by Ben van Berkel, March 12th, 2018
The digital revolution is driving change in every part of our lives, except within the built environment. I believe the time has now come for architecture and the building industry to catch up.
Today, UNStudio is launching a new, independent tech startup and innovation platform: UNSense.
With UNSense, our aim is to improve people’s physical, mental and social health through tech interventions within the built environment.
Operating as an independent sister company of UNStudio, UNSense explores and develops new sensor-based technologies across three levels: the city, the building and indoor environments.
This new company presents the opportunity for us to finally fully integrate sensorial adaptive design into architectural output. Compared with other tech firms who focus mainly on a building’s performance, efficiency or energy use, with UNSense I want to get to the very essence of architecture: people.
“All innovations should be centred on the citizen, adhering to the principles of universal design and usable by people of all ages and abilities” , World Economic Forum, 2015.
UNSense primarily explores sensor-based technologies, not for the sake of technology itself, but in order to humanise architecture. This means that, through the considered application of tech innovations, environments can be created that adapt to the needs of individuals and populations at large.
I often talk about health in architecture and design. Within that, I focus on three levels: physical health, mental health, and social wellbeing. When I look at what has been developed thus far with smart city technology, it appears to be primarily focused on infrastructure and efficiency – also often gathering data for uses that are not principally aimed at improving cities for their inhabitants, but instead for the value of the data itself as a commodity.
With UNSense, I want to do something different. We focus on new ways of integrating technology into the built environment as part of a human-centric vision, with particular focus on health and wellbeing. At UNSense, when we design solutions, we take the human experience as both the starting point and the end result.
“…you must move from treating citizens as recipients of services (or even as customers, as we hear so often now) and start treating them as participants in the co-creation of improved quality of life”, Boyd Cohen, urban and climate strategist working in the area of sustainable development and smart cities.
From a design perspective, the technologies and services developed by UNSense also enable our studio to expand its architectural potential by incorporating technological innovation into our designs. On this note, I must add that what is offered by UNSense is very different from the design services of UNStudio. At UNStudio we design the ‘hardware’ for the built environment, while UNSense, by contrast, uses very different expertise to develop ‘software’ based applications. By having a sister company that works independently and is dedicated to developing new technologies, we can offer other architects, developers and cities the opportunity to build future-proof projects with fully integrated technologies.
Through sensorial and sensor-based technologies we can affect or stimulate the senses by relieving stress, creating a sense of safety, providing information, improving lighting or ventilation… the possibilities are endless. Automatically activated sensor-based systems can also bring about conditions where we ‘un-sense’: where we no longer need to react consciously in order to effect change in our immediate environments.