Smartness? between discourse and practice
Increasingly the world around us is becoming ‘smart.’ From smart meters to smart production, from smart surfaces to smart grids, from smart phones to smart citizens. ‘Smart’ has become the catch-all term to indicate the advent of a charged technological shift that has been propelled by the promise of safer, more convenient and more efficient forms of living. When combined, all these so called ‘smart’ devices amount to a ubiquity of computing which is heralding a new technological paradigm and a fundamental shift in the way buildings and cities are both experienced and understood. Through a variety of sensors, cities and buildings are now defined not by the people that inhabit them, nor their functions, nor their identity or history, but simply as increasingly larger sets of data. Such sets are then processed to immediately adjust and alter (physical) conditions in real time. Although such large scale collection and use of (big) data has an inevitable effect on the way people live and work, there has yet to emerge a clear answer to how architecture and cities should respond and assimilate such brave new world.
Carried by both corporate and governmental initiatives the ‘smart’ paradigm has entered architecture and cities as a powerful force. Even as it indelibly reshapes our patterns of inhabitation, the particular ways in which the ‘smart’ paradigm affects architectural and urban debates, design practices, and our forms of living remains woefully under-analysed. An open question that gains further urgency and demands debate, as with each development the meaning of ‘smart’ becomes more diluted.
We seek to stimulate a broad understanding of ‘smart’ technologies - one that conceives them not merely as “efficiency oriented practices, but [as practices that] include their contexts as these are embodied in design and social insertion” (Andrew Feenberg, 1999). Such a broad understanding includes questions of responsibility, accountability, ethics, participation, knowledge (necessary to both produce and participate), and many more. Effectively, beyond comfort, safety and efficiency - how can ‘smart design and technologies’ assist to address current and future challenges of architecture and urbanism?