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Construction Science Fiction: Metadata

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"I think I'm going to fire my Architect."

She had specified the exact shade of white—Arctic Dove—for the cabinetry in the kitchen so that it would provide an elegant contrast to the onyx slate floors and stainless-steel Sub-Zero kitchen fixtures. But this was definitely some sort of Ivory. And not even a tasteful Ivory. It looked like a decaying elephant tusk or a smoker's toothy grin. It wasn't the first time he hadn't followed her wishes: In her Spanish Colonial Home, her accent burgundy wall somehow became maroon—even though she had provided the exact RGB coordinates.

This was a real shame, because the Home was just beginning to feel like home. The Modigliani digital-display panels and black-and-white photos had found a balance on the living-room walls. An eclectic gathering of designer furniture filled the space with a nuanced symmetry. The ceramic embers in the central fireplace hearth glowed red. Her husband, Raleigh, lounging on her black Eames sofa, was gazing out of the floor-to-ceiling windows at the Pacific Ocean.

He must not have heard her the first time.

"I think I'm going to fire my Architect."

She had switched to another system architect on the advice of her friend's husband, Giovanni, who was an excellent dresser and shared many of her aesthetic sensibilities. His Home was constantly changing, often drastically (Cape Cod one week, Lautner the next) yet it always retained continuity with his personal style: classic but always a nose in front of the zeitgeist. Giovanni had sung the praises of the updated release of the Home app iNVIRONMENT™, which was compatible with WinOSUX 1000.11 (a prerequisite platform for their Home Cube), and recommended an Architect—J. Walter Xu—who was apparently an expert in the application.

The most annoying part of this whole business would be Raleigh's patronizing receipt of the news. He had warned her about changing systems before all the bugs had been identified and necessary patches released. This, in fact, had been the Architect's main excuse for nearly every issue, but it was clear Xu resented her attention to detail and design talents. She could have downloaded the design templates and modified them herself, but she valued the technical capabilities of the architecture profession. And, frankly, she was a little miffed that Xu did not appreciate her patronage of his increasingly unnecessary and marginalized skill set.

"Raleigh … "

She folded her right middle finger and lightly touched the iDTM at the center of her palm. The silvery, smooth disc, roughly two centimeters in diameter and embedded to line evenly with the skin, activated her UI Portal: Blue-lined boxes materialized in her sight line, images and data in a structure decipherable only by her. With a swift wave of the hand, her Modernist Home was transformed into an Urban Loft, lightly furnished with heavy furniture and masculine art. Raleigh sat on his distressed coffee-brown leather couch, watching football on the wall where her ocean-view window had been. She messaged him, and with a minor motion of his head he tuned out the game and looked at her.

"What, dear?"

"I'm going to fire my Architect. He used the wrong color for the kitchen."

He shrugged and turned back to the game.

"I warned you."

Raleigh had lived in the same Home since before they met and long before they even shared the same Home Cube. He even wore the same clothes. Gone was the navy cashmere turtleneck and cream corduroy trousers that decorated him so nicely on her couch, replaced with his favored novelty T-shirt and jeans. She found the monotony of his Home selection excruciating, which was one reason why she never visited any more. The only thing he ever bothered changing was her outfit; she glanced down at her low-cut blouse, short skirt and knee-high stockings (on a Saturday afternoon, really?).

When they were first married, they almost exclusively shared a Home. And this lasted for a number of years even after they upgraded to a Stacked Cube when Atticus was born. Some minor give-and-take was required, but their effort was a point of pride for them vis-à-vis their couple friends, who regarded them as retro at best and insane at worst. Obviously, they couldn't argue about the placing of the furniture or the location of the basic plumbing amenities, but the minor tussles over the selection of art or window views were gentle, romantic. Once Atticus entered his teenage years and created his own Home (which she rarely visited, except when her maternal and morbid curiosity could not be contained) they began an intermittent, then near-permanent inhabitation of separate Homes. Not that she minded, in fact: It gave her a creative outlet to indulge a latent talent for interior design.

