Smart home optimists mistake the plumbing for the furniture

The darkly hilarious “The Snakes and Ladders of Smart Home suggests that smart homes will cause more divorces than Ashley Madison (I’ll take “references that only made sense in 2015”, Alex).

The end of the post proposes that homes aren’t a good place for automation because they’re too diverse. Instead, automation should find its way into offices, hotels and commercial buildings, because those sort of places have people who can give constant iterative feedback to the makers of home automation systems.

But this mistakes things that can be easily moved and changed, like the furniture, for things that are part of the system of the building.

Frank Duffy’s concept of Shearing Layers, which I learnt of in Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn, says that automation should be considered as part of the Services of the building. Services, according to Duffy and Brand, wear out or obsolesce every seven to fifteen years. Even more worryingly,

Many buildings are demolished early if their outdated systems are too deeply embedded to replace easily.

Oh, dear.

Building automation enthusiasts (at least going by blog posts and Fast.Co handwaving) expect it to work like software. But building automation is also like plumbing.

Negotiating the conflict between software and plumbing is what’s required before building automation works.

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