mills studio statement

Home Automation is among the ways users most directly interact with a home. Home Automation provides for both active and passive interactions and expresses both how we control our buildings and how they sometimes intentionally and unintentionally control us. How we design and implement our Home Automation system expresses in many aspects how we intend to relate to others within our house, and how we intend to relate to the larger world outside of our residence. The design and implementation also expresses how we relate to technology generally and machines specifically. The Home Automation design and implementation is a direct expression of how we intend to control and manipulate both our immediate and extended environments. Thus, the initial question for commencing Home Automation Design is how and toward what end do we want to control and manipulate our environment.

Home Automation

Home Automation is an umbrella term intended to include the general categories of Entertainment, Communication, Security, Operations, Energy Management, Integration, Monitoring, and Notifications. Entertainment includes audio and video. Communication includes WI-FI networks, wired networks, and voice communications, such as telephones. Security includes security alarms, life safety alarms, camera surveillance, and access control. Operations includes the operation of lighting, motorized doors, shades, skylights, pool and spa, and fireplaces. Energy Management includes climate control, back-up battery management, and integration with building components affecting energy use. Integration includes scheduled events, local and global scenes, and data driven responses. Monitoring includes leak detection, air quality, energy usage, and data trending. Notifications includes alarm announcements, push notifications, and reminders.

 Purpose

Home Automation is a tool to control, manipulate, and hopefully enhance our environment. It provides us the freedom to both passively maintain our environment or to instantaneously change our environment. It provides the ability to accentuate the specifics of location, time of day, season of the year, weather and even our mood. Or we can alleviate the restrictions of our location and environmental particulars, and we can effort to instantly change our mood. Home Automation can work in the background relieving us of many mundane operational decisions and tasks, or work proactively to effect comprehensive, complex manipulations that can account for many more inputs and data points than we can do on our own. The ability to manipulate our building and its environment can give our home a sense of being alive with a dynamic adaptability.

Properly designed Home Automation can contribute to our well-being by making our life more enjoyable by simplifying decisions, reducing stress, providing convenience, making us safer, making us more comfortable, and giving us control over our environment. Improperly designed Home Automation can have the opposite effect on our well being by making our life more complex, making the mundane more stressful, and giving us a sense that we are not in control but at the mercy of the “machine”.      

It is legitimate to question if our ability to instantaneously change our environment and relieve ourselves of active participation in that change is all positive. Does the fact that we mechanize so many of our daily decisions and basic building engagements make us less engaged with the physical world? We trade direct engagement with our buildings and our environment, such as the simple example of physically opening exterior doors and then remembering to close them when it rains, for automatic, complex operations informed by multiple data points. The trade gives us precise energy management that in theory makes our building’s impact on the environment less negative, but do we lose an important physical connection with the environment we are trying to conserve when we no longer need to pay attention to the weather and other environmental factors because our buildings relieve us of this responsibility?    

It is somewhat ironic that we use advanced technology and Home Automation to chiefly control and manipulate life’s and architecture’s original and most basic elements: light, fire, air, and water, as well as what satisfies our five senses, especially sight and sound. Does Home Automation lessen the experiential value of life’s basic elements by making their manipulation so easy and whimsical? Or does Home Automation allow us to experience these elements and our senses in ways we could or would not otherwise, enhancing our direct experience of the physical world, such as the properties of light, and making the experience more acute?    

Data

Home Automation is essentially the collection, generation, conveyance, and response to data. It is based upon the belief that data and information are tools that equate to the power to control our environment. Data is used to drive preconfigured reactions and to provide the building users with information necessary to make decisions and change habits. Properly designed Home Automation is able to connect disparate categories of data and inputs to cause instantaneous data driven responses. The generation of data and response to data are made possible by the Home Automation designer’s connection of hardware and software.

Global Control Versus Individual Apps

Most vendors now have a native application to control and monitor their devices. Thus, a basic decision has to be made regarding the pros and cons of designing for the use of multiple separate individual applications or the use of a single integrated control system. Individual vendor’s applications often provide the best user experience and usually provide the most features for a single discrete device, but require the opening and accessing of multiple applications. Individual applications also have the possible advantage of allowing guests to more easily download common applications and exert temporary control with their mobile devices.  

The use of a single application that integrates the operation and monitoring of multiple devices makes it possible for one device to affect another device, to create “scenes” incorporating multiple devices and systems, and requires accessing and running just a single application. But a single integrated application can also limit accessibility to individual device’s features and not take complete advantage of all the possibilities individual devices offer. The best design and technology allows for both integration and taking full advantage of the potentials of individual devices. If Home Automation designers show individual vendors how their products can work equally well in integrated applications as in stand-alone applications, vendor’s will make it easier to take advantage of the full potential of individual devices connected together.      

Internet of Things

Many objects and devices now contain an embedded chip that allows them to send and receive data. This ability enables devices to communicate and connect with one another via the internet. These connected devices via the internet is known as the Internet of Things (IoT). Almost any category of device, from appliances, to sensors, to wearables, to office and industrial equipment, to vehicles, to artworks can be connected to the internet facilitating communications that provides data to the device user and or creates pre-programmed actions or outcomes based upon analyzed data.

