Signal-Blocking Structure Takes You Off the Grid—In Your Own Crib
Dawg, we put a house inside your house that blocks out incoming mobile signals. Seriously.
Photos: Delfino Sisto Legnani
Using movable shields constructed from radar-absorbent material (RAM) and faraday meshing, the RAM House is designed to selectively filter incoming and outgoing signals from communication devices, sentient appliances and WIFI transmissions. A collaboration between shelving manufacturer Prokoss Mobilrot and Italian design studio Space Caviar, its design pioneers a new form of digital domesticity that provides “selective electromagnetic autonomy” for its future inhabitants.
According to its designers, RAM House proposes a type of cohabitation with technology different from its default constant presence. We caught up with Space Caviar’s Simone Niquille to discuss the RAM House and the role technology plays in the domestic sphere.
The Creators Project: What were the project goals you started out with? How does RAM House relate to other work Space Caviar is engaged in?
Simone Niquille: RAM House grew out of our own personal interests, as well as being a continuation of a project for last years Biennale Interieur. For Interieur we were responsible for the cultural program in which we questioned our understanding of domesticity under the premise of “The Home does not exist” in regards to rising rental costs, shortage in housing, unattainable property prices, and an increasing digitalisation of our lives. In the context of the design and product fair Interieur, “The Home does not exist” questioned the environment we purchase domestic objects for. What and where is “home” is it a physical space with a bed and a kitchen or rather a notion applied to community and the devices we connect and communicate with? Are we nomadic, using Airbnb not to travel but as an economic necessity to afford rent? Where are we while someone else is staying in our place.
As part of Biennale Interieur, Space Caviar edited the book SQM: The Quantified Home, a collection of essays and data analysis towards a current domestic, part of which was on view in the large-scale installation A Theatre of Everyday Life, a walkable structure of 45m length built entirely out of shelving units produced in collaboration with the company Prokoss Mobilrot.
With the RAM House we question the wall as an architectural element that is to provide privacy and shelter. It does so by successfully blocking the visible of the electromagnetic spectrum. However considering that much of our time and lives are taking place within the invisible spectrum of signals communication, the wall as a blocking element is rid of its function. WIFI and cellphone signals pass through walls effortlessly leaking onto the street and to the apartments around us. In a federal appeals court case from December 2014 in Denver it was revealed that law enforcement agents used a radar device known as Range-R to remotely search a house before entering and arresting a man wanted for violating his parole. The Range-R device allows movement and person detection through a wall as thick as 8 inches without entering. The judges expressed that ’the governments warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions.’ What does a wall and as such a home look like which will return our control over our living environment. What is the equivalent of opening a window to let in air to signals communication. By making the interaction of opening and closing parts of our homes to the whole electromagnetic spectrum rather than just the visible spectrum of light physical, the RAM House is an experiment of privacy rituals.
Your project statement remarks that “RAM House is a domestic prototype that explores the home’s response to a new definition of privacy in the age of sentient appliances and signal based communication.” Can you elaborate on how this came up as a concern? Have we crossed some sort of digital threshold?
Home automation experiments and sentient appliances aren’t a new development, in 1966 Westinghouse Electric debuted their non commercial home automation system ECHO IV (Electronic Computing Home Operator) which was taking over household tasks by taking care of the family finances, computing shopping lists, controlling home temperature etc. and was housed in a large walnut wood cabinet. A year later Neimann-Marcus advertised a Kitchen-Computer by Honeywell which stored recipes at a cost of $10,600.
Since the 60’s technology has shrunk in size and become significantly more affordable allowing us to do work and perform tasks at a speed and ease unimaginable then. Technology has seeped into our most intimate spaces making long distance relationships easier with late night Skype and broadcasting our sleep to each other like a Warhol tribute. While I find those gestures beautiful expressions of humanity, the ease with which we can share the mundane and the crazy of our everyday with anyone and/or our loved ones, we simultaneously let unknown devices do the transmission for us. The technology in essence might carry with it uninvited guests. Malware on our laptops that let’s strangers activate the embedded camera, baby monitors that operate on insecure IP addresses and get hacked, transforming into a mouthpiece for whoever gains access.
As such RAM House is an exploration in cohabitation with technology and how we can gain control over what communicates when and how by making the literal closing and opening of the house part of activating signals communication. We are not interested in rejecting technological developments, but rather are interested in how to integrate them within our lives.
You have explored ideas of behavior becoming predictable or being predicted outright by digital devices, how do you think technological developments like health apps that measure your heartbeat or the number of steps you take typify the exuberant pervasiveness of technology in everyday life? Does the RAM House act as a conscious “time out” from digital technologies for its occupants?
As for health apps measuring our bodily stats, why should I be or become more healthy by knowing how many steps I walk per day? As a statistic it is a random number with no context and as such offers no information about my health whatsoever. What it does do though is give insight into my movement and whereabouts. Essentially, collecting information about my habits and environment under a veil of well-being is not of value to me but to the entity doing the collecting, while exploiting our obsession and care over our bodies.
As such the Health App automatically provided with the latest iOS update of the iPhone is a good example of a default “on” setting. It took me a while to realise that the App was counting my every step and I had to consult The Internet to figure out how to disable it.
Definitely, the freedom of—or the option to—opt out is important to us, to create an environment within which the default setting is “off” rather than “on” in order to require a conscious decision to action or like mentioned before, any set of privacy rituals.
Click here to learn more about RAM House.