Interview with Architect Carlo Ratti, Italy
An architect and engineer by training, you practice in Italy and teach at the MIT, where you direct the Senseable City Lab. Can you please tell us more about your activities and projects?
I wear three hats: I direct the design firm Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA); I run the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston; and I am engaged with a few startups. The vision is always the same, although it focuses on different areas: research, projects and products. We are passionate about developing innovative design projects, at the convergence of the digital and physical world. We like to explore the merging of high-profile architecture, urban planning and design with ubiquitous digital technologies.
Which real estate startup impressed you the most and why?
There are many areas of innovation today. In general, I think some of the most interesting startups are those that use autonomous sensors and Big Data analytics to allow a more effective use of real estate. Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are set to have a very positive impact on issues such as space occupancy, workspace demand, energy using, or indoor wayfinding.
Today, buildings operate by approximation, satisfying the peak demand rather than the actual need, whether with lighting or temperature or space. For example, if one person is in a room, the whole space will be lit and climate-controlled. A small class of nine students will use the same room as a class of 30. As our buildings become increasingly digital, they will be able to better respond to our behavior. To achieve this, architecture will be more physically flexible: think of walls and ceilings and partitions that fold and unfold. If buildings are a kind of “third skin” — after our biological one and our clothing — we have to acknowledge that this skin has remained rigid for its entire history. However, with better data, the built environment can finally start to adapt to us, generating a living, tailored architecture that is molded by its inhabitants.
In what ways do you think the real estate industry could be more innovative?
In the construction field there has always been a lot of inertia: every action requires a large effort and capital. To accelerate the process it is important to develop a startup ecosystem – such as the MIPIM Startup Competition. Architects should also try to push boundaries in the interaction with people and the built environment. As Buckminster Fuller said this could be a “oblivion or utopia” moment for architects.