What’s the difference between living in a smart home and responsive living? We sat down with Field Systems Designer Brian Schulman to discuss the impact of thoughtfully integrated architecture, design, and technology.
Tell us about your background and what you do with Acoustic Architects.
My background is in architecture and design, but I’ve always been interested in how technology impacts the architectural experience and how we interact with our spaces. I’ve been working in the home technology integration industry for about 8 years and joined Acoustic Architects last year to enhance our design capabilities and architectural detailing. Most of my work involves collaboration with design professionals and general contractors. I’m often working alongside our project managers onsite to ensure everything we design will be installed in the most ideal way.
What is the process of integrating technology and architecture like?
We work with a variety of architects, interior designers, and clients with a wide range of tastes, so the first step is getting the general concepts and budget aligned to the architecture and built site conditions. Then, we prepare drawings that detail the infrastructural underpinning of the design – central equipment layout, electrical amperage requirements, property conduit connections, wire drop locations, and finished device intent. I’ll go to the site with our project managers to take measurements and photos, discuss strategy with the general contractors and electricians, and track progress of construction.
Back in the studio, I take the design further with our systems engineers, draw interior elevations and architectural details – with input from the architects and interior designers. We pass these drawings back and forth, adding notes and new ideas, getting feedback from the client, and making changes until we arrive at an ideal design, imbued with the design concept of the whole project. It’s a very collaborative, cross-partner process that continues all the way until the finished installation.
What are some challenges you face?
Things change organically throughout the process; it’s my responsibility to take drawings to the site and have a deeper discussion with our general contractor partners to ensure our design is feasible, works with the schedule and the sequence of events, or avoids conflicts with overlapping systems (plumbing, ducts, electrical systems, available depths, etc.). This is where I step in as an architectural designer and adjust the design and communicate with drawings accordingly. We’re always trying to make sure the designs we propose will seamlessly embed with the architecture – not just on the surface, but within everything behind the walls and ceilings.
Architectural technology design directly impacts the experience of the people living in these homes, so I’m always seeking to align the technology goals with the design vision of all our partners – to provide what works best within a client’s lifestyle and the spaces we’re building.
How do you create harmony between the tech and architecture of a home?
My design approach dovetails with ambient computing, which is to be as minimal and immersive as possible. I try to design systems to be seamless—not just aesthetically, but experientially, so the multiple layers of tech systems in a home feel like something that was always supposed to be there, like the plumbing. To get there, everything should be elegantly detailed and embedded to the design, not a “smart gadget” simply added afterwards. For example, installing a TV flush with millwork walls or embedding motorized window treatments into glass framing. This approach complements the space both functionally and aesthetically.
Another element of this is the use of lighting control keypads. For the best experience, we reduce everything down to as few buttons as possible, and design ambient pre-scheduled lighting and shading events. Areas like stairwells, hallways, or the exterior landscape are typically on pre-programmed scenes, since these spaces are used the same way every day – based on sunrise and sunset. Lutron Alisse is a very simple keypad that supports this approach nicely, with very few buttons and elegant finishes. Keypad placement also matters, matching surface finishes and how people move and interact with their home.
Homeowners can also interact with their architecture by voice, in a very natural and simple way. Upon entering a dark space, rather than reaching for a keypad you can say “Hey Josh, I’m home” and lights turn on. Proximity to your phone can also work to automatically trigger a welcome scene when you walk in. The harmony comes from these enabling daily interactions to enhance your lifestyle within the design of your home.
What goes into making a space stand out for user experience?
I recommend focusing each room’s purpose to maximize the experience of that space – rather than trying to do everything, everywhere. Instead of an average TV and speakers in every room, build one or two high-quality media rooms and a home theater experience. Aside from looking amazing, building the whole room around a purpose brings more enjoyment of the space, and relies on top-class technology systems that perform excellently. In a home theater, we design the details around cinema-grade audio, highest-resolution imaging, and ideal acoustic performance so every seat gets the “best spot,” and movie night at home is still a really special event. Coordinating these highly architectural details are challenging, but extremely worth it.
Video walls are an incredible new way to integrate media into the architecture of a home theater space. The large screen size is not reliant on a massive projector in a dark corner of the house. They work extremely well in daylight and have no bezel, just a perfect ultra-high-resolution, edge-to-edge picture. Sony has a CLED system that is a step beyond a video wall, and more like a modular TV. You don’t see any of the seams or individual pixels as you might on a video wall, and the surface is a smooth durable glass.
Some media rooms can be seen from the kitchen or another nearby space or are the centerpiece of a living area. Video walls make a big statement as a powerful dynamic art display, supported by audio equipment within the installation, so it feels like one integrated media wall. All you see is the screen and furniture.
What’s the biggest benefit a homeowner can expect from such a collaborative process?
Architectural integration of smart home systems is an expression of Acoustic Architects’ mission for Responsive Living. Technology should always feel like it’s benefitting not just the architecture and aesthetics but also a part of your personal lifestyle. Homeowners experience this from the moment they enter their home, and it continues while they put their head on their pillow and hit the Goodnight button.
Every technological and architectural interaction is something I think about and work in close collaboration with all project professionals to build, living up to our Responsive Living aspiration. If living with these technologies feels like they were always supposed to be there or become part of the daily living experience, then I did what I set out to do as a designer and an architect.
Responsive Living, the term coined by Acoustic Architects founders, Aaron Flint and Spencer Hauldren, is the concept of seamlessly enhancing the client’s unique lifestyle using smart home technology. Responsive Living allows you to interact with your space via touch input, voice command, and predictive automation, placing you in full control of your home.
If you would like to learn more about integrating new systems into your smart home system, feel free to connect with us. We will be happy to schedule a demo with you.
For more information, visit acousticarchitects.net.
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