC Berkeley studying architecture, ideas were always buzzing around; at design charrettes, guest lectures and of course, at the dining table. International House, where I lived, was home to residents from eighty countries enrolled in various academic programs. Our insatiable thirst for learning extended to coffee hours and dinner, with enough food for thought to go around.
So my attendance at Uncharted on the weekend of October 25 was prompted largely by nostalgia as I hoped to reminisce about those lip-smacking ideas. What I got though, was a delectable spread of ideas on the edge, tapped from the fertile environment of Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Uncharted is an active festival, where enlightened speakers and prominent thinkers spark conversations that ride unexpected moments of brilliance. The eclectic audience dives in with questions, triggering further debate and discussion. Uncharted Labs run workshops parallel to the sessions at a vibrant event curated by Lance Knoble and produced by Berkeleyside.
The Friday morning session exploded with Andres Roemer’s ‘dangerous idea.’ Later, Brian Christian explained to Quentin Hardy how humans are distinct from machines in exhibiting profound ways of communication as he revealed some deep truths about conversations. Humans, he said, feel an urgency to mark their presence in primal ways, unlike machines. As I crossed the street to the Berkeley Rep, I thought about buildings wired with smart technologies and artificial intelligence. How can spatial design be an interactive tool that enables humans to engage with their built environment?
One of the post-lunch sessions had Saru Jayaraman responding to Frances Dinkelspiel’s queries on her battle for restaurant worker wages. At the Roda Theatre, Jeff Chang and Adam Mansbach in the ‘Colorization of America’ discussed society’s role in revering diversity and working with differences. Even though most sessions were dynamic, this one had words flying off and colliding. Jeff’s thoughts on multiculturalism met Adam’s boisterous proclamation on”the value of moving from inequity to equity”.
Nate Lewis described his research in solar technology based on the process of artificial photosynthesis to Annalee Newitz. ‘Here comes the Sun: the new energy future’ laid out the tremendous potential of solar energy and the daunting task of accumulating it on a large scale for later use at night. My question to him from the audience was born out of my work in passive solar architecture. With buildings contributing much to the growing carbon footprint, Nate and I agreed that even small scale strategies need to be implemented to store solar energy for everyday use.
Saturday brought in Steve Coll, Scott Rosenberg, Kamilah Priforce and others with discussions on the power of music in political conflict, racial diversity, food justice and experimental cloning. Deborah Mckoy drew in Daniel Schifrin to the significance of hybrid learning in the future and how kids can be involved in community development and urban planning.
Uncharted would have been incomplete without Shashi Buluswar’s opinions on the moral imperative of using appropriate technology inappropriately and Dave Patnaik’s ideas on our instinctive response to disruption. My conversations with them in the lobby of Freight and Salvage were wonderfully inspiring.
The Friday night party at the University Club rocked with music, local organic food and sumptuous views of the bay. The coffee breaks and the ‘Uncharted Unplugged’ were brimming with authors, infovores, makers, activists, architects, artists and as Lance Knobel put it “idea mavens”.
We often overlook the impact of ideas that challenge the status quo and create a foundation for educated change. Uncharted brought forth not only pioneering thinking but also ideas that matter to all of us in today’s complex, interdisciplinary world. Critical ideas that can elevate humanity, build equitable communities and conserve precious resources to make our world a sustainable place to live, play and work in.
Above all, I loved the feel of my brain cells dancing. Again.
To learn more about Uncharted and the speakers, please visit www.berkeleyideas.com