Home Smart Home
Electronic controllers are creating high-tech houses that do everything but tuck you in at night (though they will turn off the lights)
From the Print Edition:
Laurence Fishburne, Jan/Feb 00
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Fuller's Dymaxion machines never caught on, despite the promise of cheap construction and sophisticated technology. Americans may have found them too outlandish for everyday living. Contemporary homes of tomorrow, however, suggest a finer balance of the futuristic and traditional, evident in a recent project in Coppell, Texas.
Jointly constructed by Centex Homes, Builder and Home magazines, and B3 Architects + Planners, the 4,073-square-foot home resembles a miniature family village--with separate wings for adults and children, casitas flanking a courtyard and two 25-foot-high turrets that anchor the residence like a medieval fortress. Despite the heavy Old World styling, however, the home is thoroughly modern. A centralized controller governs its lighting, climate, alarms and audio/video feeds. The home's energy management system is also state-of-the-art. Photovoltaic shingles on the roof provide about 12 percent of the house's power.
The shingles collect enough solar energy to run an entire circuit of the house, including its computers and security equipment, and serve as a backup in case of power failure. A geothermal system uses the earth's constant temperature for energy-efficient heating in winter and cooling in summer. Triple-glazed windows, filled with insulating gases, improve the house's overall energy efficiency. The great room boasts movable walls. In the second-floor turret, kids can play in a spaceship-styled playroom. Overall, more than three and a half miles of wiring can accommodate 24 locations for computer equipment. And the home will be outfitted with fiber-optic cable for super-fast Internet connections.
Without question, though, the smartest house on the block still belongs to the world's wealthiest man, Bill Gates. Built into a hillside in Medina, Washington, with a living space of about 20,000 square feet, the home ranks in grandeur with some of this century's most spectacular residences. (With respect to the spirit of technological innovation, Gates himself compares his dwelling with newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst Sr.'s 165-room mansion in San Simeon, California, which featured such extravagant conveniences--for the time--as telephones in almost every room.)
Among the Gates estate's more impressive features: a 30-car underground garage tunneled into the hill; a reception hall with 24 video screens to display changing artwork, as well as news and business information; a 60-foot indoor pool with an underwater music system; two elevators; a movie theater; a 25-foot-high trampoline room; a practice putting green; and a trout spawning area.
In the Gates residence, more than 100 computers guide everything from the lights and climate controls to the security system. (But not without occasional glitches, according to some reports.) The house continually runs diagnostic tests on itself, pinpointing areas that need upgrading or repair. When occupants receive a phone call, only the handset closest to them will ring.
At night, when residents walk down a hallway, the lights come on and then darken behind them. Music and video choices are available on demand in any room. The house's most Big Brotherish feature, however, was its people-tracking system: upon entering, guests were reportedly given an electronic pin that can track and monitor their movements anywhere in the compound. With these miniature bugs, your music, movie or art choices can follow you to any room. Ideally, the house is supposed to adapt to your preferences and store information about your tastes for future reference.
Since that time, the pin idea has reportedly been scrapped. Even so, few doubt that computers will eventually guide our homes, much as they already govern our automobiles' brakes or ignition systems. By then, it's a good bet that today's smart-home technology--even Gates's--will seem primitive. Our dwellings should finally function like the home machines Le Corbusier once dreamed of.
Daren Fonda is a freelance writer based in New York City.
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