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Category: Architecture

Was your home’s scenic view obstructed by a new building next door? This issue is now solved, thanks to the “window periscope!” Homeowners, rejoice!

Background:

One of the most common complaints about nearby construction is the potential for new structures to block the views of existing residents.

The issue:

Existing residents in a neighborhood occasionally attempt to block nearby construction (often coming up with extremely implausible reasons as a smokescreen), when the real reason is that they just don’t want their current view blocked (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: The residents in the blue house at left had a nice view (across vacant lots that they, unfortunately, did not own) until nearby construction blocked it.

Proposal:

Fortunately, modern technology provides a solution that will satisfy the existing residents and allow new construction to proceed: the “window periscope” (Figure 2), a submarine-style periscope that elevates the view from a particular window.

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Fig. 2: Here, we see the solution: a “window periscope,” shown in red. This periscope consists of a set of mirrors that elevating the view above the roofline of the adjacent building, thus preserving the existing view.

Conclusion:

This is a great plan for suburbs and cities alike! It may pose a moderate engineering challenge due to high winds, moisture, and the difficulty of accessing such a structure for maintenance. But that will just create more jobs, so it’s really a plus. (For example, one could imagine a “chimney sweep”-style profession dedicated to maintaining these window periscopes.)

PROS: Preserves existing views even when new construction is placed right next door, thus reducing the amount of NIMBY-ism that frequently stalls construction.

CONS: May make it difficult or impossible to open the window. If this system becomes widespread, it could lead to an “arms race” of dueling taller and taller periscopes between adjacent buildings. Evidently this situation has historical precedent in the towers of San Gimignano, in Italy.

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Supplemental Figure S1: This photorealistic diagram shows the problem in a more abstract fashion.

 

Re-experience your youth in an amazingly annoying fashion with a “scaled up furniture” business featuring gigantic chairs and tables!

Background:

Almost everything in the world is designed for people of average adult size.

As a result, most everyday objects (furniture, stairs, door handles, etc.) are a totally inconvenient size for children or the extremely short.

This is somewhat surprising, since everyone spent many years facing these problems as a small child.

But it was so long ago that no one really remembers! (This is also a classic example of the market failing to address the needs of a demographic with zero purchasing power.)

Proposal:

Here, we propose re-furnishing a shopping mall so that every object is sized to give you (as an adult) the approximate impression of scale that a three- or four-year old would have.

In other words, we approximately double the size of everything in the mall in all three dimensions (e.g. a 3-foot high table is now 6 feet high, and doors are 15+ feet tall).

The building would also need to have an exceptionally high ceiling in order to accommodate the larger furniture (see Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: All the furniture is scaled up proportionately. This chair is now basically unusable by the average-height mall patron (left).

Additionally, if this “everything is enormous” business were to sell food or beverages, those should also be scaled up (Figure 2).

 

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Fig. 2: In the spirit of scaling up everything, a “regular sized” coffee would be served in an enormous gallon-sized mug (Figure 2). A hamburger scaled up in this way would contain approximately 6,000 calories.

Conclusion:

Since there are so many malls that have gone out of business due to the convenience of Internet shopping [1], there should be plenty of abandoned real-estate that can be repurposed for this plan.

PROS: Provides useful perspective to product designers. Also allows people to re-live their childhood in the most inconvenient way possible, thus saving them from unwarranted nostalgia.

CONS: The potential for breaking bones in this out-of-scale environment is extremely high. Not everything scales up in a strictly linear fashion (e.g. a fall off a 6-foot-high table would be more than twice as injury-causing as a fall off a three-foot-high table).

[1] (Some people dispute this, and suggest that another factor could have caused it, such as haunting by ghosts.)

Evade pesky zoning laws with this one new scheme that lets you (maybe) turn a commercial building into a personal residence!

Background:

In order to support technological progress, many people are willing to endure great hardships.

The issue:

For example, most Americans are willing to drive for 30–60 minutes every day on their commute, just so that they can help create a market for new types of transportation [*].

One might imagine that a person in the hour-long-commute situation would just move closer to their job, but local zoning restrictions (Figure 1) often make this impossible.

[*] For example, the car, the diesel car, the hybrid car, the electric car, the “ride-sharing” car (actually just a taxi connected to a phone app), and the elusive and currently-hypothetical “self-driving” car.

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Fig. 1: In the city map above, red areas are commercially zoned, and purple ares are residentially zoned. There is often a long travel distance to get between zones. (Real zoning is presumably more complex than “residential” vs “commercial,” but 95% of the author’s knowledge here comes from SimCity, so give me a break, man.)

