The Home of the Future: Lessons From Space Habitat Interior Design
ALAN ARONICA MID | Master of Industrial Design
ALAN ARONICA Design Studio, Rhode Island School of Design, email@example.com
The designs of our homes have proved ill-equipped to deal with the challenges currently posed by the most pressing global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. Under the lens of biodesign, we are going to explore how the home of the future will be different and in what manner the challenges we face now are similar to those encountered during the prolonged occupation of space habitats. We will consider some non-speculative biodesign interventions that are readily achievable based on the lessons learned from space habitat interior design. In an increasingly speculative tone, we will then consider how specific technologies, like additive manufacturing, will empower us in the future to grow our homes, instead of building them. Future scenarios include the integration of bioengineered organisms into domotic systems, also known as home automation, and how these novel bio-domotic systems will be able to communicate and interact with us.
As an international design student I had the privilege and opportunity of living in many different urban contexts, witnessing how the habits, the architectures and relationships of people with their surroundings dramatically change from country to country and from culture to culture. From the modern condos of my hometown, embedded within a convoluted streets system dating back to the Roman Empire, to the 19th century residences of Turin built during times of more modern urban planning. From the congestion of American student dorms on campus to the dreamlike experience of the “white picket fence” houses of Rhode Islands, where everyone has their own share of green lawn.
Thinking about how homes will be different in the future, I cannot but notice that crises like climate change and global pandemics, as well as emerging technologies, pose the same challenges worldwide; and yet the solutions to address the needs arising from these challenges are always conceived locally. Taking place in many different ways, and at different paces around the planet, problem-solving will always be informed by local cultures and historical practices. It is in this pool of cultural diversity that we will find design solutions, originally conceived exclusively to tackle specific local needs and yet capable of later inspiring novel applications on the other side of Earth, or perhaps off-world.
2. LESSONS FROM SPACE HABITAT INTERIOR DESIGN
An example of solutions developed for one specific context that came back unexpectedly in a completely unrelated environment is found in the trend of preferring small dwellings over large residences. Initially triggered in response to the mortgage crisis, the economic recession and the excessive crowding in cities , the design solutions developed to cope in small homes later inspired great innovations in the interior design of space habitats [2,4,5]. As in a sort of cultural boomerang, the lessons we learned from designing space habitats now come back useful for possible design interventions to face the new challenges posed by constraint, isolation and monotonous domestic environments. The pandemic created new necessities, like that of following tedious safety protocols or having dedicated areas set up to work from home. Climate change also dictates new needs like a far more efficient and aware consumption of our resources. All these new requirements are very much similar to those encountered by astronauts during the prolonged occupation of space habitats.
When looking at what non-speculative biodesign interventions are readily achievable today to bring us one step closer to the future, we can apply many of the design solutions employed on the International Space Station. The houses of the future will be well equipped to support living and smart-working necessities in confined spaces, without adversely affecting our physiological, psychological, and sociological wellbeing. Interior spaces will be designed to integrate multiple functions and accommodate them in compact layouts. Aesthetics and appearances through the house will be laid out accounting for the deep effects that they have both on our physiology and psychology, favoring soft curves and warm pastel colors that are part of our evolution-induced predilection for naturalistic forms.
In the layout of future domestic environments, we will be significantly more aware of innate phenomena such as biophilia, our natural tendency to seek a connection with nature and other life forms. We will reserve spaces to assure the presence of green areas, perhaps in conjunction with technologies like augmented reality or holograms, to provide variations of scenery in our indoor spaces. Like when we design space habitats, we will leverage on our natural predisposition towards scenes with great depth of field and open spaces filled with vegetation, in suggestion of verdant environments . Furthermore, lighting, texture, and colors will be simultaneously designed in function of an area’s purpose, perhaps changing and being reshaped in real time as the purpose of a room changes throughout the day. Auditory background cues as well as dynamically and chromatically adjusting lighting patterns with variable intensities will be introduced in the houses to conform to the daily and seasonal biorhythms of our bodies. Carefully manipulating the spectrum of light emissions, interior lighting systems will positively affect our circadian rhythm through melatonin control. By varying the blue portion of light emitted, which impacts melatonin production and therefore the sleep cycles, we will be able to introduce various lighting conditions catered to our different operational needs during the day . Finally, based on the evermore ubiquitous collection of data, our homes will know each one of us in a much more personal and intimate way, adapting not only to address global challenges but also our individual needs, as they arise on a day to day basis.
3. TOWARDS INTERACTIVE BIO-DOMOTIC SYSTEMS
During the current economical and political crises in Italy, there is much talk of how to put to best use the European recovery funds. One of the hottest topics is the establishment of a new kind of Minister for the Ecological Transition, an idea that is not new and has been adopted by other countries several years ago. This strongly resonated with my direct experience of the gap existing between the knowledge possessed in the sphere of academic research and the knowledge possessed by average citizens. As I've often witnessed through my commercial design practice, there is a great lag between what is perceived as new in the public domain and what is really happening at the cusp of innovation. This reminded me that as we look towards the future, not all interventions need to be direct and technical in nature, but there is also a great deal of need for industry, academia and the design-community to come up with educational and cultural interventions.
Looking further ahead, on a more speculative note, I envision a future where knowledge is more democratized and better informed citizens are capable of living in harmony with their planet in dwellings that are no longer built but grown. With the advent of additive manufacturing on the molecular and architectural scale alike, we will transcend biomimicry, towards an era of bio-collaboration. Nature will no longer be either a resource to be exploited nor a pool for design inspirations, but rather an agent with which we will synergistically collaborate and co-exist. Novel technologies of the likes of Voxel printing , Hybrid Living Materials and Hybrid Living Fibers  will be some of the tools with which we will fabricate the next generation of houses. These paradigm shifting technologies will enable us to 3D print environments featuring bio-engineered living organisms directly woven into our walls or our furniture. These novel bio-domotic systems will be capable of interfacing with us, for example changing color through protein expression. These systems will be able to perform tasks like communicating the presence of pathogenic particles or automatically digesting them. In a conclusive extreme speculation, looking at a far future when colonies on other planets, like Mars, will have established and developed their own identities facing design challenges with their own ingenuity, we can expect a cultural dividend to come back at us, filled with innovative ideas that we do not yet fathom.
Urban settings, architecture, and the cultural/behavioural relationships with it change dramatically around the world. This offers a diversity of possible design solutions that can in turn inspire novel interventions in other areas of the planet. The challenges posed to our homes by the current global pandemic and climate crisis are similar to those encountered in space habitation and can be addressed with biodesign interventions informed by space habitat interior design. In the future, interventions should also aim to educate citizens, as we move toward a bio-collaborative era where our homes will be 3D printed and grown, instead of being built. The house of the future will host hybrid living materials and fibers capable of interfacing with us and automatically perform tasks like detecting and possibly eliminating pathogens. Future dwellings will therefore no longer be anthropocentric shelters but proper biomes, nevertheless designed to ensure our physiological, psychological and sociological wellbeing.
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I wish to express my most sincere gratitude to Paul Badger, Neal Overstrom and Chris Rose for their guidance, advice and support.
Originally written for the CHI 2021 Workshop: Speculating on Biodesign in the Future Home