In Search of the DomoNovus

The following article provides an overview of Stavros Didakis’ PhD Thesis [1] that investigates the domestication of ubiquitous computing, and how the technological multiverse affects and redefines the evolution of home. Through the theoretical contextualization, practice-based research methodologies have been implemented as speculative artefacts, systems, and designs, to propose a range of implications for the future of home. The whole practice led towards the development of DomoNovus, a conceptual framework that imagines a symbiotic domestic space that evolves and responds to the needs of the household, becoming an integral part to the personal and intimate Umwelt of the inhabitant. Inspired by J.G. Ballard’s psychotropic houses [2] with their sensorial interfaces, interconnected intelligence, and architectural reflective skills, as well as the Dom-Ino structures of Le Corbusier, DomoNovus suggests a domestic space that resides on web servers, on the cloud, having as an integral part an API (Application Programming Interface) that logs, analyses, facilitates, predicts, and proposes extended and personalised support for its authorised inhabitants.

Anatomy of a Dwelling

Home has been analyzed and interpreted from a number of different scholars, theoreticians and practitioners over the years that attempt to define what home is or what it should ultimately become. Le Corbusier described home as “a machine for living in” [3] trying to express the need for functionality that collects all possible practices in design, engineering, and technology for the uttermost convenience of the inhabitant. According to Le Corbusier, the house needs to be consistent on a number of points that allow people to have important qualities within their environment, such as an open plan space, free façades, access to services, or specific aesthetic attributes. Although these suggestions have been widely accepted, Reyner Banham and Francois Dallegret with their proposal “A Home is not a House” [4] provoked by stating that home is only the infrastructure that supports the fundamental needs of its inhabitants – such as the watering supply, electrical devices, cables, and so on. Although their suggestion seems exaggerated, it is absolutely critical for a domestic environment to provide additional layers that accommodate the implementation of modules, systems, and technologies, and it does relate to the comprehension of our contemporary “homes”; to be unable to connect to the local Wi-Fi, a major part of our Umwelt feels like it is missing.

From a different perspective, which also contradicts Corbusier, is Ben Nicholson’s “Appliance House” [5] as it attempts to challenge the preconceptions related to the industrialized and mass-produced “clean” and well-designed home interiors. Nicholson uses technology and kinetic appliances to construct the domestic environment based on the logic implemented on his modular device – the “Kleptoman” – that searches around the house to find forgotten objects and reposition them in areas of higher circulation. By doing this, the Kleptoman brings awareness of the unused or forgotten properties that may reveal memories and experiences of the past – demonstrate that the house is a collection of things including its secrets and unseen aspects. In spite all these, home undeniably consists of a large amount of physical, intangible, unseen, and metaphysical features, properties, and things that characterize its dimension, scope, and magnitude. As Martin Heidegger argues, no matter how sophisticated or skillfully designed a house may be, it does not necessarily become a home, or that dwelling is automatically established beforehand [6]. An accumulative process of domestic time and experience builds hidden layers of meaning, affection and emotion between space and inhabitant. The architectural "object" becomes an extension of a man’s personality and psyche, providing as an exchange not only survival possibilities, but also poetic and colorful properties.

dissectTheory

The Invisible Home

The domestic space is a complex system with multiple dimensions and scales that not only acknowledges elements our physical senses can scan and perceive, but extends to invisible and imperceptible spectra where millions of particles, frequencies, substances, and events exist and interact. The unseen and uncaptured properties of the domestic environment have a substantial impact on organic and inorganic entities (architectural structures, physical materials, biological bodies, digital information). The augmentation of technological resources within the domestic space needs to aim for the enhancement of household awareness, whilst being respectful to its dynamics and to serve as a transparent layer in the periphery. A vast array of computational systems are able to sense, identify, and collect information from the invisible space as well as the patterns created from the unseen choreography of the household, and to provide rich information from the accumulation of the assembled events that assist in constructing knowledge and understanding.

To rethink the domestic environment is not only a matter of adding gadgets and technologies that are more efficient, sustainable, or trendier, but rather it demands a larger inquiry that considers the practices of computational technologies that monitor the home’s ecosystem in detail. It is important to be aware of the unseen cosmoses of our domestic space as they have a substantial impact on physical and biological conditions that alter and define material and immaterial structures. It is necessary to examine the behaviour and performance of the home as a collective entity that includes elements captured from the micro, meso, and macro scales. The ability to perceive the unseen environment and the hidden relationship between objects, spaces, digits, and bodies reveals an underlying multitude of processes and a swarm of functions that contextualize the experience of our domestic habitats.       

