Enter Interconnected Environments

Our intention as architects to design meaning into space broadens when we conceive of spaces as interconnected environments, linking devices to devices, and thereby connecting occupants with remote individuals, communities, and information sources. Although we have long incorporated the practical opportunities of automation — environmental control systems that manipulate building heat and cooling, raise and lower window shades, and control other architectural elements and systems with little or no human intervention — emerging technology can move us beyond digital integration with architecture as “practical construction” to digital integration with architecture as “art.”

We are surrounded by smart homes, schools, workplaces, shopping malls, and even the city itself with its smart grid. These anticipatory models purport to make all decisions and do all the work for us. But, our models for digital interaction have evolved, and the conceptual models for user interaction now stretch to accommodate decentralized structures that include mobile “anywhere” access, feedback and input from “the crowd,” increased transparency, simulation, and analysis. We are moving from anticipatory centralized models such as the Encyclopaedia Brittanica[] to adaptive decentralized ones along the lines of Wikipedia.[]

Christian Norberg-Schulz said that the job of the architect was to visualize the spirit of the place and to create meaningful places for people to inhabit.[] Perhaps the modern person is less able to understand the meaning of architecture because our education and training no longer emphasizes this appreciation. Nevertheless, architects still aspire to produce buildings and spaces that go beyond function and effectiveness, which can become meaningful to people who occupy or encounter them. With the advent of digitally connected architecture, we have an opportunity to reinvent architecture as a source of meaning. Pervasive computing will provide feedback about perceptions and physical experiences as our bodies interact with our spaces. Documentation and analysis of feedback will increase our awareness of what it means to embody and occupy space. To move to this next stage, digital experience designers and architects must enlighten one another and collaborate to inspire hybrid models of design practice (Figure 13-1).

Hybrid design will emerge when the patterns of digital experience designers and architects converge

Figure 13-1. Hybrid design will emerge when the patterns of digital experience designers and architects converge

(courtesy of the author)

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