Data Brick


Data Brick by Mark SimpkinsAlexandra Deschamps-Sonsino

A physical brick that helps you manage your home data and your city services to connect to you in a better way.

This project is in progress and a higher resolution prototype will be presented in months to come.


Living in data

(this article appeared initially in the exhibition newspaper on September 19th 2016) by Mark Simpkins

Your home has a deep shadow of data, it is not just the physical materials that make the walls, floors, ceiling, the pipes and wires that provide the services, there is information on the construction, how it sits in the physical landscape, where it sits in the legal landscape. A whole lot of information goes into a home and a whole lot more just keeps coming out of it.

Usually this information is stored in a draw somewhere in the building, some of it is lodged with other legal entities. Tendrils extend from the house into places such as a local council, into the supply and billing departments of service suppliers. On the ledgers of banks or building suppliers, insurance companies and legal firms.

Data resides where it belongs

In designing a data brick we are reflecting the idea of this data belonging to the thing itself, to examine the data that has context in place and the data that has context in time. That there is data that should not wander far from the object. It is only directly relevant to the object and should not be available anywhere or everywhere (without good reason).

Data for a thing.

The concept of the data brick here revolves around the idea of a dwelling, most likely focused on a shelter for people. It is not too far a leap to consider the variations where this would record the data for a place of work, or other kind of building (a farm building for example). In fact most modern office buildings are already heavily quantified, with systems and sensors controlling the internal environment and control over who has access and is inside the building at any one time.

What to Store

In the end it is almost infinite, if we can measure it we can record it. What is necessary is the critical view on the value of that data. To be able to ask that question we need to consider the viewpoints on who the brick is working for.

Occupant / Owner

In this case they may be the same, they may not. If renting a place, the occupier will be contributing data to the places data shadow, yet that data should not be generally available to the owner or at least recourse to access some information may be needed but this should be carefully controlled and defined.

The owner may in fact be an entity such as a bank or similar or rather the property has a mortgage attached to it, so there is a legal connection between the ‘owner’ and the mortgage lender.

Local Council

A local council provide many services associated with a home, collection of waste and maintenance of the streets for example. It could be argued that a council should also be able to see how many properties are rented in their domain of influence, how many properties are empty. There are many who will argue that it is none of their business and this is where it is not the data but the politics and social contracts around how we manage housing in our communities. How much data should be shared with a local council?

Whilst this article is framing this concept in the space of a home in a connected home most probably located in a western european country, either urban or suburban, there is nothing to restrict the concept to this kind of space. Homes made on occupied space equally have a data shadow and in fact these types of home are more in need of a process of documentation. When built they exist in a temporal/spatial place that is precarious. Ownership of the land, permission to build and live there, access to services. These are all things that are not accessed via the usual bureaucratic routes. The homes are built from materials gathered, in spaces that can be found and occupied. Services are whatever can found. Yet by creating documentation, there is the creation of a legitimisation in the face of the existing state bureaucratic system for the home and the people living there. Access to paperwork means access to other services from the state. [There was a paper presented about this at LSE a couple of years back. I will try and find the reference] So in the likes of London, Paris and NYC these bricks could be seen as conveniences for many people, the assemblage of IoT systems in their home, the managing of the paperwork and data around a home, smoothing one other aspect of urban life, in other places such a brick could be seen as a pathway into access to the state.

The brick as a focus acts as a talking point about the land, ownership and rights as much as it offers a tool to better manage the data shadow of a building.

A connected housing / building stock could be used to manage and provide shelter for the homeless, it could aid in the improvement in sustainability and resilience within communities. It could help provide collective bargaining in acquisition of services.

It could also help in eviction and control over occupation, the balance between surveillance and support is again very subtle as it always is. Whilst assigning control to the resident / owner can assuage many questions, the options to opt out of, say collective power efficiency monitoring for a street could damage effectiveness of programmes to improve the environment. Yet we should probably lean towards this route technically and then socially and politically examine the ways that this data could improve life for individuals and communities and encourage participation.