(sm)art city

After a delay of some time the long awaited, monumental monograph of Cedric Price (1952-2003) was published recently by AA/CCA; 2 volumes in a box document extensively the impressive works and thoughts of one of the most influential British architects whose line of thinking still is more actual then ever. Like the projects of his Dutch contemporary Constant, who worked for almost 20 years on his New Babylon-project, the works of Price – in particular Fun Palace – show another approach towards (re)thinking and designing the built environment. In the words of Guardian-journalist Jeremy Melvin after Price’s death in 2003: “The architecture was indeterminate, flexible and driven by what technology then existed – and some that Price anticipated – for exchanging ideas and goods, and the movement of people from place to place.” Above all, Price offers “a focus to the optimism of the time, when it seemed possible to remake society around the potential for delight and opportunity.” Lees verder

a Smart (?) City History

May 2016, York (UK), an upcoming theatrical performance based on the beautiful short story by E.M.Forster: ‘the Machine Stops’, written in 1909. The main character – Yuno – finally escapes from an underground city in a post-apocalyptic world in which all individuals live in standardised cells while technology facilitates and supplies all they ever need. Connectivity to the natural world is impossible; it is the machine that frames and determines one’s daily life and ultimate destiny. Lees verder

huisjes en consumenten, of dragers en mensen?

Indien men in de woningbouw alleen de menselijke relaties wil herstellen maar niet de technische mogelijkheden van vandaag wil uitbuiten, blijft alleen een weg naar het verleden over, een weg die wij niet kunnen gaan.”

Een citaat uit ‘de dragers en de mensen’ , van Prof.Ir. N.J.Habraken uit 1972, 44 jaar geleden en nog altijd onverminderd actueel. 

Op 22 december j.l. reageerden Gerben van Dijk en Cees-Jan Pen in een kritisch artikel (‘Vastgoedsector heeft gezond verstand nodig’) op recente rapporten van CPB en EIB. Deze – helaas noodzakelijke – kritische reactie valt zeer te prijzen. Ik roep in dit verband het interview van januari 2015 in Bouwformatie van Prof. J. Rotmans in herinnering.[1] Recente ontwikkelingen illustreren dat een substantieel deel van de bouwsector nog altijd hecht aan de bestaande gekende praktijk en de focus legt op proces-innovatie, niet op product-innovatie. Dit impliceert geenszins dat product-innovatie in de woningbouw niet bestaat, wel dat dit vrijwel geen fundamentele consequenties heeft voor het opgeleverde product als geheel. Er wordt nog altijd toegewerkt naar een traditioneel ‘huis’, terwijl we nu als sector bereid moeten zijn ook inhoudelijk anders te denken over hoe ons wonen er in de toekomst uit kan/moet zien; proces en product moeten onderdeel van de discussie zijn. Wij bouwen per slot van rekening niet ter wille van de werkgelegenheid en het bouwen zelf. Lees verder

smart or feel

smart or feel

“There are many realities. There is no single world. There are many worlds, and they all run parallel to one another, worlds and anti-worlds, worlds and shadow-worlds, and each world is dreamed or imagined or written by someone in another world. “
Paul Auster, Man in the Dark

While my first article here originated from several more theoretically oriented issues concerning the iot and the built environment, it should be obvious that theory only will not provide the solutions needed to really achieve understanding, let alone real practical progress. When summarizing the Onlife Initiative discussion in 2013 it was chairman Luciano Floridi who stated that ‘we should write a Manifesto for mum’ ; illustrating that the Manifesto as discussed that day in July needed a transformation that would make it more accessible for the average citizen. The subtitle of the Manifesto – ‘Being Human in a Hyperconnected Era’ – points to the place and role of humans in a framework that increasingly becomes a mix of bits and atoms, of the digital and the analog, of the real and the virtual. Floridi again, later in his recent book: “the infosphere is progressively absorbing any other space”.(Florida, 2014) This, I would add, includes the ontology of the built environment, as discussed in my former article. Lees verder

IoT, built environment and a hyperconnected world

the internet of things connects things to the internet, 

architecture connects people to the environment….