Speculative Explorations

In addition to the aforementioned contextualization, a range of artefacts has been developed for the demands of this research. The speculative and prototyping practices intend to explore the emergent computationally-enhanced home, and to create and define links between real, virtual, digital, and immaterial dimensions of the domestic ecology. Furthermore, these developments do not only examine how computational and technological facilitation becomes tamed and domesticated, but they also speculate on the alternative futures of the domestic environment and analyse the house on all possible scales (micro, meso, macro).

The practices range from interactive installations, software and hardware developments, physical artefacts, virtual environments, custom interfaces, sensor systems, data visualizations, kinetic devices, and hybrid objects. The main goal of these case studies is to extend the sensorial dimensions of the habitat, to transform the domestic space as a cybernetic system and to observe the manifested relationships between bodies, architecture, frequencies, molecules, cells, chemical substances, and even planetary events.  Moreover, part of these investigations is to utilize cyber content (databases, social media, online activities) and amalgamate it with the interior space, breaking the boundaries between physical, augmented, and virtual worlds, and challenging our preconceptions of what constitutes to be a personal and intimate space. Collected data from a wide range of the household’s activities, are stored, analysed, re-distributed and spatialized within the environment with the use of media technologies (light, color, sound, visualizations, interfaces, kinetic systems) to suggest further possibilities for interaction, customization, and to speculate on the anticipated realities of the home.

Mapping the Practice

From the development of these practical investigations, a range of concepts has emerged that intend to assist our predictive intelligence on this subject. By mapping out selected keywords for each project and by using a custom-made visualization algorithm, we are able to build a more precise understanding about the future of home. The algorithm’s result, shown in the following image, displays each project (as a coloured circle within a square) with its assigned keywords. If a keyword is found in multiple projects its font size becomes bigger (i.e. Software, Database, Cloud, IoT), demonstrating how particular trends emerge and justify the reason in observing and analysing them in further detail.

keywordAnalysis

A Definition of DomoNovus

Following this methodology, the concept of DomoNovus was created, which is a design fiction that consists of a manifesto, sketches, system diagrams, and an API that frames its scope and functions. Although DomoNovus is purely fictional, nevertheless, and according to the previous visual map, it directly links and blends with the practices and concepts developed in this work. DomoNovus speculates and examines how the domestication of ubiquitous technologies, computational media, and scientific innovation may affect the domestic environment in the near future. Through an open and imaginative exploration, trends and ideas aim to “break” the preconceptions of the domestic ecology, inviting us to consider additional experimentation and research.

DomoNovus suggests that the fundamental aspect for the development of a house consists of a main structural core, an Application Programming Interface, which allows the implementation of content, functions, processes, and media, to be defined and adjusted by the dwellers. The API allows inhabitants to set the role of the house and personalize it with the use of modules, systems, and media of their preference. It is possible that the API can exist locally (in a computational unit within the domestic environment) or, more likely, in a remote server on the cloud, where all related code and databases are stored. Within this digital space, all accumulated data extracted from the environment and the inhabitants (biological information, interactions, settings and preferences, and micro, meso, and macro events) become a digital replica of the domestic world. The cloud facilitates universal access from any geographical location, establishing the domestic avatar as mobile and universally accessible; a cloud I.P. is where the home is.

The invisible and remote servers of the cloud now become a fundamental extension of the domestic interior, loyally following their owners and automatically personalizing when required. With location-based sensing technologies the preferences of the identified user can be used in a home’s interior space, no matter where this place may be. If access is granted, instant customization based on the user’s information shapes the empty house accordingly, and content is directly fused into the interior – spatially mapped, personalized, and instantly configured. The main intention of DomoNovus is to visualise a future where the house becomes a cell for symbiotic mutualism, blending personal preferences with shifted structures and algorithmic processes that facilitate a wide array of experiences and possibilities, which resynthesize the layers of the domestic space, and enhance our understanding of the complex system we call “home”.

DomoNovus-Manifesto

References:

[1] Didakis, S. (2016) In Search of the DomoNovus: Speculative Designs for the Computationally-Enhanced Domestic Environment, PhD Thesis, Plymouth University: Plymouth

[2] Ballard, J. G. (1962) “One thousand dreams of Stellavista,” in J. G. Ballard & M. Amis (eds.) (2009) The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard, W. W. Norton & Company Inc: New York, pp.305–20

[3] Corbusier, L. (2008) Toward an Architecture, (trans.) J. Goodman, Frances Lincoln: London

[4] Banham, R. & Dallegret, F. (1965) “A Home is not a House”, Art in America, no.2, pp.109-18

[5] Nicholson, B. (1990) Appliance House, The MIT Press: Cambridge, MA

[6] Heidegger, M. (1971) Poetry, Language Thought, HarperCollins Publishers: New York

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