Interview: Architecture Student Designs Smart Home of the Future With On-site Food Production

April 6, 2015 by


When judges of the House 2020 Competition challenged Ontario, Canada architecture, engineering, and environmental science students to come up with an innovative idea for the house of the future, they asked the question: what does ”smart” mean now?

Competition winner, Peter Kitchen, Master of Architecture student at the University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design came up with a score of pioneering ideas from on-site food production to radiant tubing in the floors and walls. In this interview, Peter shared his thoughts on the domestic revolution and how he envisions greener living in the future.

Peter Kitchen image 2

Q: Your vision for the house included the idea of on-site food production. Can you expand on this idea? If growing food within our homes is where we’re headed in the future, would we have to develop greener thumbs? Or did you have an idea of easier more technologically advanced methods (hydroponics, Drip Growing systems) for the home?

A:  The on-site food production was an extension of a lifestyle. I proclaimed that while smart was interpreted as curated, specific and efficient, none of it would really work if the lifestyle of the person using it did not match. This home could be copied to a development say, but if the individuals living there are not invested in actually growing food, then the idea doesn’t work. The food production in the home was really an idea of reinterpreting our front and back yards. These spaces are buffers from the street, our neighbors, etc. But if we bring these wasted spaces indoors and curate them to grow food, the efficiency of not only the home, but the entire neighborhood can transform.


As for the technology, it would be used to monitor the plants and support the home, not control it. Certain species of plants can clean the air and water, and grow food…all of which require certain degrees of sunlight, humidity, temperature, etc. In Toronto, we have large fluctuations in all of these elements, so the technology would be there as support (watering, monitoring, sending you a notification of something to change such as soil, opening shading devices or closing them) and all of this changes seasonally, again due to Toronto’s strong seasonal changes. The home is in tune with its environment not only through the plants but through the technology that is monitoring them.


Q: So, let’s talk about some of your history. What brought you to this point? Did you always imagine becoming an architect student?

A: I did my undergrad in architecture at Waterloo so I have been exposed to this environment for close to eight years now. Going on to do the master of architecture was a natural choice when you find something you love doing.


Q: The competition posed the question, “What does smart mean now?” How did you go about answering this question?

A: The topic of smart is broad and far-reaching and can be found in a variety of other disciplines; most of us would relate it to our personal devices that have been marketed as ‘smart’. When it comes to architecture, the language we use must be clear so we can ground ourselves in it, so if we get lost we can always come back to it. This competition led me to specifically define what smart meant and that led me to the notion of curated, specific and efficient. When you talk about smart anything, it automatically implies that something else is dumb. Remember however that sometimes a simple and ‘dumb’ building is smarter than the high-tech machine over which a user can lose control.

My interpretation of smart as curated (ability to control), specific (clear about what it is doing), and efficient (technology, utility, function) came from multiple iterations of finding the right language to use. It was a process between drawing, imagination, and language that ended in this interpretation. Others may not agree with this definition of smart, and that is what is interesting about the topic; it is subjective. The same goes for the idea of a home. A home is a very personal space, which in turn makes it subjective.


Q: Were there personal preferences or aspects of the house that you would wish in a smart home of your own that caused you to include them in the prototype?

A: Yes. With this definition and interpretation of smart came personal influence. There was no ‘client’ in this project, the brief was fairly open-ended and left us (as in everyone involved in the competition) to interpret it. Since I worked alone on this, it naturally became an extension of personal preference and involvement.

Q: Is there anything about the home you envisioned you would change or add in retrospect?

A: Not so much change or add, but revisit. A project is never complete; even once it is built it continues to adapt and change, so if I looked at it again tomorrow, I would continue to study it.


Q: You named your prototype “Tranquil House”. Tell us how your vision embodies tranquility.

A: Tranquility is related to calmness. It was about not making technology the central focus. Returning to ideas of proportion, material, natural light, and texture. Bringing the gardens indoors concerning this calmness, and therefore tranquility.

Q: Various articles about the competition mentioned a possible construction of a working prototype of your home for the year 2020. Is this possibility now a reality? Is the construction in the works, and if so, how are you a part of it?

A: The reality of constructing an experimental home like this is a large undertaking. It is not currently in the works as that decision is beyond my control, but if the decision to start looking at a real construct of this project does happen I would love to be involved.

Q: Are there cost-efficient and/or recyclable materials used to construct the house in part or in full?

A: The short answer is yes. All of the wet spaces are pre-cast concrete enclosures that are introverted (private and personal) and the concrete reflects this. These enclosures as well as a concrete slab for the floor have high thermal mass (the ability of a material to hold and store heat energy) so radiant tubing in the floors and concrete walls would be used to control the temperature of the home. This strategy is significantly more efficient than forced air systems.


Q: In an interview you did for The Globe and Mail, you mentioned how ‘smart’ wasn’t simply installing a thermostat that controls the internal environment of the home, but rather building a house so that it self-regulates the internal environment naturally; it’s “built into the house”. How did you construct your prototype to accomplish this? (In layman’s terms please!)

A: This relates to the previous question. The concrete is the best example, when the sun hits it in the wintertime through the south-facing glass it will heat up. It will store this heat throughout the day. Then during the cold night, it will slowly release the heat as the material tries to reach an equilibrium, keeping the home at a regulated, comfortable temperature. The concrete becomes a thermally active surface. Other examples of this are the plantings, cleaning the air instead of forced air systems, and the courtyard behaving as a bioremediation garden, which basically cleans grey water by filtering it through the plants instead of mechanically filtering it. This water would not be used for drinking, but rather for irrigation, flushing toilets, washing clothes, etc.

"Tranquil House" by Peter Kitchen House 2020 Competition floorplan

Q: In that same interview you mentioned how bedrooms were strategically placed to recycle water from showers and sinks into the courtyard to be re-filtered back into the home. This placement makes the final product long and narrow, which also happens to fit nicely within the plot of land designated for this project. Was this a coincidence or did the particular nature of the plot inspire you to construct the prototype this way?

A: The long narrow plot size was a realistic constraint that came from the competition brief. We had to work within this area. I think the reinterpretation of the front and back yards by bringing them into the home is what caused the long narrow form of the home. By removing these outdoor spaces, the home can stretch out becoming narrower, and have strong exposure to the south for ample daylight as well as an extractive form.

All images via the University of Toronto, The Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design and Workshop, Inc.

h/t Bustler.

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