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March 20, 2007
by Carolyn Sponza AIA LEED AP

Event: Changing Places: Redefining the House as Machine for Living In
Location:
Center for Architecture, 03.05.07
Speakers: Kent Larson — director, Changing Places & director, House _n Research consortium and MIT Open Source Building Alliance within the MIT Department of Architecture
Organizers: AIANY Housing Committee; AIANY Technology Committee
Sponsors: ABC Imaging

Courtesy MIT

House_n Current consortium

Courtesy MIT

Don’t be alarmed if someday soon your home starts telling you what to do. Kent Larson, director of MIT’s Changing Places program and leader of the school’s House_n consortium, spoke about his group’s recent research with the potential to alter our behavior at home. Among the items being tested is VITa, a television remote that encourages exercise during commercials and alerts you when you’ve exceeded your daily allotment of viewing time. Another project uses portable RFIDs (radio frequency identification devices) to gather information on the amount of time an individual spends on specific daily activities, such as snacking or exercising. PlaceLab is an apartment outfitted with a device that monitors how people deal with technology in their living environments. The desired outcome of all of these projects is to “find the right way to deliver information to people to encourage healthy behavior,” says Larson.

This effort is in response to the fact that the largest health threats in the US — heart disease, obesity, and diabetes — are caused by the behavioral choices made by individuals. Different than “smart house” technology, which attempts to control a home’s environment for convenience or energy-efficiency purposes, the technology Larson is developing intends to influence you, as the user of the home, to make smarter choices. Corporate sponsors are already rushing to channel Larson’s data into development of new products. “Is this architecture?” asked Larson during his presentation, “I think so.” While this proposition might be a stretch to some, its core concept might not be so different than the traditional idea of using design to improve quality of life. And in the long run, many of Larson’s projects may actually provide the metrics to prove this illusive statement true, once and for all.

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