What if Amazon did housing?

They help us shop eat, work and travel, but what if tech brands also ran our homes? Would you trade your data for a homelife where your every need was taken care of?

Housing is key to providing a better future for our older selves. Ipsos Mori research reveals that we would much rather spend our latter years in our homes than in a care facility (no surprise there). But most housing, in the UK at least, is ill-equipped to cater for the needs of older people.

And the role of the home itself is changing. In future, healthcare and work may increasingly take place where we live.

If traditional housebuilders cannot deliver what we need in order to manage in our ‘age of no retirement’ what if service-based, or so-called ‘disruptor’ corporates got involved? What would housing look like if it was designed and run by, say, Amazon?

For the Home section of the Design Museum’s NEW OLD show, Future Facility was asked to “design a future-proofed home environment for independent living into old age”. Sam Hecht and Kim Colin’s response imagines an apartment complex for today’s ‘Digital Natives’ as they reach their later years.

The Amazin Apartment water fountain at the Design Museum's NEW OLD show. Residents can choose which brand of water to have plumbed in to it
The Amazin Apartment water fountain at the Design Museum’s NEW OLD show. Residents can choose which brand of water to have plumbed in to it

“Despite the implicit promise of digital technology to make our lives simpler and easier, there is a crisis afoot for the growing, older population,” Future Facility say. “Although many household appliances are easily acquired, these same products are inherently difficult to manage and maintain over time; what was once purchased as a convenience has potential to become a burden in later life. As we age, we become less likely to navigate the conditions that shops and manufacturers require of youthful consumers. This puts the ageing population in an unfortunate position – abandoned at the exact moment when they need better products, increased assistance and servicing. Alienated by the speed of change in trade, manufacturing and technology, older consumers would benefit from a revolutionary domestic independence: the Amazin Apartment.”

Future Facility's Amazin Apartment installation at the Design Museum's NEW OLD show
Future Facility’s Amazin Apartment installation at the Design Museum’s NEW OLD show

Describing their idea as a “provocation” Future Facility claim that, compared to traditional manufacturers of domestic appliances, “the new generation of technology companies for whom consolidation and service is central to existence (Amazon, Google and Nest for example), are in a far better position to deliver a more reliable and worry-free form of independent living for seniors. Amazin Apartment is a theoretical invention, whose mandate is to remove the worry and burden associated with domestic upkeep by providing property development, management and supply. In this future, older people are less concerned with data collection, and allow companies to record, analyse and process their data in exchange for the comfort that comes from full-service.”

In other words, in return for your data, Amazin Apartment will cater for your every need via a system of concealed service corridors. Future Facility imagine a futuristic version of the Palace of Versailles where staff and robots replace goods and provide services as needed via hidden service corridors.

The NEW OLD installation features three segments of a typical Amazin wall. A washer/dryer “has a single button with one setting, not endless interfaces. It is positioned at standing height, with a shelf below, to avoid the need for bending down. On the service side, large boxes of powder that last up to a month are installed”.

The Amazin Apartment washing machine at the Design Museum's NEW OLD show. Put the washing in and unseen hands remove it, wash it and return it ironed
The Amazin Apartment washing machine, serviced by unseen hands

The fridge has two doors – “on the living side, the left-hand door houses new ordered produce that has been delivered – and is moved to the right side for consumption. On the service side, there is only a right door for delivering the orders.”

A water fountain “allows a choice of filtered or branded waters to be plumbed in”.

Future Facility are not suggesting that the Amazin Apartment is necessarily a ‘good idea’, merely a concept to provoke discussion. “It raises questions about the designed connection between products and their maintenance or serviceability, and equally about how much consumers consider fair ‘trade’ of their data in the expanded digital economy,” they say.

Today, our data – our selves – are almost as highly sought-after as our wallets and purses. Understanding what we are giving up when we sign our data away and the implications will be one of our greatest future challenges. Brands will reassure us that this is a fair exchange, or at least that it is our choice, made with adequate knowledge and understanding of what we are getting ourselves into. But as we are beginning to find out, it is an exchange that is almost impossible to evaluate. Particularly when what seems on an individual basis to be relatively harmless, becomes something else altogether when occurring at mass scale.

We’ve arranged a society based on science and technology, in which nobody understands anything about science and technology. And this combustible mixture of ignorance and power, sooner or later, is going to blow up in our faces. Who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it?” Carl Sagan, interviewed by Charlie Rose, 1996 

NEW OLD, the first in a series of pop-up exhibitions at the Design Museum in London, runs until  February 19. It is curated by Jeremy Myerson, Helen Hamlyn Professor of Design at the Royal College of Art, and sponsored by the Helen Hamlyn Trust, and AXA PPP healthcare, supported by Arthritis Research UK

The 'service side' of the Amazin Apartment installation at the Design Museum's NEW OLD show
The ‘service side’ of the Amazin Apartment installation at the Design Museum’s NEW OLD show

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