Ken’s View: Through A Door Darkly

Public spaces used to be, you know, public; like the courthouse square or the plaza in front of the post office. But private developers lately have taken an interest in public/private spaces. There is a lot of talk about connecting with the community, placemaking, new urbanism, and the like.

After decades of moving to the suburbs to live in single-family homes on one-acre lots, people seem to be longing for a sense of community and connection. The buzzword in schools and offices is collaboration, open offices, and all that. But wait, wasn’t social media and the Internet supposed to connect all of us and create a virtual sense of community that exists somewhere in the cloud? Maybe there’s still a place for bricks and mortar.

Looking beyond the immediate walls of a business to take into account public perception makes a certain amount of sense, but Apple’s chief designer Jonathan Ive doesn’t seem to think so. He said criticism of Apple Park, the company’s new doughnut-shaped headquarters in Cupertino, CA, was “utterly bizarre,” according to Dezeen, the online architecture and design magazine. “We didn’t make Apple Park for other people,” he added.

That’s a little cavalier, and I’d disagree. The concept of Campus X, shown elsewhere in this article, seems to be exactly the opposite. Companies have long designed and constructed headquarters buildings at least in part to enhance their image and prestige with customers. Clearly, that didn’t enter Ive’s mind, either when he contemplated the design or when he reacted to criticism.

Perhaps Apple’s headquarters should have been built underground so no one could see it and criticize it. Then it could have been compared, favorably or not, to the Hadron Collider in Switzerland, which is also circular and underground. If form follows function, then Hadron is the better design. At least it has a reason to be circular.

Anyway, I shouldn’t have been surprised. People love to criticize architecture. Like art and design, they react to it, which is part of what makes architecture interesting and relevant. A design that elicits only shrugs is kind of disappointing.

By the way, it wasn’t just disinterested critics of the architecture who gave Apple Park bad reviews. According to Dezeen, some Apple employees were reporting to be threatening to quit because they disliked the space so much. Now, really, that is ungrateful. No employer I ever worked for built me a fancy, new building.

In other news, Marriott and others seem to have brought back the concept of the IoT hotel room. Maybe it never went away, but it fell off my radar when I stopped hearing about it and it never appeared in any hotels I stayed in. It could also be that my interest has flagged. I’d just as soon that my hotel room not be IoT-ready.

To be clear, years ago I had my home set up with plug-in modules by which I could turn lights on or off, dim them, and even control them with a timer. All this was controlled by a remote or by my computer. What a geek. Now I no longer care.

Likewise, my wants and expectations of technology in hotel rooms have been revised downward. What I’d really like when I enter a dark room and flip the switch next to the door is something a bit more than a feeble 40-W bulb over my head that leaves the majority of the room in shadows. A little extra wiring and thought could solve that by conventional means that would cost a lot less than anything likely to be conceived in an IoT Guestroom Lab.

I don’t need an app that will “start a yoga routine on a full-length smart mirror” or a smart digital picture frame that will display personal images. Good grief, I don’t even use that cheap little clock radio they seem to put in every room.

To his credit, a Marriott spokesman asked the right question in a recent news article: “How much customization and personalization would a guest really want when they walk into a room?”

How about heat and air conditioning controls that actually work, lighting that’s functional yet aesthetically pleasing, and maybe a full-service restaurant downstairs? That would be a “wow” factor for me, and the hotel wouldn’t have to spend money and time asking the IoT question. – Kenneth W. Betz, Senior Editor

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