ETech: Programming future habitats

ETech: Programming future habitats

Summary: This morning at ETech, Jennifer Magnolfi, the senior integration architect for programmable environments at Herman Miller presented an approach that allows for physical buildings to dynamically evolve and support change. (Herman Miller is known for creating the widely popular Aeron Chair).

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TOPICS: Emerging Tech
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This morning at ETech, Jennifer Magnolfi, the senior integration architect for programmable environments at Herman Miller presented an approach that allows for physical buildings to dynamically evolve and support change. (Herman Miller is known for creating the widely popular Aeron Chair). The initiative, Programmable Environment, is a spatial system designed to evolve over time, interact with the users who inhabit it, and enable a more sustainable building infrastructure. The company created a subsidiary, Convia, to specifically focus on this vision.

The Programmable Environment is a layer that sits on top of two infrastructure stacks in a building, the support structure and the electrical.  It includes actuators that activate ceiling elements such as lighting fixtures to create transitional environments suitable to the needs of differing user groups.

Through the use of a wireless wand, users can simply control lights on-demand and virtually rewire a building’s entire lighting system. "The wand is designed to be simple and intuitive to give the user the most direct possible control of the environment," she said.

The system also includes fabric walls that can be easily moved along the Convia ceiling rail infrastructure. Georgia Tech Library is an example of spaces using the technology to change colors and transform through the movement of curved fabric space dividers.

Magnofil laid out four principles specific to the programmable environment:

  • Maximizing the capacity for adaptation
  • The time to effect change is ideally zero
  • Design is collaborative and includes people who inhabit a space as co-designers
  • Everything is recognized as both physical and digital

In her talk, Magnofil acknowledged that the construction industry is a dinosaur so it would take a lot of work to create built environments with flexible building systems delivery that would incorporate infrastructure such as plumbing and ventilation.  She said that a distributed control paradigm plays a central role in the development, and the adaption and collaboration essential to the design challenge traditional building techniques because it's simply too costly and time consuming to make changes after a project.

She said that while the infrastructure was commercialized, a lot of the spacial concepts were research based and experimental. And a significant amount of control given to the user. They had to solve the technical engineering question first so the social component is still an open field.

The software code that runs the system is not open yet since the business decision to do so has not been made.

Topic: Emerging Tech

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3 comments
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  • Hmmm, humans have always done this.

    One look at my garage would prove it. ;-)
    No_Ax_to_Grind
  • RE: ETech: Programming future habitats

    Thanks for the summary of Jennifer's talk, Chris. I saw the
    version she presented at FreeTech (the unconference portion
    of ETech) today and was really blown away by the
    possibilities, particularly for work/professional spaces. In
    addition to adapting space to function quickly, seems like a
    way for people to creatively interact with their space in a way
    that cube farms don't really allow. :)
    Suzanne Axtell
  • More usable space in less overall space...

    I can see a future home where the room you are actually using expands to take space away from the rooms you aren't using. When you change rooms, the rooms change with you. You get the benefits of a large home in the space of a small home. As space becomes more precious, this would become the ideal way to use your space.

    Example: Say you have the living room and home office next to one another. During the day, you are in the home office all day. The house expands the home office by sliding the wall to shrink the living room. In the evening, it shrinks the home office to expand the living room. You would get a much larger effective living space in a much smaller exterior footprint. As a side effect, you would conserve energy by heating, cooling, and lighting a smaller overall space.
    BillDem