Architecture: A smart house to take care of you? Coming up
Will electronic sensors make your home hell? Nonie Niesewand looks to the future
Monday 21 June 1999
They will launch it tomorrow on a riverboat ride that follows the route down the Thames of the Prince's architectural commentary on the failure of modernism.
Best known for the roll-over roof on the Amsterdam Arena, the first multi- function football stadium, Ballast Wilshier commissioned the report from the Bartlett School of Architecture to look forward to adaptable buildings for the digital age. If the Bartlett is right, the Prince will be able to bring Klosters to his drawing-room at Highgrove.
At the touch of a button, rooms will be transformed into beaches or ski slopes, they claim. Sensors can already adjust the temperature, lighting and ventilation to suit the mood of inhabitants.
But will homes be linked to online weather forecasts to self-regulate and prevent overheating or burst pipes? Will optical fibre cabling beam "natural" daylight throughout buildings? Will old people be able to live at home longer because their homes are so "smart" that they can take care of their inhabitants?
The Bartlett's seems a good place to find out. Their research labs and workshops have pulled together many pieces of investigation.
Already load-bearing concrete floors and steel-joist ceilings can be replaced by Andy Whiting's thin membrane with sensors that can detect load and increase the weight bearing capacity as needed.
Stefan Kueppers proves that intelligent sensors which respond to climatic changes or the needs of an inhabitant can be built into a curvaceous thin plywood organic shape that Alvar Aalto would admire.
"No need to fear Hal, 2001's menacing mainframe," Stephen Gage, head of department, says. "Sensors are just lots of small butlers dotted unobtrusively about the place and reporting back to control."
As land is expensive and scarce, several projects address building - or at least, walking - upon water. The Kosovo crisis hadn't even begun when Jonathan Kendal produced his Venice asylum. He saw an opportunity for the lagoon to operate as a refugee centre, adapting its historical role as a gateway to the world.
Anniko Meszaros builds islands from textiles made with genetically-designed plants that stretch out tentacles from a central spine to cover disused and polluted harbours in Venice and Amsterdam. She is exploring the possibility of building on its spongy surface.
Lord Foster has already sent talent-spotters to the show's opening. Peter Cook, head of the Bartlett, says: "Architects can shape the future - provided they evolve. At the Bartlett we produce rock and roll set designers, engineers, computer programmers, builders, thinkers."
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