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Smart Studio “Remotehome“, 2003

“Remote home” was created within a period of three months by an interdisciplinary team of practitioners at the Smart Studio / Interactive Institute in Stockholm, Sweden in 2003. The team included Tobias Schneidler (architect/team leader), Magnus Jonsson, Fredrik Petersson (engineers) among others.

Keywords/Tags: interactive architecture, networked house, telematic art, information art, senses, presence indication (non-dialogical), unintenional interaction, passive interaction

“Remote home” connects two remote apartments with each other via the Internet, one apartment in Berlin and one in London. Sensory devices, kinetic devices and an interactive light installation provide the channels of connectivity. The main focus includes two sofa like seating possibilities, each located at one of the two remote apartments. Kinetic devices embedded within each seat enable segments of the sitting surface to move up or down. This creates an uneven surface at the remote counterpart which makes it impossible or at least uncomfortable to use. This change of state indicates that the connected seat at the other home is currently occupied - and therefor this local one cannot be used. The explanation for this seems to be that any regular armchair can only be used by a single person at a given time. This is possibly indicating that the two homes are actually more then connected places but a single shared space, though spatially dislocated.

A second interactive display indicates motion within the two apartments. Motion detectors sense a walking person and activate kinetic devices embedded within a remote textile wall tapestry. There are two such tapestries, one in each apartment connected with each other. Both contain sensors as well as actuators. As people walk about the space their movement causes bulges to emerge from the kinetic tapestry of the remote home, thus displaying movement and presence of a person.

A third possibility, this time allowing for individual expression is connecting a glass tray lit from underneath and a matrix of sensors embedded within the ceiling. The glass tray is filled with fine gravel and allows by manually moving this gravel to create simple drawings or scribbles. The light sensors embedded in the ceiling above the tray control a matrix of lights in the ceiling of the remote home. These remote ceiling lights resemble the drawing made on the light tray in the other apartment. This device only exists in one of the apartments. The idea being to enable one of the remote partners to express his or her current mood in a simple scribble or drawing, said to open a gestural, non-verbal communication channel.

A fourth device is a bag, connected to all of the three before mentioned sensorial domains in both apartments. Triggering any of the sensors in any of the apartments seems to actuate a light and a kinetic bulge in the mobile bag.

Original graphic by Sitting on the London sofa disables the seat in Berlin - and vice versa.

Remotehome uses an interesting approach in the way it uses spatiality, artificiality and transportation to connect two remote places with minimal, nonverbal cues.

Spatiality and Transformation in Remotehome

Interesting from this research’s perspective is that in Remotehome peoples activities in the environment trigger changes in the appearance of everyday artefacts at the remote location. It is playing with the notions of Here and There, yet there is no transportation involved. It is not about going there, but more a mix between a playful intervention and an information display. Some initiation and knowledge is necessary to comprehend the changes happening in the apartments. An uninitiated visitor might think of a haunted house where furniture moves and lights switch on and off without a visible cause.

Another interesting point is that also the project is of technical complexity this complexity is not visible on its surface. It is not task or goal oriented and its usability (if we can call it that) is of limited use. There is no direct interaction or communication involved. Connectivity could have been created via 2D video displays and audio - yet they happen in physical space and no special knowledge is necessary to trigger the devices. It is partly an unconscious, a passive and intensionless intraction.

Connecting two partners with each other could have also employed a straightforward solution. A live sound or video connection to let the inhabitants communicate with one another. Yet another more subtle and sophisticated approach was chosen. The connection is not that intrusive, but a collection of mostly ambient cues that can be described as presence indicators or activity displays. It is not about enabling the inhabitants to directly communicate with one another but to provide a range of minimal gestures that indicate activities and presence. Most of these gestures are not directed to a person or willful, intentional signals to the remote apartment.

Three different channels are depicted below: Motion in the remote home create bulges on the wall here. A one-directional connection. Drawing in the sand Here creates light-effects on the ceiling there. A one-directional connection as only one apartment is equipted with a sender. Sitting on a sofa changes the appearance of its remote counterpart. The connection is synchronous in that it takes place in realtime, yet it is non-simultaneous in that only one party can act at any given time.

Transformation and Artificiality in Remotehome

Artificiality is in the case of Remotehome the arbitrary cause (actions) and effect relationship which is also its main conceptual weakness: There is no meaningful relationship between an action and the effect it causes in the remote counterpart. Even when the environmental changes are decoded their semantic meaning stays very dissociated. Bulges in the wall as a result of crossing a room can neither be seen as a deeply connecting experience then a meaningful one. Remothome’s expressions are very abstract while the high artificiality of the code is not necessarily the main problem. The mapping of the sofa interaction principle is clear and direct - yet from a usability perspective not very felicitous.


Note to myself: What makes it telematic? Information art? Global awareness? Dialogical?

The project is inspired by the idea to connect two remote partners, or better two remote apartments with each other. The Remotehome team assumes that as lifestyles are changing, relationships are changing as well. More and more people live in long distance relationships and consider more then one place their home. The project has also been inspired by an MIT paper of the fifties titled “Miracles of the next fifty years” by Waldemar Kaempffert a vision of the world in the year 2000. Despite its conceptual weaknesses Remotehome is an interesting case study in the way it uses spatiality, artificiality and transportation to connect two remote places with minimal, nonverbal cues.

Remotehome is a complex project that has been realised in a limited amount of time with a top-down approach. Intersecting the areas of fine arts, design, engineering and computer sciences it is an interesting framework for interdisciplinary teams.

Waldemar Kaempffert:

last update: 3/29/02012 14:29

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