Embodied building services

Benjamin Stangl

In the early 90s, Mark Weiser claims in his essay The Computer for the 21st Century that the “most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” Recently, robots started moving out of the manufacturing industry into inhabited and social environments, such as homes, hospitals, retail, and other public spaces.

Wohnzeit Zeitschrift 03-2014 Frohe Zukunft_ohne Text_low res
Bright future! Image credits: Styria Media Group AG, Frohe Zukunft, in Wohnzeit. 2014_03, Bausparkasse der österreichischen Sparkassen AG: Graz.

In Japan, humanoids work as servants in the Henn-na Hotel, and Nespresso employs a fleet of humanoids to advertise their coffee in stores. Different kinds of machines – the most complex among those are autonomous humanoids – become part of the daily life. These robots with uniquely human characteristics operate in an architecturally defined environment. While building automation started from traditional building services such as heating and cooling, lighting, and access control, new services include household chores or communication tasks. These new tasks increase the complexity of the system and require a new mediating technology.

The next logical step is the physical embodiment of building services stepping out of the immobile into the space itself. Mobile humanoids are therefore the embodiment of the next generation of building services. Humanoids dramatically expand the scope of possible services to the manipulation of physical objects, which were taken care by manual labor. Robots featuring human characteristics also mediate the increasing complexity of a human-computer interface, allowing a seamless interaction with the technology. The humanoid’s embodied interface becomes the observable behavior which allows it to interact with the physical world.

We see robots as active agents interacting not only with people or other robots but with the built environment. Thereby, robots change the requirements and the social structures of spaces and gain relevance in architecture. Humanoids transform the social relation between the servant and the master, challenging the built environment and existing architectural conventions.