What is it that really frames, determines and influences our built environment? Since centuries we create – out of ‘nothing’ – a (semi-)permanent built structure out of natural and/or artificial materials; in the words of v.d.Laan: “we extract architectonical space as an emptiness out of natural space”.[1] It provides an artificial physical structure in an analogue – originally natural – environment, which – ultimately, when inhabited – facilitates a living space, creating lived space. Architecture thus has fulfilled its role, i.e. the defining and articulation of space, providing a social order, creating a static distinction between public space and private space. Is what we call ‘home’ the only adequate answer to our need for shelter and for our ‘right to be left alone’?

But; ”Architecture’, in the words of Virilio, ‘is more than an array of techniques designed to shelter us from any storm. It is an instrument of measure, a sum total of knowledge that, contending with the natural environment, becomes capable of organizing society’s time and space.” [2]

Lees verder

dreams and science

Dreams or science?

For many people a new year tends to set off with dreams, expectations and good intentions. Just before the turn of the year, on Dec. 14th.2013, the Dutch writer/columnist Bas Heijne read his so called ‘Huizinga’-lecture; a yearly presented text based on the works of the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga who lived from 1872 till 1945. The title of his fine and thoughtful lecture was “the Enchantment of the World” and is – so far, alas – only available in Dutch. (http://uitgeverijprometheus.nl/index.php?option=com_pac&view=boek_detail&isbn=9789044626377)

Heijne’s theme was the suggestion that science has robbed the world of magic, fantasy, dreams and interpretation. While referring to Icarus’ fall to earth – due to his recklessness coming to close to the sun – the example can be interpreted in two ways: first there is Icarus’ courage to achieve new heights with the help of technology (and his inventive father Daedalus) , while on the other hand one can question his recklessness: he did not realise the human limits. Heijne ends his lecture with a warning: “If we do no not regard ourselves and the world as a given, but as something that is given to us, it can shield us for the delusion of manufacturability”. (transl. mp)

Tempting as it is; this is not the proper place to contemplate further on his text; our concern is to determine where does this touches upon the subject of this website: technology as part of science and in particular the IoT. As we know, the Internet of Things came to light around 1999 and was ‘upgraded’ only recently by Cisco into the ‘Internet of Everything’ . This was followed by the ‘Internet of People’ which can be regarded as the acknowledgement that connecting only ‘things’ might be a somewhat limited worldview, despite the fact that by 2020 we will have roughly seven times more connected things than people on our earth.

Since we already experience a situation in which we now already have more connected things than people the question seems justifiable as to which is the world that is ‘given to us’ today; after all, in no time – on the scale of history – our world has changed from practically no connectivity whatsoever into a situation of ubiquitous connectivity. Since our build environment is to a large extend what is making us who we are, we need to recognise the influence this has on the way we act and experience in this artificial space. Jacques Derrida, referring to Heidegger, once remarked: ‘we must learn again how to inhabit’. (Derrida, Point de Folie, p.7, 1986); more important than ever since there is an ontological difference between the environment that ‘acts’ as a passive framework and the one that ‘acts’ as an intermediate/interface between inhabitant and (build) structure.

Architecture can be regarded as the adaptation of space to human needs; technology can assist in determining and realising this adaptation from a viewpoint of service: it facilitates and enhances experience including the assumed lost dreams and fantasy.

Returning to Heijne’s lecture: if we consider the world as it is now again as given to us, we again need to reconsider the differences – and developments – that provide us with this fundamental shift of environment due to increasing technology, which in itself is an element of scientific research. Since however the research on dreams, fantasy and imagination does not keep up with how we experience all this within an increasingly technologically mediated ‘sphere’ we need to rethink what really determines the intimate sphere we call home. In her Onlife Manifesto Keynote-lecture on February 8th. 2013 in Brussels Prof. Julie Cohen remarked: “Preserving breathing room for the play of everyday practice in a networked world is an urgent project for lawyers and policy-makers, for technology designers and engineers, and also for everyone else”

I wish you all a thoughtful and connected 2014.

this article was published on Jan. 1st. 2014 on IOT-World.

a sense of awareness

a sense of awareness.

If the wind starts to blow, swarms of leaves turn out to be subtle bioengineered robots that harness that very wind to propel themselves into an emergent shelter that surrounds you”.

