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A new dimension of the internet is coming over the horizon. Dominic Rodgers considers a world where buildings can talk

3 min read

Just over 20 years ago, when the web was in its nascent stage, a lot of people were unsure how it would actually affect our lives; some doubted it even would. If you’ve managed without something for 40 years, it was hard to appreciate how crucial an innovation this could become.

Confidence is high that 3D printing will be a game-changer, but there is another paradigm shift that has been emerging more subtly. It’s happening a lot already.

It’s called “The Internet of Things” and it makes everyday objects “smart” by connecting them to the internet.

“Objects, spaces and environments behave differently when they have access to networked intelligence; they become sentient and animated and interactable with,” says Andy Hobsbawm at software company EVRYTHNG. “As the futurist Bruce Sterling pointed out, this means you can, effectively google your shoes if you lose them.” In fact, there are endless ways this could affect our lives.

“The rate of consumer adoption is a similar challenge to many new technologies – the investment goes into the technology development rather than the communication and behavioural change needed for adoption of those technologies.”

Perhaps one challenge is that it isn’t tangible – although it’s happening all around us, like the internet itself, it’s just another clever technology that works without our taking control or understanding it. People like it when they have to do something to make it work; it’s hard to accept that we don’t have to be proficient in some way to make something happen.

This has serious permutations potentially. “If you’re a city planner and the roads, parking meters, cars and traffic lights can talk to each other, that will affect everything,” says Hobsbawn.

It’s worth considering different contexts and where the human element among all this technological connectivity lies. “Architecture is a useful discipline for helping us design human-centred Internet of Things solutions. By its nature the discipline is about solving problems holistically. For instance, how you take into account where a building is, how it changes over time based on how people interact with it; from big- picture infrastructure issues, such as foundations and utilities, to small details like the fixtures and fittings,” he says.

“If you design a building, you need to understand the context of weather, for example – how does the building manage when it rains, gets slippery or windy? In the connected world there are changing conditions too, so how does a downpour of digital information and communications in and around the structure affect the way you design the building?”

How this will affect other parts of our lives isn’t clear yet. EVRYTHNG’s Hobsbawn has the last word: “Personally, I find it deeply fascinating and intellectually stimulating to think about the question of what a good version of this future looks like?”

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