The Internet of Things raises many questions about what we gain versus what we lose when we connect to the internet. The most basic question is whether or not because we are able to connect a device to the internet, should we? Is there a truly compelling reason to do so beyond  we are able to do so? Since a connection of any device to the internet connects us to the outside world, the outside world can now intrude in our home. Does the benefit of connecting to the internet outweigh the risk of lost security, however minimal the risk? In theory, the collected information the Internet of Things gathers will work to make our lives more efficient and more productive among other benefits. Somewhat similar to the decision we make to send or not send data back to the programmers of many applications we routinely use, we decide if and how we will contribute to the collective wisdom when we design our Home Automation systems.

Human to Machine Contact

The design of a Home Automation System involves decisions about how we physically and figuratively interact with the world, such as human to human contact, human to building contact, human to machine contact, and machine to machine contact. The design determines by which type of contact tasks are completed. The design prescribes which tasks are to be completed by direct human to building contact without automation; which tasks require proactive interaction between humans and machine; and which tasks are completed in the background between machines with no human interaction. With voice activation there is now no longer a requirement for  human contact with the building nor machine to complete many tasks. The Home Automation design also prescribes if other than the Owner is able to interact with the home and how they are allowed to do so.    

Low Voltage / Home Automation Design

Home Automation design must recognize that Home Automation is a tool and not an end in itself. Home Automation design generally includes specifying the devices to install, how to connect those devices, and how to control those devices.  Home Automation design includes more specifically designing the complete user experience of both hardware and software and the extensive documentation required to implement the pathways connecting devices and the hardware / software controlling and responding to those devices.

The first and most important step of Home Automation design is defining precisely what the design is to be accomplish. This includes the defining both the philosophically how we are to interact with technology and precisely what these interactions are intended to make happen. A clearly defined purpose is imperative in order to rightly evaluate all design decisions. Otherwise, there is a risk of letting what can be done drive the design instead of what should be done.

The Home Automation Designer can provide a system design that connects devices and hardware to the software required to produce prescribed outcomes, but equally important is the determination of what those outcomes should be. The outcomes are determined by the Owner’s specific desires, but are equally determined by specific Consultant’s shaping of the Owner’s general desires and the Architect’s agenda. The Home Automation design does reinforce or detract from the architectural intent. The MEP Engineer and the Lighting Designer have as much responsibility for the ultimate success of the Home Automation system as the Home Automation designer because they determine the cause that the Home Automation system serves.  

Forward Looking

Useful and sustainable Home Automation design and technology must work in the present, but not become frozen in time. It must also perform in the future. It must be adaptable and forward looking, but not at the expense of the present. Although near impossible, the goal is to provide a system design that facilitates operation at its full potential at every step of its growth. The Home Automation design and technology must be non-proprietary in such a way that it can take advantage of an entire industry’s constant innovations and not the innovations of just a single vendor.

User Experience

Among the several ways of evaluating architecture is the user experience and in no other aspect of a building is the user experience more important than the Home Automation system. Although among the intents of the Home Automation design is to cause results too complex for a single human to easily cause, the chief intent is to make the operation of our buildings and its systems easier and less stressful giving us the sense that we are in in control of our environment. Our interaction with both the Home Automation’s hardware and software and the results these interactions cause will determine if we sense we are indeed in control of our environment.   

The Home Automation design has to account for multiple users and thus multiple user experiences. The home Owner’s experience is the prime experience or experience as there are usually multiple Owners, but the Owner’s guest’s experience is only slightly of less importance. The quality of the interactions of maintenance staff and even the stranger, such as the delivery person, with the Home Automation system are worthy of consideration and intention. The type of interaction required by each user group must be considered, such that voice activation works for the Owners who have the required knowledge of the system options, but screens showing the possibilities are necessary for guests.    

Interior Design

The devices and screens that make Home Automation work are now interior design elements that contribute or detract from the visual aesthetic. The choice of devices and their finishes, and the device locations often affect the interior experience as much as the furniture. Unfortunately, screens, from cell phones to door phones to televisions, usually capture our focus more than any other element of the architecture and interior design. Graphical User Interface design is now part of Interior Design. Devices from light switches, to wireless access points, to voice activation, to surveillance cameras, to telephones, to remotes are all part of the building’s visual field. Simple things like cord management and how we recharge our devices greatly affect the experience of architecture. Devices not only have a visual affect, but also affect our auditory experience of the building. We also have to consider the “hidden” effects of devices and how they affect our well- being, such as how most device’s emitted blue light affects our circadian rhythms. The Home Automation system must both disappear and show itself with equal elegance, and must know when to hide and when to present itself.

low voltage consultant statement

The beautifully integrated Creston project is further proof of Axiom Design’s technology consulting, system design & engineering services serving the needs of the client, the design team, and construction teams. All technology systems are cleverly blended into this iconic Hollywood home through proactive collaboration with the design team. Axiom defines a successful project as one in which the client gets their electronic home amenities (audio/video, network, home automation, etc.) while they enjoy enhanced safety & security for their family and home. It is a challenge to make today’s technology solutions easy to use, yet since 1992 the Axiom team has served as the technology “easy button” to some of the world’s finest luxury homes. We look forward to serving this home’s technology needs throughout the future, living up to our tagline…the Technology Concierge.

Axiom Design – Walnut Creek, Napa & Los Angeles, California