Dutch architecture firm UNStudio has just launched a new company called UNSense, whose purpose is to explore and develop “new sensor-based technologies that are specifically designed to positively impact people’s physical, mental and social health.” They are calling the new business an “arch tech company” and it is their belief that, at some point, all architecture firms will become arch tech companies. You can learn more about UNSense, here.
This announcement got me thinking about the state of smart home technologies, which, of course, is this massive buzzword that everyone is throwing around these days. Many of us have smart thermostats, voice assistants (that may be listening to our every word), wifi lights, and so on. And you can do some pretty neat things with software like IFTT, such as program your lights to come on at sunset or when you walk in the door.
But as cool as they may be, these smart home devices have always felt like patchwork add-ons to me. I understand that this is partially driven by what customers can easily adopt and I don’t mean to discredit the value that they bring, but today’s post is about reminding us to also think more fundamentally, as opposed to just incrementally.
Smart thermostats, for instance, give us the functionality to adjust our heating/cooling from our phone. But at the end of the day, they still control the same underlying system, which, by the way, is a fairly simple one. When it gets cold (because of our R-3 windows), the heat turns on. When it gets warm enough, the heat turns off. Zoned systems certainly add another layer of sophistication, but are we optimizing for the right variables?
UNSense works at three scales: Cities, Buildings, and Interiors. And if you look at what they are trying to do at the building scale, it is around the interface between inside and out. Designing transformable facade systems and buildings that can respond to their environment and our changing needs. These are not new ideas, but in today’s tech-driven world, the timing may just be right.
If you think about the climate we have here in Toronto, it is actually an incredibly difficult design problem. We have cold winters and hot humid summers, which means we have to solve for two different extremes. Mechanical systems have made that a lot easier to do, but if we’re going to meet the energy and greenhouse gas emission targets that we’re all talking about, we’re going to need a hell of a lot more than just smart thermostats.