Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Video: The Year of Magical Furniture

When we cover interesting compact spaces on this site, we usually list their usable area, expressed in square feet or meters. We are pretty hardwired to draw a correlation between a space’s area and functionality. Even when we take pains to list the functionality first, it’s always couched in the “wow, you can do that in a small space?” But what if we decoupled space and functionality altogether? You see, listing area is a conventional approach to understanding space. It’s something easy to wrap our heads around and measure with a stick. But area often misrepresents the gestalt–i.e. the sum total of architecture, furniture, embedded technology and the other UX elements that can help a space transcend its physical dimensions. This talk by Hasier Larrea places special emphasis on the role of furniture to determine how a space performs.

His thesis is that architecture has barely changed in the last 2K years. We keep making static spaces, single function rooms filled with “space killers”–things like beds that lay waste to a space’s functionality the moment after they’re used. He proposes that we augment spaces with transforming elements–ones that are effortless and magical–to create spaces that are alive around the clock.

Larrea knows a thing or two about this subject. The MIT Media Lab alum was part of that school’s CityHome project, which created a high tech furniture module that endow small spaces with tons of functionality. He is now the CEO of MorphLab, a startup that is out to make robotic, open API furniture modules to kill the space killers that not only doom a space’s action potential, but also create a dearth of affordable housing in cities across the globe. He and his team are trying to create a future where our homes and other spaces magically change form to meet our needs.

  • Cedric Reuter

    I love that people are tackling this issue, but I think their concept has some serious (fatal) flaws.

    First – People won’t be interested in mass produced furniture that is all one style. If this product line is optimized to work robotically I don’t believe it would be able to accommodate different tastes and cultures.

    – People need to be previously familiar with these pieces and operations or become so naturally. As with his example of the LEGO robotics kit of parts, any kit of parts fails if the user isn’t somehow already familiar with the pieces. The investment to understand what parts are available and how they could be used is too great to make it worth while, I think. It works with LEGO because you already know the parts intimately, and if there’s a unique part, you recognize it instantly.

    – Something that we use in casual daily life, something like furniture that our daily functionality depends upon can’t be so complex (mechanically and electrically) that we can’t fix it quickly if something goes awry. And with such complexity, it will go awry too often.

    – A solution that aims to be sustainable can’t rely on the use of electricity.

    – And lastly, built-in furniture like Murphy beds and one-off architectural solutions don’t work, because in today’s age life is global, life is mobile, and you want to take your furniture with you when you move. You become familiar with it and you don’t want to have to read a manual on how to live in your new home every time you move. Having something familiar in a new space goes a long way to making it feel like home. Sometimes that’s all there is. And you want your set of furniture to be configurable enough that you can arrange it to fit any living situation as it may change.

    These are generalizations, and some apply more to contemporary American culture than others, but everyone has some culture, and I think any new paradigm-changing product has to be universally adaptable or it will remain a concept forever.

    • David Bush

      “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

      Stranger things have happened…

      • David Friedlander

        though i agree on many points with @cedricreuter:disqus, i also think @disqus_fhHGtxjHxo:disqus has a point. it’s tough to see the future sometimes with the present mindset. one thing about the cityhome system is that people might stop lugging their furniture from place to place. many places in the world rent their apartments furnished, so this kind of system could be an integral part of a rental, eliminating the need for people to bring their own stuff.