Rethinking Autonomous and Robotic Systems in Residential Architecture

Assessing the Motivations and Values of Home Automation


  • Sotirios Kotsopoulos Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Jason Nawyn Massachusetts Institute of Technology



Informed by twenty years of hands-on experimentation with autonomous and robotic systems in home prototypes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this study provides insight into the motivations and values of integrating computing technologies in residential architecture. Although optimising home adaptability for energy efficiency, ergonomics, and climate control are shown to have benefits, applications intended to influence human behaviour remain questionable. The features of three home prototypes are presented to supply evidence for this claim: a Connected Sustainable Home that is a prototype of connected sustainability; the PlaceLab, a living laboratory for studying health-related home systems; and the CityHome, a series of robotically-transformable apartment prototypes. The case studies are of distinct scales, aim at heterogeneous objectives, and were implemented at different times. They are thematically linked through digital home automation. Evaluating these three prototypes enables the determination of design criteria for integrating autonomous and robotic systems in residential architecture and provokes reflection on the impact of autonomous systems on architectural practice. 



Bonenberg, Agata. “Shaping an Integrating Kitchen Space with Gesture-Based Control System,” in Universal Access in Human-Computer Interaction: Applications and Services for Quality of Life, ed. Margherita Antona and Constantine Stephanidis (Berlin: Springer, 2013): 12–21.

Broussard, Meredith. Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018).

Cook, Daniel J., Wrede, Juan Carlos Augusto, and Jakkula, Vikramaditya R. “Ambient Intelligence: Technologies, Applications, and Opportunities,” Pervasive and Mobile Computing 5, no. 4 (2009): 277–98.

Cordella, Mauro; Alfieri, Felice; Clemm, Christian and Berwald, Anton. “Durability of Smartphones: A Technical Analysis of Reliability and Repairability Aspects,” Journal of Cleaner Production 286 (2021):125–388.

Danks, David and London, Alex John. “Algorithmic Bias in Autonomous Systems,” IJCAI 17 (2017): 4691–97.

Frazer, John. Letter to Cedric Price, 11 January 1979, generator document folio DR1995:0280:65 5/5, Cedric Price Archives (Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture).

Geno, Julien; Goosse, Justin; Van Nimwegen, Serena and Latteur, Pierre. “Parametric Design and Robotic Fabrication of Whole Timber Reciprocal Structures,” Automation in Construction 138 (2022): 104–98.

House of the Future,

Intille, Stephen S.; Larson, Kent; Tapia, Emmanuel Munguia; Beaudin, Jennifer S.; Kaushik, Pallavi; Nawyn, Jason and Rockinson, Randy. “Using a Live-in Laboratory for Ubiquitous Computing Research,” in International Conference on Pervasive Computing (Berlin: Springer 2006), 349–65.

Intille, Stephen S.; Larson, Kent; Beaudin, Jennifer S.; Nawyn, Jason; Tapia, Emmanuel Munguia and Kaushik, Pallavi. “A Living Laboratory for the Design and Evaluation of Ubiquitous Computing Technologies,” in CHI’05 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (New York: Association for Computing Machinery, 2005), 1941–44.

Junestrand, Stefan and Tollmar, Konrad. “Video Mediated Communication for Domestic Environments,” in CoBuild 1999: Cooperative Buildings: Integrating Information, Organizations, and Architecture, ed. Norbert A. Streitz et al. (Berlin: Springer 1999), 177–90.

Kaushik, Pallavi, Intille, Stephen S. and Larson, Kent. “Observations from a Case Study on User Adaptive Reminders for Medication Adherence,” in Second International Conference on Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare (New York, IEEE, 2008), 250–53.

Kidd, Cory D.; Orr, Robert; Abowd, Gregory D.; Atkeson, Christopher G.; Essa Irfan A.; MacIntyre, Blair; Mynatt Elizabeth; Starner Thad E. and Newstetter, Wendy. “The Aware Home: A Living Laboratory for Ubiquitous Computing Research,” in CoBuild 1999: Cooperative Buildings. Integrating Information Organizations and Architecture, ed. Norbert A. Streitz et al. (Berlin: Springer) 191–98.

Kotsopoulos, Sotirios D.; Carra, Guglielmo; Graybill, Wesley and Casalegno, Federico. “The Dynamic Façade Pattern Grammar,” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 41, no. 4 (2014): 690–716.

Kotsopoulos, Sotirios D., Casalegno, Federico and Wesley Graybill. “Managing Variable Transmission Electro-Active Materials with Model-Based Distributed Building Control,” Journal of Civil Engineering and Architecture 7, no. 5 (serial no. 66) (May 2013): 507–23.

Larson, Kent. “CityHome 300 sf,” video, 18 October 2015,

Loos, Adolf. “Ornament and Crime,” in Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays, trans. Michael Mitchell (Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 1998): 167–76.

Madrigal, Alexis C. “When Did TV Watching Peak?” The Atlantic, 30 May 2018.

Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig. “The Preconditions of Architectural Work” (1928), in Fritz Neumeyer, The Artless Word: Mies van der Rohe on the Building Art, trans. Mark Jarzombeck (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 301.

MIT Media Lab. “MIT Media Lab CityHome: What if 200 ft2 could be 3x larger?” video, 12 May 2014,

Mozer, Michael C. “The Neural Network House: An Environment that Adapts to its Inhabitants,” in Proceedings of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence Spring Symposium on Intelligent Environments, ed. Michael Coen (Menlo Park, CA: AAAI Press 1998), 110–14.

Nawyn, Jason, Intille, Stephen S., and Larson, Kent. “Embedding Behavior Modification Strategies into a Consumer Electronic Device: A Case Study,” in International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, (Berlin: Springer, 2006): 297–314.

Negroponte, Nicholas. Being Digital (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1995), 6.

Ono, Masahiro. “Robust, Goal-directed Plan Execution with Bounded Risk,” PhD dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2012.

Rasch, Katharina. “An Unsupervised Recommender System for Smart Homes,” Journal of Ambient Intelligence and Smart Environments 6, no. 1 (2014): 21-37.

Rasmussen, Steen Eiler. Experiencing Architecture, trans. Eve Wendt (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1964), 9–10.

Streitz, Norbert; Charitos, Dimitris; Kaptein, Maurits and Bohlen, Marc. “Grand Challenges for Ambient Intelligence and Implications for Design Contexts and Smart Societies,” Journal of Ambient Intelligence and Smart Environments 11, no. 1 (2019): 87–107.

The Monsanto House of the Future,

The Generator Project,

Wada, Kazuyoshi; Tanaka, Takayoshi; Suganuma, Yusuke; Hashimoto, Mime and Suzuki, Toshhiko. “Kitchen Extension Robot Module for Elderly Housing,” in Proceedings of the 2013 10th International Conference on Ubiquitous Robots and Ambient Intelligence (URAI), Jeju, Korea (South), (Tokyo, IEEE, 2013), 378–82.

Watkin, David. Morality and Architecture (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 93, 102, 103.

Weiser, Mark. “The Computer for the Twenty-First Century,” Scientific American (September 1991): 94–100.

Wiegerling, Klaus. “The Question of Ethics in Ambient Intelligence,” in Ubiquitous Computing in the Workplace: What Ethical Issues? An Interdisciplinary Perspective, ed. Katharina Kinder-Kurlanda amd Céline Ehrwein Nihan (Berlin: Springer, 2015), 37–44.

Wikipedia, s.v., “Living lab,” last modified 19 April 2022,