Editor's Highlights from Dwell's First-Ever Issue Dedicated to Smart Technology
In this issue, we examine technology’s place in the home, and the way the new buzz-phrase "Internet of Things" is making life easier, more accessible, and maybe even more vulnerable as we adapt to an uncharted era.
In our 15-year history, Dwell has pursued cutting-edge innovation through the question of what it means to be "at home in the modern world." Our audience of early adopters and adventurous thinkers champion progressive design concepts, and demonstrate how these ideas influence everyday lives. We’re fascinated by the way that large corporations, independent start-ups, and energetic individuals are tapping into technology to devise solutions for better living. But we remain cautiously aware of how important it is to resist chasing the new simply for novelty’s sake—we always come back to the concept that good design should endure. Technology, not to mention the user behaviors associated with emerging gizmos, applications, and platforms, changes so rapidly that the true challenge for the design community lies in whether or not it’s possible to even keep up.
In our research on the potential of smart homes, we talked with Ted Booth, senior design director of Honeywell Connected Home, who compared today’s spirit of innovation to the dawn of electrification, when a wealth of new products utilizing the new technology flooded the market. There’s certainly noise in the marketplace, and with it comes the inevitable cultural dread that references a dystopic HAL 9000 lens. With new products come new issues, like safety and privacy, which we explore in the first of three features on home security penned by Geoff Manaugh. Surely electricity came with its safety challenges—as evidenced by the fire that erupted in J. Pierpont Morgan’s home, the first electrified residence in New York, sparked by the system wired by Thomas Edison himself—but today, for much of the world, it’s impossible to think about life without electricity. The same will hold true for "smart tech"—in time.
Until then, we turn to those embracing technology at home. In Toronto, Prishram Jain of TACT Architecture created a smart house that incorporates the same Control4 system he uses in his own home. But the dwelling is hardly a shrine to high-tech—its nearly invisible integrated automation system is balanced by a generous application of natural materials. "It’s what you expect in a home built in 2015," says Jain. "It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t employ current technology."
Whether you agree with him or not, today’s advancements aren’t just limited to gadgetry. In Baltimore, we meet a father whose quest for an accessible home for his son, who is disabled, inspired a second career leading a nonprofit focused on universal design. We also feature Chris Downey, one of the world’s few architects practicing without sight, who shares the new tools that are making it easier for everyone—vision-impaired or not—to navigate the built environment.
Alongside challenge comes great opportunity. Today, through smart technology, it’s possible to know that your house is safe and secure remotely or to control and track both interior and exterior environments. Matt Emmi, of the technology integrator OneButton, noted a remarkable change in his quality of life thanks to automated shades: "I wake up to the natural light of the sunrise but I fall asleep in complete darkness with the shades down. There couldn’t be a more profound effect on my well-being."
For architect Jordan Goldstein, whose home outside Washington, D.C. is featured on the cover, automation helped his family spend more time together. "We wanted to create a modern gathering point for our family," he says. "The technology that we chose to integrate affords us that ability to do it with ease."
In addition to serving practical purposes, technology can be just plain fun, as is the case with a Spanish house built for a sci-fi fan. And it can be beautiful, like the sophisticated small electronics masterminded by Naoto Fukasawa for Muji.
And for all those Luddites out there who are reluctant to change, we have something for you, too: a story on a deliberately low-tech vacation home in Merricks Beach, Australia.
While the future is alive in the here and now, there are still a few technologies on which we’re waiting. And so we close this issue on a light note, with a few out-there drawings by Dominic Wilcox. Who knows? As we see what was once unimaginable become commonplace, perhaps Wilcox’s ideas will one day end up, fully realized, in the pages of Dwell.
Amanda Dameron, Editor-in-Chief
Follow me on Twitter: @AmandaDameron