A few of us attended a panel discussion at the RIBA on the future of building design a couple of months ago, featuring an expert panel drawn from across the spectrum of architecture, construction and technology.

While it was certainly an interesting, inspiring debate about the future of building design, I realised afterwards that no one had bothered to mention the role that smart technology can – and inevitably will – play in the properties of the next couple of decades.

Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the relentless hype that surrounds DIY smart home devices has clouded the debate over the place of technology in the home, to the extent that several people now believe a dedicated smart home installation is now unnecessary and that everything can just be put in later, once the house is already finished.

This couldn’t be more wrong – at least, not if you want a home technology system that fits into the home without disrupting it – but a lack of meaningful dialogue between smart home integrators and architects has led to misunderstandings about exactly what integrated technology adds to a property, as well as the value that a custom installer can bring to a construction project.

Rewriting the script

Smart home installers are keen to establish better relationships with the architectural community, but too often in the past the message has been the wrong one. The Designing Integrated Future-Ready Homes CPD from smart home industry body CEDIA does offer a framework for architects to understand the basics smart home technology, yet it doesn’t explain how smart home technology can enhance a building’s design.

For years, installers have focused only on the end user benefits – namely convenience, comfort and control. While this is important, this is not necessarily what helps architects to build a better home.

What we fail to point our is that, at its best, smart home technology acts as an enabler: it brings flexibility to a design and allows for space to be used in more creative ways – think reducing energy consumption, automatic shading and lighting systems that allow more radical window placement, or even facilitating the creation of indoor/outdoor spaces that can change their configuration to serve multiple purposes throughout the year.

All too often, unfortunately, it is the job of the custom install company to fit their solution around the edges of an architect’s vision, rather than a two-way dialogue on what the end goals of the project are, and how these two parts of the project can be designed to complement each other. This is a shame, as it eliminates the opportunity to find an innovative solution that could benefit both parties.  

Highbury smart home lighting control

Collaboration, not isolation

In an age where more and more that was once bespoke has become commoditised, architects and home technology integrators both stand out as craftsmen, rather than box-pushers. Both sectors rely on significant design expertise to allow them to explore a range of options, materials and methods, coming up with a bespoke approach that best meets the needs each individual project. Like architecture, the best home integration takes place when working on a project that has unique possibilities to push beyond the conventional and create something spectacular.

Like buildings themselves, smart home systems can take many forms: from a minimalist space with flush-mounted keypads and recessed technology keeping everything out of sight when not needed, to a retrofit solution that makes it much easier to manage a listed building. Sustainability is another area where huge amounts of progress have been made in recent years, allowing for creative integrated energy-saving solutions that would not have been possible before.

Not all smart home installers are equal, and there are many out that are content to keep installing the same technology in an identikit fashion. However, an ambitious smart home integrator can offer a fresh perspective on a project; if we’re part of the conversation, then our knowledge and expertise can be useful in pushing the boundaries on what is possible in terms of intelligent home design.