The Internet of Things conference adds a layer to the relatively unambiguous world of technology and the built environment. A layer that strongly influences both the difficulty level and the sexyness. The conference can best be described as an episode of Tegenlicht for initiates. On the one hand you go home with more energy and ideas than you can handle, on the other hand it is very tough and philosophical for the “ordinary” architect, especially in the morning. Simultaneously with the IoT conference, a hackathon is taking place in the hall next to it. Groups of nerds work there non-stop for a day on developing apps for Google Glass, for example. Super sexy and busy. The separation between the sexy and not-so-sexy world has a certain self-evidence. When you are 23, it is much cooler to program apps for Google Glass, Pebble and Samsung Galaxy Gear, than to think about the bigger picture and the indirect consequences of the hardware and software you have developed.
We, the conference visitors, were confronted with speakers who were high-profile nerds 20 years ago. Speakers like Rob van Kranenburg (Sociotal) and Ben van Lier (Centric) raise profound questions about the development and consequences of the IoT. “The Industrial Internet” is the term for adding an extra layer of technology and internet to existing objects, devices and buildings, creating so-called Cyber Physical Systems. It is the fusion of the industrial revolution and the digital revolution. What are the consequences of the era of “The Industrial Internet”? The subject areas around IoT are slowly but surely becoming inextricably entangled in the built environment and therefore with architecture. Who owns the data from a smart meter? How do we deal with the fully interconnected world that can no longer be expanded and therefore always continues? Should we as architects also be concerned about these concerns, or should everyone continue to care about their own field?
The approach of the IoT conference is the discussions that take place as a result of the lectures. The speakers at the IoT conference did not necessarily have to give a value judgment to the developments around IoT, but they were incredibly fascinated by it. Van Lier gives the example of Smart Television. The stone in the pond that is Smart Television causes a huge flood of often unforeseen consequences. Consulting the current program guide or using YouTube without a laptop are the most basic options of a Smart Television. This development undoubtedly has an impact on the printed program guides and programs that are watched on television. A deeper, more invasive layer of consequences is found in streaming services such as Netflix. These types of streaming services are direct and disruptive forces in the field of the film industry. The physical DVD and BLURAY industry is being hit hard by these developments, but also the traditional broadcasters get a digital competitor. A layer deeper is the possibility for the manufacturer to log in to your television. This can be disturbing (see the LG Smart TV debacle), but it can also be used by manufacturers to detect defects in your television and thus instruct the user or specialist technicians remotely.
The nerds in the other room are building this connectivity and make use of all doors by opening it wide, but according to the speakers on the IoT day, too few people are concerned with the wider consequences of the developments. . How do we handle this? Technology continues to develop rapidly, but profession-specific awareness and the associated legislation and social awareness are lagging far behind; Unbridled expansion without looking at the direct and indirect, often unintended, consequences.
Later in the day, the focus shifted to the field of the architect. In my opinion, the direct link between the philosophical and technological aspects of IOT and the concrete world of architecture remains somewhat of the future. Where the IOT contains concrete and created examples within technology, architecture and urban planning continue to struggle at their own pace and largely within their own field. The vision of how the fusion of IOT and architecture will express itself in the future does lead to discussions, but according to Lara Schrijver, professor of architecture theory at the University of Antwerp, these are not new. Writer reminds Archigram was already busy in the 1960s with discussions about smart, walking and plug-in cities and the questions that go with them. The technical nomads of today is the walking city of the time.
Next speakers are practical architects Frans Vogelaar from Hybrid Space Lab, Kas Oosterhuis from Hyperbody and Usman Haque from Umbrellium are eagerly looking for the crystallization of technology and IoT in the built environment, resulting in new Cyber Physical Systems. Vogelaar works on smart cities on an urban scale and talks about his research in which the combination between smart technology and cars is central: Shrinking Car City. Smaller cars, car sharing, smart car parks, automatic navigation, etc. This combination is interesting in the form of two-way coupling of electric cars to the electricity grid of the city, so that cars cannot only draw electricity from the grid, but can also give back.
The projects shown by Oosterhuis range from parametric design software, “living” tents and modular climbing walls to redevelopment tasks where furniture can sink into floors. Oosterhuis experiments with these examples at many different levels of software and IoT.
Haque shows a wide range of projects that share the solidarity and power of the crowd as a common denominator, from a social CO2 awareness lamp (natural fuse) to a 15-floor-high balloon installation (burble) to the worldwide mapping of all sensors that generate data (pachube).
On the one hand, the real connection and direct influence of IoT on architecture becomes enormously visible on the IoT day, but on the other hand, there was no single example that could continue as “real architecture”. The presentations remained at a very abstract level, a very digital level or at a very concrete but more installation level. Afterwards I spoke with organizer Martin Pot and explained this to him. According to Pot, instead of wanting to see a direct translation into concrete architecture, we should see IoT and architecture and their fusion more as a meeting of fields within which new arts are possible. A very nice thought of which Daan Roosegaarde is the textbook example, but I keep wondering whether the world-accelerating IoT cannot and should not get a completely different translation within architecture.