Emerging Models of Convergent Design

Beyond machines, spaces themselves can speak to us. Alex Hawkinson of SmartThings[] connected the architectural elements — floors, walls, ceilings, windows, and doors — of his home based on low-power sensor network standards such as Zigbee. [157] wired editor Bill Wasik described this house as he predicted three phases of evolution on the path of ubiquitous and full integration of devices and digital intelligence into the physical world — proliferation (more devices, more sensors), interdependence (devices learn to rely on one another to take action), and integration (sets of devices organized into programmable systems).[] Wasik’s vision of the third stage of fully integrated devices suggests that hybrid design practitioners will be called upon to map space in terms of the system of data and decision flows as well as the flow of people and human activity, to work simultaneously as interaction designers as well as designers of physical space.

The age of space populated by integrated and interconnected devices will require an important skillset, which can be labeled network understanding. Albert-Laszlo Barabasi of Northeastern University observed, “Today, we increasingly recognize that nothing happens in isolation. Most events and phenomena are connected, caused by, and interacting with a huge number of other pieces of a complex universal puzzle. We have come to see that we live in a small world, where everything is linked to everything else.”[] Barabasi applies tools of network science to increase understanding of the way the information network of the Web is structured and how it develops. The complex linkages of the individual to a community, society, and a world are becoming manifest through architecture. Beyond providing opportunities for efficient communication and problem solving, this manifestation will change the nature of our relationship to architecture. Network understanding, or insight about the way elements exist in dynamic patterns of cause and effect, will be needed alongside traditional architectural skills. The hybrid design practice will incorporate network understanding alongside knowledge of technical requirements for particular spaces for human occupation.

Interconnectedness in the design process opens up opportunities to invite stakeholders or “the crowd” into decision making. Hybrid design practitioners will understand how to tap the wisdom of communities through a connected design process. Design influence by consensus is not new. It is often applied when projects require community support to thrive. Christopher Day, in his book Consensus Design,[] discussed the benefits and pain of socially inclusive processes. A design professional gives up control over project decisions, faces the challenge of getting a group to align around the needs of a situation, and reaps the value of the contribution of many voices to strengthen a project. This practice requires leadership, social skills, and conviction in the outcome. Yet, how these skills will be translated into situations in which the crowd is geographically distributed and linked by the Internet remains to be seen.

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