Jaron Lanier, ‘Who owns the Future’. (2013, p.9)

The recent announcement of a 2014 IoT-conference states that “the Internet of Things (IoT) has been considered an innovative and imminent information infrastructure enabling to ubiquitously network various machines, physical devices, and objects, denoted as things, for environment sensing, information sharing and collaboration in intelligent and autonomous manner.” (italics MP)

Our homes are, next to the place to which we keep returning, also the environment where we are surrounded by memories of – past – experiences, dreams and images. Many of these are closely related to objects: many of us occupy houses that have a history of sometimes ages. These houses have witnessed generations of inhabitants, each of which has left their personal signs, marks and traces. Since decades our housing is simply ‘functioning’ , meaning that it does not ‘communicate’; a house remains a passive structure which was not ‘responsive’, let alone communicative.

In his wonderful contemplative little book ‘In Praise of Shadows’ the Japanese writer Junichiro Tanizaki reflects on spheres and objects in his house, as if they were a living element. He praises the light coming through the wooden blinds, the patina of ancient furniture, the history of a lacquered bowl. My own house is built in 1904; I know almost nothing of its history, its original decorations and paints, its former inhabitants. If we can provide objects, materials and structure with a sense of ‘awareness’ that environment can be recognisable and identifiable, it comes to ‘life’. Not only does our home ‘interact’ but its history becomes tangible and imaginable.

Relating the above to architecture provides a somewhat curious image: we build our homes for an average of 70 years; we tend to move roughly every 7 years, varying of course for each country. We – that is, usually an architect – envision a building/house which becomes a fixed structure; we pile stones, we lay wooden or concrete flooring, we add a roof. This is done the same way over centuries; a house in Roman times basically does not vary that much from a modern house. Developments in infrastructure, materials and finishing are of course modernised over time, but essentially not that much has changed. Since the last 10 years however everything in/around our housing has changed and will keep changing: it will be(come) connectable and identifiable, as a structure and as a place for inhabitation and communication. There will be no fundamental difference between structure, building, materials and objects in the sense that one is connectable and the other is not. We increasingly live in a hyper-connected world in which our house – and our home – will become an integrated, adaptable element which participates in the ubiquitous communication.

If we look at the recent works of e.g. Tomás Saraceno or Daan Roosegaarde’s Flow we witness an increasing synthesis between technology, imaginative power and environment. These projects move beyond the traditional singular approach; they try to link our sensory awareness with innovative material options; thus achieving a (spatial) experience which enhances the build framework.

It is up to all disciplines involved in ‘building’ this sphere to surpass the traditional limits of the trade/profession and their boundaries and ensure we create innovative environments for everybody; not just the modern (?) western world.

this article was publised on Dec. 1st. 2013 on IoT-world ;

Technology and/or senses?

Technology and/or senses?.

My first two blogs may have created the impression that I am something of a Luddite , i.e. someone who has an overall negative attitude towards technology in general. So, before proceeding, let me be clear on this: I am not. What I do think is that technology primarily should have a serving role which we can manage and control; where this concerns architecture this raises the question whether our speed and ways of implementing innovative technologies does keep up with our ability to relate these developments to our senses. After all, as humans living in a hybrid world we perceive – and act – to a large extend as individual beings who are also in part depending on innovative technologies. Architecture and man ‘depend’ on each other; we experience space – and therefore architecture – by moving through it and technology becomes an increasingly important part of that space. In his book architect Kas Oosterhuis states: “we must see all objects, including the ‘I’ and individual building components, as actors, as active players in parametric world”. (Oosterhuis, Towards a New Kind of Building, p.24) (http://www.naipublishers.nl/architecture/towards_new_building_e.html)

Many home-technologies depart from the assumption that life is about objective issues; if however we think about technology in/around our environment the first thought should be with the subjective issues; home is much more than a roof over our head. So far home-technology serves pragmatic functionalities: they recognise, automate, register actions and/or act as intermediate between man as inhabitant and his environment. All this departs from the assumption that our environment is a build, i.e. manifest/permanent structure. We still match technologies with an artificial framework which serves as a build sphere; we do not match with empty space as such.

