a home in a networked world

When the peaks of our sky

Come together

My house will have a roof.’

These three lines, part of the short poem ‘De notre temps[1]’, by the French poet Paul Eluard, can be interpreted as the ultimate metaphor on what constitutes the framework of experiencing a home. Being poetry, it surpasses the traditional ontology of what a house and/or home represents, i.e. protection, privacy, a roof over one’s head. It also, however, tributes to the more abstract issues involved that become all the more relevant when our physical world transforms into a hybrid world, a mix of the real and the virtual, of the analogue and the digital. The emphasis in this tends to focus on the technological issues involved; while the abstract is threatened, causing a breach in what constitutes process and result of building houses. After all; the virtual resides within the real; there is no virtual only.

Heidegger once remarked that we can only build when we can dwell[2], which in today’s world offers a different frame of thinking to our process of creating housing. After all; what concerns our lives most – our house – is the one issue on which we have very little influence. First we build a house; over the years this becomes a home: lived space.

A thorough research committed by the EC in 2013 resulted in a report ‘the ‘Onlife Initiative, Being Human in a Hyperconnected Era’, emphasizing value and importance of the recognizing the difference between the public and private while at the same time acknowledging that ‘exposure’ is needed. Where this concerns our housing this tends to become problematic since the way we build provides structures that determine, create and maintain the dichotomy between public space and private space; our home is also a legal entity. Philosopher Floridi, also chairman of the EC OI-researchgroup, states that ‘we shall be in serious trouble if we do not seriously the fact that we are constructing the new physical and intellectual environments that will be inhabited by future generations[3]’. His book points to the fact that we have surpassed the choice of being on- or off-line; we are permanently online. The fast rise of the Internet of Things means a rapid increase of objects addressable to the Internet, transforming our (built) environment to an interface. Where it concerns our homes – realised by its creator-inhabitant – we run the risk of maintaining the traditional ontology; a home is a space, an entity in which we withdraw to experience privacy and protection. The IoT implies a threat to the privacy of built private space, unless we decide to rethink/reconceptualise the current ontology of what constitutes and represents private space. A changing concept – i.e. the shift of the ‘passive’ environment into a networked one – implies a rethinking of what constitutes the latter concept, in this with regard to our house and in particular our home.

Since dwelling is closely linked to what it means being human it is architecture – understood here as the adaptation of space to human needs – that needs to adapt, in particular with reference to technology and its position/role towards the human. If we understand a ‘hyper-connected’ space as the amalgam of physical (infra)structure and the accompanying networked services, architecture cannot be thought of as something static, physical or technological only.

A networked world implies a – possible – connectivity between objects and eventually subjects; in which we were accustomed to a world of ‘active’ or ‘non-active’, of ‘connected’ or ‘disconnected’. It also implies a further acceptation of ‘technology’ in what Sloterdijk refers to as an environment that is there ‘to provide inhabitation and triviality’[4]. This does raise questions as to what in particular triviality means considering the environment and life we enter the moment we come home. It brings us to ‘human’ or ‘post-human’: can we maintain the classic privileged humanistic point-of-view or should we acknowledge that a hyper-connected world needs a post-human approach, i.e. values also beyond the human?

Like Karsten Harries states; ‘problems of dwelling are above all not architectural but ethical problems[5]. It is in particular the ethical discussion that is vital to ensure a proper understanding of what it means to live in a hybrid world, thus also at home. The paradox here is the difference between the – traditional, even sometimes romantic – feeling of being ‘at home’ and the increasing connectivity and changing ontology of objects and their environment. It raises the question whether our current built environment, fundamentally unchanged since centuries, can be the only adequate answer to the change of a home-concept on which we ‘build’ our life. Can we think of another – even more post-human – ontology of what we envision/define as our home and think of a concept in which this pays tribute to changing circumstances? Could this mean/imply that we gain opportunity to act differently, more creatively, more ‘active’ with regard to our environment? The IoT is about sensing; a more interactive environment means more ‘sensing’ of what it means to be part of one’s environment.

Additionally, there is a series of technological innovations that strengthen the development mentioned above. The Internet of Things, as part of digital innovation and changing the nature of objects, is also considered a disruptive one since it brings other possibilities for creating (and adapting) one’s environment. The rise of e.g. 3-d printing is part of a basis for a far more individual approach of designing and creating one’s own environment. If this runs parallel with industrialised/standardised ways of manufacturing the elements needed we come closer to what Eisenman means by stating that ‘architecture is the record of a process, not the end result of a process’ .

Martin Pot, Rotterdam, December 2016.

[1] orig.: ‘Quand les cimes de notre ciel ce rejoindront ma maison aura un toit’

[2] ‘Bauen, Wohnen, Denken’, M.Heidegger,

[3] Floridi, L. (2014). the 4th Revolution. Oxford University Press.

[4] Sloterdijk, P., & Driessen, H. (2009). Sferen, Volume 1. Boom.

[5] Harries, K. (1997). The Ethical Function of Architecture. MIT Press. p.363.

(this article was published also on the Council website.)