Measuring Scarcity or Balancing Abundance: Some Reflections on Human-Building Interaction Paradigms from an Architectural Perspective
Reyner Banham, author of The Architecture of the Well Tempered Environment, described two contrasting approaches to natural resources and architecture: massive structure and power-operated environment. The former, he claimed, is never sufficient on its own: we always needed to also include power-operated infrastructures to make buildings livable.
Few decades later, moved by the oil crises and contemporary pollution concerns, we began to measure building performance and livability by the scarcity of natural reserves of resources. The sense of scarcity became a major drive in development of technologies to measure and reduce energy use.
Parallel to this development, massive structure and power-operated environments conflated in several ways. We can locate smart building development in this lineage of immixture of power-operated environment with massive structure. Rich data collection from sensors and logging of users actions permit to orchestrate, to a certain extent, the co-operation between buildings and their human users.
The discourse on scarcity, however, still haunts the discipline. Scarcity of resources and our attempts to measure them have been a strong drive behind technological developments. This starts to change slowly, with the advances in renewable energy technologies and proliferation of communication networks. By moving away from the scarcity discourse and placing more value on abundance of information, I pertain to address the interplay between user agency and building automation. I discuss three cases of scarcity that can be read in a different key: energy, wireless communication and attention. It is in this way that we can work towards turning mere automation into sophisticated orchestration.
KeywordsHuman-building interaction Infrastructure Measurement Scarcity Abundance
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