March 5, 2021
Building Sentient Environments With Spatial Computing
Gideon D’Arcangelo, associate principal, experience design at Arup explains how spatial computing can help built environments respond to occupants’ needs.
Technology is changing the world as we know—and design—it. But have architects and designers unlocked the full potential of cutting-edge digital tools? In this series of comments, practitioners with a visionary approach examine some of the most influential and disruptive tech today—like blockchain technology, VR/AR/MR, spatial computing, machine learning, and cloud computing—and envisage their impact on the practice of architecture and interior design tomorrow. The changes they describe, while forecasts, will likely come to fruition, driving the way we plan, work, and create. Consider this a glimpse of the not-so-distant future.
We should use spatial computing to make our built environments respond to occupants’ needs in the most effective and agile ways. This will continue the trajectory we are already on: We have created spaces with networks of sensors that constantly track internal and external conditions. We have given buildings a voice so they can speak to occupants through data that convey energy use and indoor air quality. We have equipped our buildings with motors so they can move—algorithmically making physical adjustments when certain environmental parameters are met, such as automatically opening windows and shutting down air-conditioning when the weather is right.
The next step in this journey is to make buildings adapt and respond to the people within, observing their behavioral patterns and learning how to anticipate their needs. Imagine a conference room that configures its spatial layout for a collaborative workshop, then shape-shifts to support a presentation, and then reorganizes to host a board meeting. Imagine if, for that collaborative workshop, the room knows who the players are, knows who is remote and who is physically present, remembers how the room was set up the last time they met, pulls relevant files, and sets up an optimum environment for them to continue working where they left off.
As designers, we must first learn how to create well-formed, purpose-built digital twins, or virtual replicas of these physical devices, to advance this vision of adaptable environments that optimize inhabitants’ experience. This high level of digital and physical integration is key, as it provides the brainpower to make buildings behave more like living organisms.
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