Ghost in the Smart Home

The new movie by Rupert Sanders, based on the hugely popular anime Ghost in the Shell by Musamune Shirow opens with a haunting preface. It is set in 2029 and observes as the boundary between human and machine becomes more and more blurred. In the time it has become customary for people to choose to “enhance” themselves by replacing a limb or an internal organ with a synthetic one, therefore also one with many new high-tech features. In that context, one private company works on blurring that boundary even further by creating the first “synthetic full-body prosthesis augmented-cybernetic human” – Major Mira Killian. She has an entirely robotic body except for her human brain. Therefore the story argues that by keeping the brain the soul, or the ghost, remains unaltered independent from the body, or the shell.

Now the obvious question this setup poses is where the boundary between human and machine really stands – how far can one go on altering and enhancing  before one turns to a cyborg? All that further leads to the discussion what is it that defines a human at all.

This is a question this post does not aim to answer.

However the parallel is used to give a new perspective on an architectural phenomenon which has been lurking from the sidelines for a while now.In the past few years an ugly buzz word found its place in architecture magazines – the smart home. Currently the term is used to describe a house, behind which walls a network of wires is supposed to substitute for all the contemporary functions architecture fails to satisfy in its users. A home, where some parts have been enhanced for their more advanced technological counterparts. Similarly like Ghost in the Shell, architecture today asks : when does a house stop being a home and becomes a machine?

We already went through Modernism. We saw Mon Oncle, we laughed as Monsieur Hulot struggled in the foreign kitchen and we know why it all didn’t work. So what’s the next step? Can we start treating architecture the way we treat digital applications today? Architectural design has been embracing behavioural logics and algorithms for almost two decades now, but nevertheless little to no work has been done on a buildings high-tech behaviour and adaptability during its lifetime and use.

Horizons for innovation and creativity in that field are still wide, but whatever progress we make, let’s not end up with the architecture Ghost in the Shell has planned for us. It’s simply not just a backdrop.

Image via Paramount Pictures


Mon Oncle is among others on the list of favourite architecture movies, curated within the post about Dr. Strange . Don’t worry, Ghost in the Shell isn’t on that list.






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