The inaugural Davidson Prize asked entrants to consider the impact of the pandemic on our homes in response to increased home-working. The theme ‘Home/Work – A New Future,’ sought thought-provoking ideas that help inform the debate about our work/life balance.
Squint/Opera joined a multidisciplinary team that brought together people from architecture, digital design, sound, academic research and poetry. Collectively, we reflected on our experiences of working during the pandemic and the experiences of others through conversation, articles, podcasts and online lectures.
We began by focusing on the issues that felt somewhat universal: the blurred line and sudden lack of physical boundaries between home and work. The difficulties of stopping work at the end of the day. Forgetting to take breaks, drink water or stretch our legs. The feeling of disconnect and consequences of isolation from our colleagues, and the lack of inspiring chance interactions.
We were intrigued by the biophilia hypothesis as a way to address these issues. The hypothesis highlights nature’s restorative benefits that occur because our brains have evolved alongside and within the natural world. Similarly, the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) has been found to slow heart rate, reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and blood pressure, and boost the immune system. We found evidence suggesting that exposure to artificial nature, through the visual, olfactory and aural senses has real physical and mental health benefits.
I joined the team, representing Squint/Opera alongside Alice Britton, to collaboration with Haptic Architects, sound designers Coda to Coda, interdisciplinary designer and researcher Yaoyao Meng and the poet LionHeart. We used our own experiences and research as the basis of our winning design is titled HomeForest.
What is HomeForest?
Fundamentally, we looked for an idea that could happen now and for everyone; in every home, scalable to each individual’s means and desires. Not constrained by a person’s existing physical environment or requiring the building of a new city typology.
As such, HomeForest is a digital tool which blends seamlessly into the day to day. It would involve creating a digital twin of the home and tapping into home technology to create a digital ecosystem which infuses wellbeing into an individual’s routine, from the sound of birdsong to a projection of a forest canopy that reminds you to take a break, or the chance to connect with someone likeminded on the network.
The HomeForest learns frequented paths and prompts exploration of less visited corners, to align forest activity to the inhabitants behaviour and homes layout. As you continue to use it, HomeForest would learn your habits and looks after you by infusing wellbeing, serendipity and the restorative power of simulated nature into daily work and life.
At its core, HomeForest would connect to already owned devices, such as computer or television screens, smart lighting, speakers and headphones. As part of the homes ‘internet of things’, we came up with a series of additional smart objects- a modular HomeKit – to further enhance the experience and expand the constraints of the physical home.
Blending digital and physical space
Our concept for HomeForest is both digital and physical. As technology and smart objects connect in virtual space, a bespoke virtual forest in the home is grown and shaped, which in turn nurtures and looks after the occupant.
We designed the connected, physical kit of everyday devices to use known technologies, as well as additional items to transform spaces in the home through storytelling, sound, smell, light and projection.
Key elements are the sounds, creatures and movements of a real forest. By introducing the restorative effects of nature to the home, as visual representations, sensorial experience and binaural soundscapes, HomeForest playfully blends our digital and physical worlds to soften the constraints of our daily surroundings.
Each physical object has a digital presence, evoking and reflecting the virtual forest by utilising the different senses. The Cuckoo Clock, for example, becomes a bird’s nest in the virtual forest, while Breathing, Motion & Air Quality Sensors keep track of the inhabitants needs and environment, recommending the opening of a window.
The natural rhythms of the day and seasons are enhanced and intensified through sound, light and dappling gobo effects, scent objects emit smells of the forest upon touch, and creatures passing through the digital forest or the physical garden will notify of their presence.
As a result, the way we think about the home is challenged, by stimulating our imagination and awareness, changing our perception of the space we inhabit. HomeForest plays with all our senses, reconnects us to our environment or notifies of visiting wildlife, while soundscapes expand the sense of space and place.
Bringing HomeForest to life for the Davidson Prize
The idea of HomeForest was communicated through an immersive visual and aural piece of story-telling.
3D modelling was combined with advanced computational digital forest growth in Unreal Engine whilst the binaural soundtrack with spoken word was recorded in 360 space. The virtual representation of HomeForest has potential to become a real-time environment with spatial soundscape, a non-linear media experience which narrates and portrays the HomeForest growing, adapting to and affecting a person’s home/work life.