Building Relationships: Changing Technology and Society

Building Relationships: Changing Technology and Society

Jennifer Loy (University of Technology Sydney, Australia) and Tim Schork (University of Technology Sydney, Australia)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6995-4.ch008


This chapter describes how digital immersion, changing social values, and environmental and economic pressures have the potential to create a paradigm shift in relationships between people and their built environment with the growing sustainability imperative. It responds to emerging opportunities provided by digital technologies for the construction, maintenance, and heritage curation of the life of buildings, and draws on aligned changes in thinking apparent in manufacturing, healthcare, business, and education in the 21st century. The ideas that shape this chapter are relevant to architects and educators, but also to scholars and practitioners across disciplines because they provide an innovative approach in responding to the types of changes currently impacting societies worldwide.
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The emergence of rapid unsustainable growth – in population; cities; resource consumption; depletion of topsoil; freshwater supplies and living species; pollution flows; and economic output that is measured and guided by an absurd and distorted set of universally accepted metrics that blinds us to the destructive consequences of the self-deceiving choice we are routinely making. (Gore, 2013, introduction)

The twentieth century created a legacy of practice driven primarily by profit over environmental responsibility. With the growing world population increasing demand on resources tempered by the evidence of human impact on the biosphere, destructive social, environmental and economic values and behaviors need to change. In architecture and construction this creates drivers for rethinking the relationships that people have with their built environments. This chapter speculates how new architectural and construction practices based on digital construction, digital immersion and ubiquitous computing can drive a shift in thinking about communication, monitoring, maintenance and material use as a response to the growing sustainability imperatives of the twenty-first century. The approach is based on an integration of digital technologies with a view of buildings as evolving, fluid structures that are designed, built and maintained with the aim of maximizing material resources.

The first decades of the twenty-first century appeared to herald in an all-encompassing globalisation with the dissolution of country borders, the development of complex economic interdependency and a gradual homogenisation of populations, as discussed by Ross (2016) in The Industries of the Future. However, the results of the Brexit vote in 2016, and the US Presidential election shortly afterwards, have suggested otherwise. Similarly, though discussion on Industry 4.0 is characterised by rhetoric on dehumanisation based on increased automation, robotics and artificial intelligence, arguably digital technologies that support communication, monitoring, analysis and bespoke implementation of services are actually allowing for a greater personalisation of provision across sectors. For example, digital immersion and personalised experiences, identified by Hajkowicz (2015) as global megatrends, are providing the basis for a potential paradigm shift in healthcare. In this shift, the role of the individual as a passive recipient of services is replaced with that of an active participant in a holistic, preventative, proactive healthcare regime. With the growth in accessible monitoring, from fitness trackers to home use blood pressure monitors, blood analysis services, bowel cancer monitoring, and apps for tracking general health and conditions, such as chronic fatigue, plus online services such as DNA analysis, and physiotherapy provided by video link, the engaged individual is empowered in the monitoring of their own physiology. Preventative healthcare and early intervention are becoming enabled through these digital technologies, that could lead to a subsequent shift in the responsibility of the individual in terms of their level of engagement with their own maintenance and treatment. Australia provides an example of where this shift is starting to occur, with medical records moving online, and patients able to choose their doctors, including selecting different practitioners for different aspects of their care.

At the same time, there are emerging medical practices enabled by digital technologies creating changes in how hospital services, such as surgery, could be personalised in their delivery in the near future. For example, clinicians can now use multi-material 3D prints, based on actual patient scans, to plan surgical procedures and create bespoke parts prior to operations. Paul D’Urso at ‘Anatomics’ in Melbourne, Australia is a leader in the use of additive manufacturing (3D printing) for customised surgical implants and the development of individual medical instruments specific to each operation. This approach contrasts with conventional surgery where the surgeon is provided with a vast array of sterilised items that may or may not be required and has to respond to the operational requirements in situ. Rather than digital technology alienating the individual and reducing the quality of the experience, D’Urso argues it is supporting the empowerment of the individual and the development of personalised care and targeted spending as a new approach for the twenty-first century.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Megatrends: Global patterns influencing behaviors and attitudes.

Robotic Incremental Sheet Forming: A process whereby robot arms are programmed to deform sheet metal. This can either by a single robot arm working to deform metal sheet into pre-prepared forms, produced, for example, by computer numerically controlled milling, or alternatively by two robot arms working in conjunction, deforming the material between the two heads in free space.

Sustainability: The ability to sustain life/lifestyle without impacting the ability of future generations to do the same.

Additive Manufacturing: A range of digital manufacturing technologies that build objects in layers from a computer model without the use of molds.

MOOCs: Massive open online courses were created to allow large numbers of people open access to education. The first MOOC was led by Stephen Downes of the Canadian National Research Council.

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