Is technology designed around the home, or is the home designed around technology?
I sort of arrived at this concept a while ago before I read How Buildings Learn, and The Timeless Way of Building back to back-ish, although it does seem to me that my idea is a little bit derivative from the concepts presented there. With that being said, what I have learned seems to be more focused on explaining the very interesting phenomena of how the layout of a home adapts to the introduction and development of technology. Perhaps there is nothing novel about this realization… but I have surmised that the layout of the home has adapted more to the stuff we fill it with than the people who inabit it.
The most obvious iterations of this would be standardization of appliance sizes. A dishwasher is 24 inches. A stove is 30. Fridges still haven’t figured it out.
But what about things with screens? Over the decade since their invention, TV screens have been growing in size, but they’ve been decreasing in thickness.
I figure this is a worthwhile thing to analyze because it’s an extremely clear iteration of how modern technology that we still use is still changing the way we create the spaces we live in.
Let’s plot it on a timeline:
- 1900: Think about a century home. A classic foursquare has a relatively narrow living room with the focal point being arranged around the fireplace. The rooms weren’t really even designed to have people staring at the fireplace, they were actually designed to have conversation areas, where people looked at one another, and were able to be warmed by the fire. Co-incidentally, we’ve almost arrived at the same shaped room in modern times, because TV sets hang like a piece of artwork on the wall, and often, above the fireplace.
- 1950: Widespread TV adoption. At this point, a TV set is about 2-3 feet wide and 1-2 feet deep, and ornamentally decorated to resemble furniture. Midcentury homes were often built with enough space for a television set to be placed a room, with furniture to be arranged around it. The alternative scenario, if you could afford it (and many could at the time) was that you’d have a family room, an informal living space where your family could spend time looking at the TV set. This brought on a handful of changes in the design of furniture, such as the sectional couch, but it was also one of the major changes in building as a result of digital technology.
- 1970: Once we got to colour TV sets started growing with the tube technology, the amount of programming increased, and all of the sudden the TV became the centrepiece of the room. Televisions were designed like furniture, and stood in the corner of the room. Furniture was built around it. This meant wider, more square living rooms with pass-throughs from the kitchen. It meant higher, taller, narrower windows, further away from the corners of rooms. It meant that buildings were learning to adapt to technology, and technology was not really adapting to the building.
- 1990: BIG SCREENS!!!! – the 90’s made EVERYTHING BIG (except people, because they were all on the Atkins diet). Big screen TV’s came in, which mean BIGGER corners of BIGGER family rooms and BIGGER thoroughfare from BIGGER kitchens and, for the first time, kitchens designed to get a peek at the TV while doing chores. This was one of the first times we really saw kitchen islands become prominent outside of commercial cooking. I believe the TV played a role in that. Did we make wet islands so we could wash dishes and pay attention to our guests, or did we make them so we could wash dishes and tune in? I really don’t know.
- Today: Today, TV’s take up less space than the artwork that used to hang above the fireplace in the 1900’s homes. I don’t think this is the only reason that century homes (and the farmhouse style everything) are so popular today, however, I think it plays a role. With the wall-mountable TV set, any of the past home configurations could work. This might be the first time that technology adapted to the home, not the other way around.