Smartening the home: architects integrating smart home technology into designs

6 August 2018 (Last Updated January 30th, 2020 09:36)

Smart home technology is gaining an increasing presence in our homes, with varying levels of design accompanying it. As work and lifestyles change, how will our future homes and vehicles adapt? Frances Marcellin looks at some of the pioneering projects that showcase these smart spaces of the future.

Smartening the home: architects integrating smart home technology into designs
To build the Baitasi House of the Future, the team decided to use the open-source WikiHouse system. Credit: Dot Architects

The way that we work and live is changing, and while aided and driven by the simultaneous advancement and accessibility of technology, these combined elements are impacting the way architects and designers are thinking about our living spaces of the future.

Flexible working, digital nomads, co-work spaces and co-living accommodation, these markets are expected to continue to grow, so the lines between our home, work and entertainment spaces are blurring and adapting as a result.

Architects are now innovating in their use of smart home technology to meet the needs of these transformational trends.

Technology and work impact how we live

Back in 2013, the Internet of Things was highlighted as one of McKinsey’s disruptive technologies. In a report called Innovation Spaces: The New Design of Work” by Julie Wagner and Dan Watch, for which 50 architects were interviewed, the architects observed that the integration of technology was one of the most powerful ways that innovation spaces have changed over the last decade.

The number of self-employed workers is growing exponentially, which is driving demand for co-working and co-living spaces. Today 50% of Millennial workers make up part of the 57 million freelancers in the US, with the majority of the country’s workforce forecast to be freelancers by 2027. In the UK 3.3 million people (12.0% of the labour force) in 2001 were self-employed compared to 4.8 million (15.1% of the labour force) in 2017.

In 2013, the number of co-working spaces worldwide was 3,400, five years later and there are 18,900.

Co-working has also greatly impacted Asia-Pacific, which has leased more than eight million square feet over the last two years.

Work where you sleep in the House of the Future

Pioneering a blueprint that can respond to the future of work, Dot Architects developed the Baitasi House of the Future for tech company Whaley in Beijing, China. The result was a 30m2 wood-framed house, which offers four different layout options that can shift according to the needs of residents; for example, changing from a three-bedroom house to a small office.

The moveable walls are operated by a smart TV, via a customised Android system, which also controls lighting modes, curtains, security alarm and other home appliances.

“The lifestyles of young people are constantly changing that is why the layout of a house should be adaptive,” explains Duo Ning, the design director and founder of Dot Architects. “People will shift between work, social and private life more smoothly than now. A place to sleep and eat could also be a place to work and party.”

“A place to sleep and eat could also be a place to work and party.”

In the future he believes that the boundaries will be blurred not only between work and life, but also between the digital world and the real world.

To build the Baitasi House of the Future, the team decided to use the open-source WikiHouse system (wikihouse.cc) to build the house because it would create a lightweight and digitally fabricated building.

“The material is eco-friendly and the construction is fast,” explains Ning. “By using pre-fab components, it will bring down the impact to the neighbourhood to the minimum level, and we have uploaded the file of the Wikihouse part online to share with others.”

While technology is at the core of the building’s design, the practice believes that technology should serve people, not the other way around, so the focus is on the house being “warm and cosy with the all the tech hidden behind”.

A smarter “democratised” design process

In Wagner and Watch’s report, architects were asked how innovative spaces have changed over the last ten years. They responded that they were more open and inviting and noted how the design process no longer involves just the client or leaders of an organisation, but also those who will use the space.

The architects referred to this as the “democratisation” of innovation, where “workers are elevated and empowered to articulate how a space should be moulded to support their needs and ambitions”.

To achieve the most effective result possible, intelligent building specialists recommend introducing an expert system integrator at the concept phase of a build.

“They will be able to optimally exploit the functional possibilities, particularly with respect to networking, as well as consult, project plan and commission key IP products for building control,” says Mark Booth, managing director of Gira UK, a global provider of intelligent building technology which supplies KNX, a system that controls all the connected elements in a house, from lighting to blinds, multimedia and doors.

“If we consider the market 40 years from now, then I can imagine the remote control smart home will become everyday,” he says, adding that these are no longer reserved for just commercial properties. “Modern buildings are already being designed with highly intuitive and intelligent systems that are creating a working brain within the home that convenes to your lifestyle, personal preferences and daily routine.”

Booth says that as intelligent build solutions become more self-serving, so does the need for developers to fulfill these types of solutions as standard.

The connected car as your living room

While the way we work is changing, so is the way that we travel. In-car spaces that can adapt to our work and lifestyle needs are pushing the boundaries for vehicle design.

Renault’s Symbioz concept is arguably the most advanced exploration into the future of everyday mobility, and how a car can integrate into home life.

The entire concept comprises a vehicle that is 4.70m-long, 1.98m-wide and 1.35m-high. On the road, the electric, autonomous, connected car becomes an extension of the home, which can be transformed into an entertainment space should the driver not be travelling alone.

There are three different driving modes: Classic, which is standard conventional; Dynamic, where driving is more active; and AD, where the driver can choose three layout settings, one suited to carrying out various tasks, the second for a virtual reality experience and a third moves the seats to create a social space with other passengers.

At home, instead being stored in a separate garage, the car is parked inside, doubling as an extra multi-purpose space.

“The car becomes a new mobile, multi-purpose living space for the whole family.”

“Renault SYMBIOZ shows how we may combine the car with the home,” explains Stéphane Janin, director of concept cars design. “The car becomes a new mobile, multi-purpose living space for the whole family and can be used – open or closed – more fully, even when parked.”

The connected house was designed for Renault by Paris-based Marchi Architectes and shares the same architecture (steel frame, glazed surfaces and wooden décor elements) and materials (copper, marble, fabric and porcelain) as the car. These were chosen to create a warm and inviting feel to the space.

The interior has been designed to look like a living room, a place where people can talk, relax and interact. Parked on a platform, the car can be raised up from the ground floor to the bedroom, or rooftop terrace, on the first floor to become a cabin with a view.

In this cabin, music, social media, cloud storage, digital subscriptions are accessible, as are smart interactions between the car, home devices and appliances, such as energy and lighting.

Technology as a lifestyle choice

Planning connected multi-use spaces that can accommodate a lifestyle ecosystem of working, socialising and relaxing will increasingly become a factor in the architectural and design process.

“Autonomous technology is definitely a sign of the future, with the ability to anticipate individual behaviours and scenarios without instruction and, ultimately, user control,” says Booth. “If we consider Renault’s latest car/house concept then it only proves how technology is more than just functionality, it has become a lifestyle choice and one many consumers are exploring as solutions become more advanced.”