With another wave she returned to her Home (and her sleek black kaftan/linen trousers ensemble) and re-redirected her irritation at the ivory kitchen walls. If she didn't do anything about this, it would drive her crazy. She wondered how difficult it would be to adjust the color herself.

"I know what you're thinking," Raleigh commented from the sofa without looking at her. "Don't do it."

She sat down in the Mies van der Rohe armless chair, placed next to the sofa and facing the kitchen. The ivory had definitely ruined her Home, and she wouldn't be able to stand living there all weekend until Xu's office was back online Monday and she could give him a piece of her mind.

Coding iNHABIT™ was—even according to Giovanni—a little complex. It would probably be a better idea just to revert to a previous Home she had already developed in the application. This was an intuitive feature, and she could manage this without risk of destabilizing the system. She scrolled through her Home list: Chicago Art Deco, Brooklyn Victorian, San Francisco Victorian, London Edwardian, Paris Beaux Arts Appartement, Provençal Farmhouse, Manhattan Loft , Georgetown Federal, California Craftsman, Palm Springs Mid-Century Modern, Tokyo Metabolist, Los Angeles Googie, Santa Fe Adobe, Barcelona Gaudí, Wright-like, Corbusier-esque, Koolhaas-ish.

There was almost nothing to choose from.

So in the end she didn't really have a choice. She worked her way through a number of iNHABIT™ user forums and felt confident that she could resolve the issue on her own. Once she was in the code it seemed even simpler, and in less than fifteen minutes she had executed the command to update the color. The kitchen walls flickered, and then a slow advancing wave of Arctic Dove began at the far end of the room and rolled over the Ivory walls and ceilings. In that moment, she felt a brief sense of euphoria and began playing out triumphant scenarios of smug interchanges with Raleigh and Xu. But then the wall flickered again, and a spinning blue wheel materialized in her UI.

She took a deep breath—this wasn't the first time the application had hung. She gave it a minute.

Still nothing.

Exasperated, she plumbed her limited knowledge of system troubleshooting exercises to no avail.

Then it crashed.

The ocean, the art, the photos, the furniture, the fireplace, the slate floors, everything blurred and then dissolved to white. After the crash, she sat dumbly and surveyed the Cube, windowless and lit as brightly as Heaven. The contours and edges of furnished objects in the Cube registered only because of nearly imperceptible shadows and microscopic dust particles. The room measured 10 x 5 x 10 meters, the bottom half of an equally proportioned room above. The stacked cubes were joined by a stairwell on the far side of the room that amounted to no more than risers and treads jutting out from the wall.

The door to the kitchen off the living room did not exist. A Visualization Enhancer Patch was attached where the passage existed before, a small mesh adhesive that catalyzed nostalgic renderings of kitchens, balconies, gardens and other spaces that no longer served a functional purpose beyond decoration. In fact, there were no doors in the Cube at all, save for a tiny slit at one corner that served as a rarely used Exit/Entrance.

It had been more than two years since she last lost her Home in a system crash, and she had forgotten how sterile it was. And how old her husband looked. Robed in a white polymer gown on an amorphous gel-filled object, he lay exactly as before, watching his football game in his Home, but his engrossed expression was now jowly and creased. She glanced down at her own shapeless gown and the stocky ankles jutting out the bottom and was glad that there were no mirrors in the Cube.

Now she found herself longing for the Ivory kitchen.

"Raleigh?"

"Raleigh, the application crashed," she said. "I don't know how to fix it."

"Don't ask me, I'm hopeless in that new code."

Then she had an idea, even before he said it.

"You should ask Atticus."

 

OLCOTT

Sean Olcott has been on the front line of emerging trends and technologies related to BIM, cloud computing and facility data analytics since 2006. His firsthand experience with the industry transformation currently under way has made him a skeptical optimist about where we are now and where we are headed. At Gafcon, an industry-leading owner's rep, he helps clients develop their vision for tech-enabled business transformation and navigate the (sometimes messy) ensuing organizational change. He has enjoyed writing fiction as a hobby for years, but this is the first work he has submitted to be published.

To see all of the stories in ENR's Imagining Construction's Future science fiction collection, click here.

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