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Building the Programmable Environment: Co-Design and Physical/Digital Space Making

Jennifer Magnolfi (Herman Miller)
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While not often obvious in its physical manifestations, technology shapes the way we inhabit our everyday spaces, where we live, work, learn, heal, and interact with each other. Our exploration of this medium as intrinsic to the very make up of furniture, walls, ceilings, and the building systems structuring our environments has revealed vast implications for how we design for future habitats. Today, the speed of adoption of technology is far greater than what our current buildings or environments can absorb.

But what if our physical buildings could dynamically evolve after construction ends? What if information became a design material? What if our work environments could transform to increase our productivity, and do so while reducing the environmental impact of change?

The design and production of physical/digital spaces is at the heart of what we call the Programmable Environment, an initiative driving research and innovation at Herman Miller. Instead of environments complete and fixed in time, subject to renovation or demolition when their purpose is no longer relevant, the result is a spatial system designed to evolve over time, in interaction with the users who inhabit it.

Magnolfi’s talk will describe the principles of design of the Programmable Environment, tropes guiding the exploration for the integration of physical computing in their vision of future environments. In the presentation, she will describe their first innovation that introduces programmability into building infrastructure systems. She will further introduce the initial findings on the implications of programmability at the scale of the environment, sharing the study of the interaction of things in the environment which, in traditional practices, are not connected—new archetypes of physical/digital place making, using lighting and textile technology as a way to define adaptive space, activating ceiling elements to create temporary dedicated use spaces, the design of integrated utility delivery systems to increase user control, or finding ways to integrate use data into renovation projects. Fundamental to the work is the role of the user, which they elevate to the level of co-designer, an active participant in the evolution of programmable spaces that adapt to support their activities.

Photo of Jennifer Magnolfi

Jennifer Magnolfi

Herman Miller

Jennifer Magnolfi’s work at the front end of Herman Miller Research & Development explores the effects of programmability as a driver for future business development and innovation. During the past five years, she has lead work in an R&D initiative called Programmable Environments, comprising new product concepts, technology integration architecture, building engineering systems in sites, and the development of strategic corporate partnerships and alliances. Some of her built projects include the Microsoft Envisioning Lab in Redmond, and the Georgia Tech main Campus Library.

Jennifer is the co-author of “Always Building: the Programmable Environment”, a design manifesto published by the Herman Miller. The book articulates the core design principles guiding an exploration of intelligent future environments. In previous roles, Jennifer served as an instructor at the Lund Institute of Technology and a Technical Advisor to the Star Design Program, a design and research collaboration with NASA. She was a Research Fellow at the Interactive Institute in Sweden, researching networked habitats and high-tech environments. Jennifer received a Master Degree in Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and is a U.S. State Department Fulbright Scholar.

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Comments

Picture of Jennifer Magnolfi
Jennifer Magnolfi
03/16/2009 10:33am PDT

I really enjoyed sharing our work. Thanks for the feedback and suggestions.

Picture of Gene Becker
Gene Becker
03/11/2009 6:48pm PDT

Great work, would benefit from additional research into social implications and how work practices interact with flexible physical environments.

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