Shapeshifting spaces offer amazing new possibilities for individuals in public and private environments
The School of Architecture, in collaboration with departments in Applied Science and Engineering Physics, is leading the way in investigating changeable architecture and making possible spaces which completely adapt and respond in real time to occupants and the environment.
Using current technology in computing, electrical and mechanical engineering, buildings and streetscapes can change according to stimuli such as movement, a change in external environment, a change in light condition, more people, time of day or a combination of all of these factors. Digital video scanning. light sensors, motion sensors, rain sensors, pressure sensors, weight sensors, proximity sensors, clocks, and even facial, retinal and fingerprint recognition software allow spaces to be configured and adjusted. The programming behind the intelligent spaces can itself ‘learn’ patterns or preferences of occupants as they repeat the same patterns.
The question being asked is: how can our environments benefit from using movable and adjustable elements controlled by sensors? One answer to this question is to help those who have difficulty helping themselves: there are many applications for responsive environments in extended care facilities for clients who have difficulty with mobility. Mechatronic applications to these facilities can give these clients a degree of autonomy that might not otherwise be possible, and improve the quality of life of both the clients and the caregivers .
Residents can have their surroundings configured on a control system to their preferences as the day changes so that care givers are not required to make adjustments for them: these systems could even be set up to recognize hand or head movements for those occupants who have limited ability to communicate with a system. Systems can know who is allowed where and control access automatically or track locations of residents who have Alzheimer’s disease. As well, interactive communications and digital technology can transform spaces providing immersive stimulation, relaxation or a simulation of nature or a childhood scene that they enjoy. These systems have the potential to act on a facial recognition system, allowing a customized response for each resident.
Further investigation will apply this technology to private homes where intelligent environments may allow people to live in their own homes for longer and facilitate daily tasks.
Other uses which have been investigated are responsive building skins. Buildings which have poor conditions for the occupants such as inadequate solar control, uncomfortable interior temperatures or problematic lighting conditions can be retrofit with external facade systems which respond both to internal and external conditions. The robotic skin can adjust to people’s desires within the space or to the sun path or light conditions outside. The adjustment takes place in real time as conditions change. The skin can take many forms: but it is basically providing shading, insulation or sun blockage to the glass or external wall. The skin elements change configuration based on input from people in the building who want to adjust the conditions or sun angle or light sensors outside.
Other areas which have been investigated are public spaces where activities change throughout the day with different configuration requirements, or where there are many users, each with different space needs. Examples include plazas where seating appears depending on how many occupants are in the space, landscapes which adjust according to time of day and canopies which open and close based on where people are below them and whether or not it is raining.
A robotic and intelligent environment is completely possible with current technology and the potential uses for us are only beginnning to be understood.