Thursday, December 6, 2007

Transhuman Architecture

I was reading some science-fiction novel last night (I now forget what) and I stopped briefly with the sudden thought.

Few writers consider the architectural implications of transhumanisim. Of course, we all know transhumanisim is the concept that our technology is changing so fast that there will be fundamental shifts as to how we define human and what is the nature of humanity. These changes will have profound social, biological, psychological, and religious implications.

For example, if you think tattoos and body piercings are bad... what about gills, gestalt consciousness, or even something as simple as extending the human vision range into the ultra-violet. That simple (relatively speaking) little tweak can play merry hob with how we see everything from warning signs, make-up, traffic light, house paint, etc...

As I was saying, rarely it seems the architectural implications of fundamental nature of humanity changing are addressed in these books. Seemingly everyone still has magic star-trek doors, vaulted ceilings, and cathedral windows.

On the virtual reality side one of the few authors to address this was John C. Wright in his stupefingly fascinating/frustrating* Golden Age Series. Wherein the inhabitants of earth relied so heavily of augmented reality that it effectively replaced what was actually there.

Or as Shakespeare said in Hamlet "I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."

If the dream feels, smells, and looks completely real to you how do you determine what is reality...

So the architectural implications of this are what?

Here's thought experiment for you, imagine that you are in a 10' x 10' room and you see an orc guarding a pie... wait sorry forget the orc and pie. (D&D joke, had to do it.)

10 x 10 room, yes? Completely plain, unadorned, walls are institutional beige. If you (or a sufficiently powerful computer) completely control your visual interface, you can choose that room to be red, or blue, or covered in gold leaf...

The lack of windows doesn't bother you because you can put windows wherever you want looking at whatever you want.

None of which has to be built in the real world.

What's that you say? You don't like augmented/virtual reality? Very well.

Me: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
You: Yes, sir.
Me: Are you listening?
You: Yes, I am.
Me: Nano-technology.

Programmable matter. Walls that move on demand; furniture that changes texture, temperature, and color based on your whim; or even evolving houses that reshape themselves based on how your families lifestyle changes over time.

Just a little bit creepy? Let me add one more thought for you.

So I mentioned gills and the like earlier. Lets say there was a actual branch of humanity who, whether temporary or permanently, lived the life fully aquatic. How are their needs going to be different from you or I? What kind of beds, doors, windows, or even general structures are they going to need? Who is designing for the future mer-person?

Why is this relevant? Well all you have to do is look at our recent space program. In the 70's Astronauts in orbit went on a (very) short strike to protest the unlivibility of their conditions. Architects had to be brought in to work on future designs so that they were habitable. The absence of gravity plays merry hob with depth perception and throws many of the conventional design rules out the airlock. (Sorry had to.)

What other new frontiers of humanity will bring challenge to the architect? How will we cope?

(This is already gone on longer then I anticipated... but I just had another idea about cyborg resistant furniture... whee!)

*Okay, frustrating/fascinating. John, on every other damn page, introduced a fascinating concept that could well be spun off into an entire other book, blithely mentioned them in passing and moved ahead with the story. I spent the entire book stopping every other page and going "huh." Spend 10 minutes pondering the implication have to reread the page notice something else interesting and repeat the whole damn process.


  1. I fondly remember when my imagination seized upon concepts and ran with them. Now I blog about dogs rolling in crap.
    Keep it up, Son. I enjoy your posts and I'll try to keep up.

  2. AR technology will actualy minimise architecture to only want is needed.

    After all, in a world where anything can look like anything else, why value how something looks?
    It will be a final victory of funcation over form, substance over style.
    In the long term AR will be so universal that people will stop seeing the point of physical objects when they dont have to be.

  3. I doubt that AR will lead to minimalism - even with the availability of modernist and minimalist architecture for half a century, we don't seem to have drifted as a species from collecting and hording stuff and houses full of stuff.

    If there is no scarcity on nanotechnology and changeable surfaces, then there is a limit on imagination - will we be leasing the software to make the nano-walls look like a mountain dojo or a Victorian house?

    A 8x8 room is far too small if I want to pace, no matter how fantastic its walls, and far, far too tiny if I can hear my neighbors. Not many people choose to remain in the dorms after they have the option to leave, and small children prompt an outflow from the city to places where there's room enough for raising and privacy.

    Also, how comfortable will nano-tech be? If nano-tech sheets don't feel good, they'll be relegated to hospitals and nursing homes where they'll monitor the health of the bed's occupant, and still we'll accumulate the 300-thread-count linen sheets and the laundry room to wash them, the leather couch, etc.

  4. i myself forgot the feeling of the next concept of the universe moments in college and fondly miss those days of relativity and whit if's.
    i am with dad. blogging about mold and what i ate for dinner.

    you two make me laugh. i love you both