If we rethink our place and role as humans in relation to our environment, we cannot escape rethinking what our attitude towards technology is or should become. In other words; the discussion as to what e.g. a smart/intelligent home is cannot be separated from the more fundamental question as to what technology means within our immediate intimate environment. If we can lift the physical barrier between our current public and intimate space, and determine our amount of protection/privacy by individualised technology, we become an active part of that – process of – determination. We regain control over what determines – and is experienced – as our immediate environment.

Developments, in e.g. smart materials and nanotechnology, will provide increasing possibilities to surpass our need to ‘build’ as we have done for centuries and – more important – to enhance our senses . Architects like e.g. Marcos Novak (e.g. http://v2.nl/archive/people/marcos-novak) have envisioned/created innovative designs that aim at a synthesis between smart materials and (nano)technology, thus creating adjustable, tangible environments.

In 1928 (!) Paul Valery (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Val%C3%A9ry ) wrote: “Just as water, gas, and electricity are brought into our homes from far off to satisfy our needs in response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign”. (Valery, the Conquest of Ubiquity). Valery, being a poet/philosopher, was talking primarily about arts, so one can remark that this is not about our intimate lived space. However, what we accept in art, film or theatre as a world alien to ours is an artificial/virtual world which always exists and is experienced within – the boundaries of – the real world. There is no virtual world without a real world; the first exists by the presence of the latter which will remain a fundamental and vital part of our world, while our senses will enhance our experiences in both worlds; supported by technology.

this article was published on Nov. 1st.2013 on IoT-World

Should a home be smart?

Should a home be smart?

An issue that keeps coming back when the development and implementation of IoT is discussed is that of the ‘Smart Home’; recently accompanied by a – sometimes semantic – discussion about the difference between a smart home and an intelligent home. Since this is, next to food for thought, also something of a contradiction I will contemplate on this a little further. One of my favourite poetic lines is one written in 1944 by the French surrealistic poet Paul Eluard: “When the peaks of our sky come together, my house will have a roof”. This, to me, reflects the ontology of our home: our current house has an address, our home can be abstract, maybe even somewhere else. It is our way of building houses that creates the dichotomy of public and private space: we build a house and – intend to – create a home there, without realising ourselves why and how we ‘dwell’ where we do.

In my opinion home, as an intimate space, basically has little to do with technology; home is about other values – see e.g. Gaston Bachelard’s ‘Poetics of Space’ – which does not imply that technology cannot play a role of enhancing values. But as long as we consider ‘technology’ in our homes as something alien, we inhabit an artificial, build environment in which technology is not considered – let alone experienced – an integrated part.

The term ‘home automation’ is again something of a contradiction; what is there in our home that we cannot do ourselves and would wish to be automated? To which question is home-automation an answer? We consider the fact that we can turn a switch and have a light not as something primarily technological; the moment however that we – in the Netherlands anyway – discuss e.g. smart metering we dismiss a pragmatic ‘technology’ as intrusive, as an attack on our privacy where a proper insight in our use of electricity might be appropriate . We tend to reject because we feel that our sense of privacy is threatened.

Our home can be considered a basic human value; we need – besides shelter – some kind of intimate space as a point of departure for entering public space. In a ‘private’ space we experience freedom which to me implies that we should have control over that space, i.e. over its design, shape, appearance and use. The current paradox is the fact that, as said above, home basically has little to do with technology while on the other hand technology plays an increasingly significant role in designing, realising and maintaining our homes. Now that technologies increasingly permeate this environment we should no longer talk of ‘home automation’ since this implies that we dismiss our control. In a more complex world – in which the IoT plays an increasingly significant role – we need to acknowledge that technology can have an increasingly important role there which does not come to an end when a building is ‘finished’. We need to regain control over environment, building and object which become/are entangled; our environment as a whole will/has become an interface. We move from function to meaning, beyond comfort only. In the words of Pallasmaa: “Architecture is the art of reconciliation between ourselves and the world, and this mediation takes place through the senses”. (Pallasmaa, the Eyes of the Skin, 2005, p.72) Providing objects – things – with an ‘identity’ and adding them to our hybrid environment/intimate space should add to experience; again, not comfort only. Therefore: should a home be smart? Most of all it should resemble our sense of being a part of our world and lived space, be it in the intimate or public.

this article was published on Sept. 30th.2013 on IoT-World

IoT, all the rage?

