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’. 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 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 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) 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’. 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”. (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” (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?
 Swaminathan, B. K. S. (2012). Toasters , refrigerators and Internet of Things, (1).
 Laan, D. H. van der. (1983). Architectonic Space (p. 204). Brill Leiden.
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.