An introduction to development of smart communities: homes, towns and villages, and cities.
“What do you mean by ‘smart’?”
Identifying and describing what “smart” is—when it applies to a home, village or a city—is important, because the term is thrown around a lot lately.
The way I use “smart” may be more inclusive than how others do. Some people limit “smart” to technology or Internet of Things (IoT) items and issues. For them, that may be appropriate. My definition of “smart” includes IoT, but is not limited to it. As an architect who approaches things using Architectural Design Thinking, I look at the entire ecosystem of the building or project to consider how we can make the built environment “smart.” This includes green, sustainable, resilient, appropriate and other categories that benefit projects seeking to maintain or improve quality for people, all while incorporating advances in technology that contribute to the human health, safety and security in smart communities.
The REHAU MONTANA ecoSMART House Project
became the opening step in examining smart communities worldwide.
Emphasizing that “Smart Buildings” Is About “People”
In 2010, during the research phase of our Bozeman, Mont. ecoSMART House Project, my team was exploring the idea of “sustainable products.” We were discussing sustainable roofing, sustainable siding and sustainable flooring material, walls and appliances when I remembered a short story I’d heard as a boy. Late one night, while listening to the transistor radio I had snuck under my pillow, the program “X Minus One” had a reading of the short story, “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury.
In this story, a high-tech house is going through its programmed motions. The people are missing. And what is revealed in the story made me think, “Wait—we should be talking about how to keep humans around—and not just materials.” Remembering this was a pivot in our research. How do we further elevate human sustainability in our consideration of building design?
A Design for All
The next pivot on our ecoSMART House Project occurred during a visit to Turku, Finland, where I was speaking at a conference. One evening, a professor I knew there invited me to dinner at his home.
During the course of the delicious Finnish dinner, I asked the professor’s wife how her work with Disability Design, a health and welfare research center, was going. She said they had decided to change the name of the program to “Design for All.” They wanted to change the thinking about accommodating people with different requirements to thinking about designing spaces for all people.
In our project, we had a young woman—a wheelchair user—for whom we were designing the ecoSMART home. This was an opportunity to implement “Design for All” right away. I hired her to work in our Creative Research Lab at Montana State University and research what she thought the house should have. She also made a short video of her ability to get around the house she currently lived in, pointing out features that worked and didn’t work for her. Thanks to her experience, we learned things that we might not have discovered.
During the ecoSMART House Project, it became clearer that my approach to “smart” buildings would truly prioritize the people for whom buildings—of all types—are being designed. While I had been always had an awareness of these needs before, I started to understand them together in a more coherent way: smarter.
Terry Beaubois, a designer and architect, is founding director of the Creative Research Lab at Montana State University, and was the MSU Project Director of the REHAU-Montana ecoSMART House Project. The project was awarded the Montana USGBC Honor Award Project of the Year in January 2016, as well as a Green Builder® House of the Year Award. He served as a judge for Green Builder's 2016 Home of the Year Awards. He is currently CEO of the internet startup BKS (Building Knowledge Systems LLC) and is an adjunct lecturer at Stanford University.
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