Viewing entries tagged
Cell Phones

Vestigial tails of obsolete technology

I took advantage of the break between Christmas and New Year's to clean out my closet and take some things I wasn't wearing anymore to Goodwill. One garment I donated was a light jacket that had become more than a little threadbare around the cuffs.

As I was considering this particular jacket, I realized it was almost 13 years old. I bought it in my final months of living in Chicago - it was technically spring but the weather was still cold enough to require an additional layer that was less heavy than my bulky fare I had been wearing to survive the winter. And so I made the short walk from where I worked to the Gap on Michigan Avenue. Gap clothing was generic enough for my taste at the time (apparently I was part of the earliest normcore fashion vanguard) and so I was able to find an affordable, nondescript jacket that did the job. After I moved back to Texas, it turned out that a light spring jacket in Chicago also served as a good winter coat in San Antonio.

Having been manufactured in 2002, the jacket contained a small inside pocket that was designed to fit a mobile phone. At the time I thought this was a really cool feature as it perfectly accommodated my Nokia 6185.  In the years that followed, I updated my phone several times but kept the same jacket. As the form factor of phones changed from "candy bar" to "clam shell" to "slate", the pocket became increasingly useless as it no longer could accommodate the very thing it was intended to carry. It instead became a reminder of how infrequently I update my wardrobe.

Fashion is intended to be short-lived and typically does not try to incorporate technology. Buildings are different - they are built to last decades (if not centuries) and by definition have technology embedded throughout. As a result, architecture is littered with vestigial tails of obsolete technology. Did the house you grew up in have an intercom system that was never actually used? Ever try to stick a grounded plug into a two-prong receptacle? I can't tell you how many built-in media cabinets I designed over the years to accommodate the tubes of large-screen TVs that are now way to deep for the flat-screen LCD displays they now contain.

Often as architects we are tasked with developing a precise solution to specific needs. We are really good at this. The trick is those needs - especially as they relate to the accommodation of technology - often evolve after it is constructed. At the end of the day, flexibility is important as we cannot change our buildings as often as we change our clothing - even if you happen to be someone who wears the same clothing for 13 years.