Binary questions and answers have certainly not been part of the one-year programme Housing the Human. Initiated by Freo Majer of Berlin’s Forecast platform (one of the five organising bodies), the project has been conceived by Majer and the four other artistic directors, who all represent the institutions and organisations that have driven the programme: Pippo Ciorra (Demanio Marittimo. Km-278), Josephine Michau (Copenhagen Architecture Festival CAFx), and Jan Boelen (Z33 and 4th Istanbul Design Biennial).
Integral to the process has also been the way the selected prototype makers have been able to discuss their work-in-progress with the general public when presenting it at Demanio Marittimo (July 2018, Italy), Forecast Festival (October 2018, Berlin), the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial (November 2018) and the Copenhagen Architecture Festival CAFx (April 2019). And from 18-19 October, 2019 the final outcomes can be seen at radialsystem in Berlin, followed by presentations at Z33 in Hasselt (Belgium) at the beginning of November.
Several companies are currently developing and training robots that are supposed to help us in our homes in the future. Since these robots rely on computer vision, how do they learn to navigate domestic environments? And how does their training affect their perception of reality and their interaction with it? Simone C. Niquille/Technoflesh looked into the complexities of model homes assembled from datasets containing 3D files that are used to teach robots. She proposes to see training datasets as designed models of reality, because they are human made and are based on subjective assumptions, fragile semiotics and bias categorisation which end up influencing technologies that are used globally. ‘Limited to the available data, a training dataset will hardly be able to represent all of ‘reality’ and ultimately reduce and omit everything that is not recorded,’ she says. ‘If the database is not the home, what then are the architectural and bodily consequences of cohabiting with computer vision?’ As part of her research, and the finished prototype, she created HOMESCHOOL, a short 3D animation film that is set within a scenography assembled with the contents of the large training dataset SceneNet RGB-D.
Dasha Tsapenko started her research from the perspective of people who live in types of romantic relationships other than the heteronormative, monogamous couple. The prevailing design of our houses, apartments, and furniture makes life difficult for people in polyamorous relationships, for example. Imagining a future in which we could all live in homes that truly accommodate us, independent from our identities and sexual orientations, led Tsapenko to also think about a scenario of romantic love that might even go beyond a specific species: ‘I imagined a near future, where due to the Anthropocene, global digitalisation and mental isolation, humans exist in a society in which Homo sapien is no longer at the centre of the ecosystems and equally coexist with other companion species (flora and fauna) as well as AI,’ she explains. In Berlin she will display various dwelling situations based on a trio of fictional families, represented by three humans, two cats, one hazel plant and one AI embodied in an avatar, who all share one home. With the help of speculative interactions between the different species as inhabitants, each involved in a specific relationship with one another, she will explore how a domestic environment could be designed in order to meet their needs.
Mae-Ling Lokko’s project also deals with the daily life at home, but with a different focus: she is interested in food production and waste transformation, and locates her future scenario in the kitchen. What if objects like cups and bowls, but also the architectural structure of the kitchen, could be made from mycelium and food waste by the residents themselves? Lokko suggests that through the creation of these by-products, a circular process could be embedded into the infrastructural activity of a home and a community. New rituals for cooking, eating, drinking and cleaning could be at the centre of this. The ritual of setting the table, for example, is defined by the kitchenware used and by how and where food is eaten. ‘To me,’ she says, ‘both the ‘set’ and the ‘table’ are tools for eating.’ There is a physical separation of kitchenware from eating surfaces as well as a cultural understanding of how the kitchenware and how the surface for eating is used. Lokko though is interested in how ‘hybrid’ material assembly, like a ‘tabletop-bowl’ or a ‘wall-tile-cup’ made from mycelium would inform new rituals in our kitchens.
HOME IS WHERE THE DROIDS ARE
The research of Certain Measures, an office for design and architecture founded by Tobias Nolte and Andrew Witt, begins with the thought that the home can be anywhere, and doesn’t even need to be something physical. ‘How could a future citizen satisfy living, nourishment, and entertainment needs in a kinetic world of on-demand living?’ they ask. Instead of operating within given structures of rooms and spaces, as we know them today, like the kitchen or the bathroom, they aim at dismantling these categories and also at offering new ways of interactions with furniture, tools and other things. What if whatever we need could swarm around us like droids? What if a bathtub could just come to me for the time that I want to use one? This project proposes that the most valuable way forward is to not place technology at the centre, but people and their communities. With the help of this future scenario, Certain Measures approaches possible business partners in order to come closer to realising their own vision.
Lucia Tahan focuses directly on tech companies and asks what impact they and their products have on our lives. Airbnb, for instance, has enabled many users to discover new places and also meet new people, but it also causes fast and extreme gentrification. Today, quite a few tech companies are becoming interested in the housing sector, so how might a future look like in which services like instant-housing are offered? Through confronting us with an imaginary tech product, Tahan aims to draw our attention to current developments and our agency within them as designers, architects and users. With Cloud Housing she presents a physical installation that can be explored through augmented reality. In her scenario, apartments are platforms for advertising and selling goods and services: furniture pieces are rented and the user is then offered upgrades and swaps, and even consumables such as soap, food or flowers are part of subscriptions. The house itself becomes full with notifications and ads that demand one’s attention. ‘By eliminating the friction and anxiety associated with the traditional process of renting an apartment, furnishing it and maintaining it, Cloud Housing presents an enticing future where urban dwelling is as easy as riding an Uber or watching Netflix – and equally economically and socially transformative,’ she says.
Even though final prototypes will be presented in Berlin and Hasselt, the research of the Housing the Human participants is meant to be open-ended. From here it can take new routes and develop into further projects. Apart from this, these future scenarios have the potential to wake us up or to inspire us. And they also allow us to take a different look at the present that we are currently living in, and to perceive it from angles that might be completely new to us.