IOT, all the rage?

“We should seek a future where more people will do well, without losing liberty,even as technology gets better, much better.”

Jaron Lanier, Who owns the Future? 2013:4

At the recent CES-2013 in Las Vegas the Internet of Things was declared ‘all the rage’; Gartner’s Hype-Cycle 2013 report stated that IoT is some ten years from ‘the plateau of productivity’.[1] Should we look for a single connotation on the term ‘architecture’ we end up with references to digital infrastructure instead of one on the build environment. Since this is a new platform dedicated to the IoT – and this blog is about architecture – it might be wise to get the semantics straight before continuing with any further discussion on IoT’s framework and applications concerning our build environment, i.e. architecture.

In 1996 Mark Weiser and John Seeley Brown paved the way in their ‘Coming Age of Calm Technology’, in 1999 it was Kevin Ashton who coined the term ‘internet of things’ : the connection between objects (things) and subjects ( people) to the internet. The years after a wide variety of definitions[2] appeared which may vary in articulation according to approach and/or stakeholder.

This ontological discussion gets interesting when, due to a more thorough rethinking of its origins, the term itself becomes subject of doubt and/or rejection. In 2011 it was K. Swaminathan[3] who declared the IoT a concept instead of a technology, in which “the IoT has materially nothing to do with the internet.” This move, away from pragmatics to theory gets interesting when we contemplate the additional abstract values of linking objects and subjects to the internet. After all, without going into semantics as well: adding a technology is not similar to adding a concept. Being interior-architect I intend to focus on these issues concerning the internet of things and our (build) environment since I consider the latter of utmost importance to man’s life.

In 2015 the number of connected devices worldwide will be three times the amount of people and by 2020 this will have increased to seven times. (see e.g. Santucci, IoT-book 2012[4]) This makes our world a complex, more hybrid world; a mix of real and virtual, of analogue and digital in which human values need attention. It was reason enough in 2011 for the European Commission to launch the rethinking of ‘what it means to be human in hyperconnected world’ , which resulted in a presentation in Brussels last February of a 255 page extensive background document and a concise ‘Manifesto’[5]. Both were more in-depth discussed last July since its content serves as guideline for the new European Parliament to be elected in 2014. Based largely on the work of Hannah Arendt the emphasis is on contemporary human values; one of which is the distinction between public and private space which tends to be understood in spatial terms. Since our way of determining a spatial distinction is to a large extend a way of creating architecture it is obvious that ‘building’ becomes an essential issue in this discussion. After all; we create architecture from a mental image, out of nothing, “we extract architectonical space as an emptiness out of natural space[6]”. (van der Laan, 1992) From there we determine the still current dichotomy of public and private space which both have become part of the same complex, hybrid environment which is increasingly designed, built and maintained by means of various digital processes. However; should we define architecture “as adaptation of space to human needs[7]” (Jaskiewicz, 2013:13) we cannot escape the consequence that we, as users/inhabitants with ever-changing needs and behaviour, must achieve a fundamental and continuing influence on its design and use.

Over the last 50 years a wide variety of architects/artists have created sometimes utopian projects on our build environment; since however most of these projects were thinking projects in the first place most of them were also never realised. (see e.g. Price’s Fun Palace 1964, Constant’s New Babylon, approx. 1950-1960). The question today is whether the preconditions and – social – circumstances have changed significantly; i.e., can we, through the concept of an IoT realise a paradigm-shift by focusing on – sometimes neglected – human values instead of technological achievements only? Can we build the environment while living?

[1] http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/hype-cycles/

[2] See e.g. Council, EPOSS, IERC, Casagras.

[3] Swaminathan, B. K. S. (2012). Toasters , refrigerators and Internet of Things, (1).

[4] http://www.alexandra.dk/uk/services/publications/documents/iot_comic_book.pdf

[5] http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/onlife-manifesto

[6] Laan, D. H. van der. (1983). Architectonic Space (p. 204). Brill Leiden.

[7]Jaskiewicz, T. (2013). Towards a methodology for complex adaptive interactive architecture. Technical University Delft.

this article was published on Sept.1st.2013 on the website of IoT-World.