What if furniture had superpowers?
For centuries, the promise of a better life has drawn people to cities. Half of the global population already lives in a metropolitan area. Hence, our cities are in urgent need of new architectural solutions that maximize space efficiency. What if the traditionally passive spatial elements that give shape to our architectural spaces could become dynamic and connected? What if furniture could be given superpowers? Read More
The planet is undergoing a period of extreme urbanization. According to the United Nations, the world population hit 7 billion in October 2011 and, for the first time in history, more than 50% of the earth’s citizens lived in cities. By 2050 two-thirds of the world's people are expected to live in urban areas.
Given that urban populations are growing at such an incredible rate and infrastructure supply and demand are overwhelmingly imbalanced, the only solution it seems is to start thinking about how we can make more efficient use of our resources.
Space is undoubtedly one of the key resources, and it is extremely difficult to transition to a new era of space efficiency when we continue to conceive space the same way we did hundreds of years ago. Think about how architects, designers, even ourselves, commonly define and lay out the spaces where we experience the day-to-day – we take an empty space and think about functions, activities that will happen in that space. Designers assign specific functions to discrete spaces, resulting in bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, conference rooms, examination rooms, etc., and most spaces are unused most of the time.
If we are moving towards a highly urbanized world in which cities are the center of economic, social, and cultural vibrancy, and the source of most innovation and wealth creation, one of the greatest challenges of our era is to make urban living sustainable. Developing a more rational and efficient approach to living and working space is a societal imperative. Especially in cities, the demand from young professional, singles and even some retirees is growing for small residential units. We need more of these very small units, and need to offer more storage space and flexibility at the same time.
... you could make your flat 3x larger?
An indicator of an unmet need: housing for young professionals
From New York to London to Shanghai, in cities where entrepreneurship is thriving housing is increasingly expensive. Market rate real estate development primarily focuses on luxury housing, and rarely addresses the needs of young professionals, students, families, and seniors. Multi-family real estate developers are currently experimenting with tiny apartments to meet this significant unmet need. Innovative developers are finding that well-designed very small apartments can be more profitable: more units can be included in a development, rents are higher per square foot, and vacancy rates are often lower than for conventional apartments.
While occupants of micro-units appreciate the lower price, there is general dissatisfaction with the lack of storage, tiny kitchens and baths, and limited social, dining, and working space.
Furniture with superpowers
Rather than simply relying on conventional space solutions to make these small spaces more efficient, it is time to incorporate architectural elements and furniture that dramatically improve functionality. But how do you convert static and unresponsive objects into something transformable and intelligent? Robotics is the answer. Unfortunately, robotics is a discipline of engineering that has traditionally been out of reach of architects and space designers.
What if a new robotic genre was invented to provide the necessary tools for a new generation of spaces? This is architectural robotics.
But what are these superpowers?
What if 18m²/200ft² could be 3x larger?
Superpower #1: Robotic Transformation
“The power to move or be moved as if weightless”
Spatial transformations that are merely “easy” are not sufficient (see Murphy beds): To be used daily, they must be effortless and seemingly magical. Walls, desks, beds, closets, screens…that could effortlessly translate, navigate, and deploy with the aid of motors.
Superpower #2: Customization
“The power to have different form and function”
There is no “one size fits all” in how we want to experience our spaces, so architectural elements need a way to adapt to different functional requirements. The robotic components not only need to give extraordinary capabilities to furniture, but also need to allow the expression of different designs to be adapted to different users and spaces.
The same way a person can dress in different clothes, robotic components provide a physical platform for customization, a skeleton that can be completed with endless different possibilities.
Superpower #3: Smart Hub
“The power to communicate”
Architectural elements are part of the Internet of Things; they are connected to the Internet. This means they can talk and listen, send and receive information. But architectural elements have the potential to not just be another node in the connected devices scheme, but instead act as a hub – where a hub is defined as an element that allows other devices or peripherals to connect to the Internet as well.
Superpower #4: Programmability
“The power to think”
The moment smart devices and physical objects are connected to the Internet is the moment an opportunity for programming your environment is unleashed. Programming is the natural evolution of home automation.
Your home, your office, your hotel, will all eventually be transformed into an app ecosystem. The same way smart phones allow new functionalities to be generated every day and create a platform for customizing user experience, homes will also be a platform for user experience customization. The home of the future will be an open-ended system; the home of the future will be a platform.
In a world in which robotics allow us to think about the possibilities of the space around us rather than its limitations, a wise reader will probably already have a few answers to this question:
What would you build if your furniture had superpowers?
Hasier's Tedx Talk about superpowered furniture