I once read an interesting book named Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling. Although known as a science fiction writer, Sterling’s Shaping Things is his look at the trajectory of the objects in our world. In looking towards the future, he introduces the concept of Spimes. These are objects whose entire existence can be tracked through space and time. They are objects that are created entirely from virtual information but may have physical incarnations.
If we look at trends in technology and software, one might presume the next trend in office design and management would naturally be smart-offices – in the same way you probably have a smart-phone. The place where you work might start getting to know you a bit more…
When we consider Information Modelling (as in Building Information Models (BIM), common in the construction industry) and the amount of data used to document buildings these days, we can easily see buildings becoming Spimes. Historically, once a building is constructed it has ceased to exist in the digital realm and the physical building itself becomes the only reality of it. With BIM and advanced building management systems that continue to store and process a wealth of occupational data, the virtual building – the Spime – is starting to be born.
Now consider the space in which we construct these virtual buildings (our offices). Presently, it is in a static piece of software that outputs data that sits inside a metal box surrounded by some desks and chairs. If we take Sterling’s word that Spimes are the future (which they very much seem to be – your Google profile, smartphones, the “internet of things”), can’t we see the environment in which we design and document also beginning to act like a Spime?
“How many gigabytes is your BIM?” – one of Buckminster Fuller’s lesser known (and fake) quotes
(image from WikiCommons – Dan Lindsay)
How? Firstly, by collecting data. Buckminster Fuller famously asked, “How much does your building weigh?” These days he might have asked, “how many gigabytes is your BIM?” How many times did you click your mouse to design this facade? Was it more than usual? How many different people worked on it? For how long? Did they work more in the evenings or the mornings?
In the same way am Information Model is a virtual model of a physical building, why can’t the environment in which we created the Information Model (software platform, our office) be a virtual model of how we physically work together? Let’s call it the Office Spime. Each Information Model we produce would inform and be informed by the Office Spime. The Office Spime would then be able to gather data that could suggest seating arrangements, working hours, etc. In this way the office becomes an ephemeral physical manifestation of a virtual object.
Does John always get in at 8.30am, just like Steve? Is that why they are good friends? What if John came in at 8.00am? He might bump into Jennifer, who has just come up with a solution on another project that he could also implement on his project. The Office Spime would know all this and could begin to suggest how these connections could be made.
The idea of creating “chance encounters” in the workplace is very ubiquitous these days. In fact, many new office buildings are designed with corridors near seating, and kitchenettes and cafes to encourage people bumping into each other as we know it increases productivity. In the future, perhaps we will not be leaving it up to chance.