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Architecture and the "smart home"

In the April issue of e-flux journal, Justin McGuirk examines the ideology and technology behind the “internet of things,” especially its intrusion into the domestic sphere. McGuirk notes that architects have been largely silent on this coming transformation of the home and its infrastructure:

For the first time since the mid-twentieth century—with its labor-saving household appliances and rising quality of life—the domestic is once again the site of radical change. And though domestic space appears to fall within the realm of architecture, architects themselves have been almost mute on the implications of such change. Architecture, it seems, has given up its dreams of imagining how we might live, and so into that void technology is rushing. That tired old trope of “the house of the future” has been replaced by what is now called the “smart home.” The smart home is the network’s great white hope for ubiquitous connectivity. It sounds benign enough, and may conjure Jacques Tati-style mise-en-scènes populated by absurd devices—the smart home is prime territory for farce—but it is also an ideology. It is the house-shaped manifestation of the internet of things, according to which all our devices and appliances will join the network, communicating with us and each other…

The question is, what are the implications for architecture? Do these developments have spatial ramifications? Should we plan and build in new ways to accommodate this technological surge, or is it just a case of running a few extra wires into the walls? Can architects continue to design according to age-old principles of good form and sound proportions (or stick to the boilerplate floor plans prescribed by greedy developers, as the case may be)?

McGuirk goes on to assert that “smart, connected products will lead inevitably to patterns of control.” The smart home, it turns out, is just a way for “big data” to envelope even more aspects of our lives:

All of which goes to say that the smart home is merely the consumer entry point to a vast new economic territory of invisible infrastructure. The mundane (or even intimate) domestic data of the smart home accumulates into the “big data” of the smart city. And here there are powerful corporate forces at play—forces that our neoliberalized, austerity-riddled municipal authorities may be increasingly powerless to resist. Again the ostensible motive is efficiency: smart waste bins that know when they need to be emptied and smart traffic lights that can recalibrate themselves based on traffic flow. But these services are politicized through their transfer to the private sector.

Read the full essay at the e-flux journal website.