Sunday, December 4, 2011

Memetics in Building Systems User-Interface

The User
The topic of user-interface doesn’t come up much between architects and designers. And it’s no wonder why. To quote from another text:
Blueprints and regulations are complex, but people are all the more. The planner draws straight lines and geometric shapes. The architect uses energy-efficient systems and strategies. Then people come in. They cut corners; they walk on the grass and right through the bushes. They turn off the automatic light sensors. “If only there were no people to complicate things and reveal the flaws in my design…”
-Crowdsourcing Reform, 2010
Yet, the implementation of energy efficiency in buildings comes down to the user. Design all you want, the user will tear that up. Automate? Override.
The building is, both phylo- and ontogenetically, a Dawkins’ Extended Phenotype, in direct contact with the user.
Buildings vs. Building and Users vs. User
Building systems need to be easy-to-understand for the user, and that need is not overshadowed here. However, the kind of user-interface that can be affected by such ‘educational’ characteristics of building systems is for the individual user. What is now deemed a manipulable component of this interface, by the rising attention to memetics, is the attitudes and beliefs of the user-at-large in regards to what a building is and what it does, and especially what their place is in the relationship between them and the built systems.
The Communicability of Building Systems
A “self-propagating” meme is one with high visibility; photovoltaics and fashion trends are examples. “Cast iron cookware is awesome” is not a self-propagating meme; it is much less visible. Surely this has been proposed before, and the Pompidou pays the price, but it must be recontextualized in our current social and physical infrastructure: Building systems must make themselves more visible, while clearly communicating what it is they do and what should be done with them.

It must be noted, it is not being said, for example, that the 'wiring' needs to be visible, just the 'light switch'. And perhaps not even that, but some-thing that communicates what particular part of the electrical system it is and what is to be done with it (depending on environmental and user conditions alike).

See also Architectural Semiotics

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