ETech 09: Programmable Environments

Jennifer Magnolfi from Herman Miller: “Building the Programmable Environment: Co-Design and Physical/Digital”. A talk from Tuesday morning at ETech 09.

[Missed the first five minutes.] Showing the Aeron chair, extremely customisable. Shows a new chair, the Embody Chair designed by Jeff Weber and Bill Stumpf.

Motto: Be Unstill.

Programmable Environment. Shows slides containing impenetrable jargon about design constructs, supporting change, performance attributes, the core and shell of a building and the user.

We’re used to not being able to change our enivironment, but we can do that now. “Macro space and micro space zones.” [I’d like to hear some more English, less over-syllabled jargon. If I couldn’t see the slides with pictures of chairs or building interiors I’m not sure I’d have a clue what she was talking about.]

Four basic principles of design for new products and their interactions with the environment:

  • Maximising the capcity for adaptation.
  • The time to effect change is ideally zero.
  • People who inhabit the space are its co-designers.
  • Everything is recognised as both pysical and digital.

Usually it is too difficult and time consuming to change an environment. Our needs change much faster than a building can. So the building change happens rarely and expensively. It should happen more frequently and gradually.

Convia is Herman Miller’s company producing a modular building infrastructure. Distributed microcontrollers in an environment. A wand that can make connections between, say a light and a light switch.

Shows a video. Walls that can contract and move. Ceilings that go up and down. She mentioned Viaro but I’m not sure now what its relationship is with Convia etc.

Talked about their remodelling of the interior of Georgia Tech Library (PDF). Very configurable by the students.

[It strikes me as a proprietary system that customers could get locked in to. They’d be in trouble if Herman Miller decided to stop selling the product or went out of business — customers couldn’t expand their current installation or replace components. It also enables Herman Miller to upgrade the system in a way that forces customers to upgrade. These kinds of environmental technologies make me uneasy because they’re so hi tech for such basic activities — building walls, controlling lights, etc. Am I missing something?]

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