*Monica Dalla Riva is Vice President Design & Customer Experience of Deutsche Telekom
The lockdown has taught us that our homes are not ready for who we are. It is normal for socio-cultural changes to be much faster than bureaucratic, political and institutional responses. Few of us, though, expected to get betrayed, at leas in part, by our nests. After all, and for some time, we were already digital men and women. But never before has that adjective taken on so much meaning for us, beyond the sphere of performance (work) and entertainment. Never before have we had to rely on apps, tutorials, video conferencing systems and the sharing of content for our entire personal sphere: from school to full-time remote working, from a new hairstyle to yoga lessons, aperitifs with friends to chats with grandparents, films with faraway fiancés, blockbuster concerts on gaming platforms with 12 million other people.
We have adapted quite well, more or less. We have created corners for working, studying, talking, playing. But it has all been after the fact, transformable, improvised. We have lived for weeks surrounded by wires, with stools transformed into computer stands, and dining tables used for video conferencing.
Nothing could be further from the image of the high-tech home we have been promised over the years.
So-called normal life will return, sooner or later. But our transformation into Homo Connectus will not stop. Our homes will need more technology but less gadgetry. It seems like a contradiction, but what we need, to live well – as we have dramatically understood in these months – is technology that is there but isn’t seen, that ‘senses’ our presence and helps us in the thousands of different situations that can arise during the course of a day. Without prompting us for updates, movements of cables, connection to apps, complicated instructions.
It may seem like a paradox, but to bring more functional quality, beauty and poetry to our homes, we need more digital technology.
At the moment, like it or not, everything that brings smartness to our spaces has been decided on by engineers, software developers and experts of IoT and Artificial Intelligence, in response to marketing input. Designers contribute to the birth of home automation systems, of course. But they work on single products, interfaces, usability, not on how those products fit into our spaces. Which instead is the most important aspect for those who use these devices, as anyone who has gone through the lockdown at home can now testify.
What happens today is that when a house is designed, it is formulated in sealed compartments. There is the architectural design, then that of the physical plant systems. An most of the time the technology (like the furnishings, in many cases) arrives as an addition to an enclosure already built and finished, onto which it has to be grafted. More often than not, the lack of a priori orchestration makes the technology look like an irritating outcropping, made of objects that might be intelligent, but are scattered and not coordinated.
The solution? To create a dialogue between those who design homes and those who develop digital solutions. To connect the world of interior designers to the universe of engineers and developers, in order to create a shared sensibility. To invent ways for the gap between design and engineering, seen as creativity and function – so passé, given the enormous innovative capacity of software developers – to stop influencing corporate choices, as well as those of architecture and design studios.
By working on the creation of these bridges, we can reach the point of having high-tech homes in which it will truly be worth living, places of the heart where everything works and pleases us, without resembling something that is not us.
Photos from ‘Infra Realism’, project by Kate Ballis. Through the use of infrared filters, the modernist architecture of the buildings, iconic places such as the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, the Palm Springs Tennis Club and the Parker hotel and the landscapes take on vivid colors in a surreal atmosphere. Book: ‘Infra Realism’ , Kate Ballis @kateballis, published by Manuscript.