The (not so) Intelligent House: User Perception in an Interactive Architectural Environment
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The architecture of change bears in its name the vision and the hope of an architecture that has evolved from a static deterministic designer-defined disposition, where a user has to adapt to a given setting, to an interactive architecture that adapts to the needs of the user. Yet, built examples show that the reality of intelligent houses is not as open-minded as the theory would have us believe. Often, the flexibility and freedom of choice is, in fact, just a way to control the users.
Looking at the evolving user models in modern architectural history, strategies to liberate the user from the designer's determinism in static architecture are identified and compared. One of the limitations of these strategies - the one-way communication through architecture - finally seems to be addressed through interactive architecture. Moreover, quantification of everyday habits brings the potential of architecture as a new form of experience. Contrary to public interactive architecture projects, which are much discussed and well documented, the interactive projects in the private realm are less well documented and the experiences of their users less well known. Thereby, the findings and experiences of interactive projects in the public realm cannot be simply transferred into the private realm, as the virtues that we take for granted in homes, such as privacy, security or trust, are challenged with the digitalisation of the house. To compensate for the deficit of examples in the private realm, different strategies are used: an inquiry of user models in interactive architecture compared with findings on user models in static architecture allows for the definition of new user categories in interactive architecture; examples in interactive architecture are juxtaposed with lessons learnt regarding user habits on the Internet allowing, at certain points, reviews of thought experiments (Gedankenexperimente) to test the relevance of certain theories in scenes of normal life.
One of the central statements of the thesis is that interactive architecture currently tends to abstract the user even more by translating all human actions into digital models, thus, not only alienating the designers from the real-life users but also estranging the users from themselves through imposed roles in these digital environments. Against such tendencies, the embodiment of the user can play a key role, both in design and in the implementation of interactive architecture. In homes this might be crucial, as the thesis shows that interactions with digital environments, where embodiment doesn't play a role, seem to make the users less wary. Instead of abstracting the user, technology has the potential to help propagate the awareness of the user in their environment. Moreover, contrary to current day tendencies of overburdening the user with signals, this can also happen unconsciously, as proposed with architectural atmospheres.
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