Proposal:

Here are two proposed ways to help people live closer to their jobs:

  • Start a new “night watchman training” business with extremely comfortable suspiciously-apartment-sized rooms, and charge people a rent-sized amount of money for on-the-job training / courses for students. (If the students somehow fail to stay awake, they can just keep paying for the course as long as they want.)
  • Start a “sleep study clinic” (Figure 2). Normally, this is a legitimate business that diagnoses sleep apnea and other issues. Our modified version would be similar, but cheaper to set up, since it would not require any expensive medical equipment: in fact, the only piece of equipment supplied is a 5-dollar stopwatch (included with the apartment). When a resident is about to go to sleep, they can start the stopwatch, and when they wake up, they will have a vague idea of how long they were asleep. Naturally, this would be a paid service (costing about the same as the prevailing rent in the local neighborhood).

 

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Fig. 2: By converting this building from a traditional office to a “sleep study clinic,” it will be completely non-suspicious to see a bunch of rooms that look like furnished apartments, occupied by residents who stay there overnight.

Conclusion:

This is a plan that some developer should definitely try, just to see what happens.

PROS: Might help people rethink their established notions of what a “normal” commute should be.

CONS: Some overzealous “spirit of the law, not the letter of the law” lawyers and city council members would definitely put an end to a scheme like this. Also you might go to prison and/or owe somebody a bunch of money in fines.

Even a tiny apartment can feel huge, thanks to motorized “slithering furniture” (or “slitherniture”). Replace your old furniture now!

Background:

It’s difficult to move heavy furniture around, so furniture is usually positioned for general use, even if there are specific setups that would be better for rare situations.

For example, your home might have a room that would be best configured in one way for watching movies, but a different way for a Thanksgiving dinner.

The issue:

Unfortunately, it doesn’t make sense to move your furniture around every time you want to watch a movie, so furniture is almost always set up in a “good enough” general configuration. Until now, that is!

Proposal:

If furniture could “magically” move around on its own, it would be easy to have a room reconfigure itself so that you could, for example:

  • Optimize a room for exercise / yoga (Figure 2a), with a large empty space in the middle.
  • Have a “poker night” configuration (Figure 2b) where seating is clustered around a central table.
  • Have a single wall in your house dedicated as an indoor climbing wall, along with a padded floor mat that would slide out from “nowhere” (perhaps from under a dresser or sofa).
  • Have a large dining table that can automatically hide itself away when dinner is over.

Various layouts could be saved as furniture presets (Figure 1) that would be accessible at the press of a button. (This would be similar to how presets work on a motorized standing desk.)

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Fig. 1: All four of these layouts contain the same furniture, except for the red futon, which is mysteriously absent from the Yoga Zone layout. Maybe it slithered its way into another room.

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Fig. 2a: An example “yoga” layout, where the center of the room is cleared. These 3D views were generated using the program “Sweet Home 3D” (http://www.sweethome3d.com/) on the Mac.

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Fig. 2b: A “poker night” layout, featuring seating is arranged around an uncomfortably-low coffee table.

 

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Fig. 2c: A “movie night” configuration that focuses on the television.

Method of implementation:

Each furniture leg would sit atop a motorized omni-directional wheel.

Any time you need to reconfigure a room, you just push a single button (perhaps labeled “THANKSGIVING DINNER” or “YOGA STUDIO”), and the furniture rolls into the pre-determined new configuration.

The furniture would need a few sensors in it, so that it would be able to detect unexpected obstacles / pets / etc. in the way.

It might be annoying to keep your furniture batteries charged, so the motorized furniture could automatically seek out power outlets and charge itself overnight while the homeowner is sleeping. (As a proof-of-concept of this idea, the Roomba vacuuming robot is capable of automatically returning itself to a charging station.)

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Fig. 2d: This is what the room above might look like in an awkward but perhaps “good enough” default configuration that isn’t optimized for any specific use case.

Conclusion:

You should throw out all of your existing furniture and get new Internet-connected furniture with powered wheels.

The problem of dealing with plugged-in electronics (like a television or set of speakers) is left as an exercise to the reader.

PROS: Even a small apartment can now feel enormous, since it can be reconfigured for every use case.

CONS: This “Internet of things” furniture will probably be hacked by someone who will randomly move your furniture around just for amusement.

Replace your windows with television screens: save thousands of dollars of rent a year by VIRTUALLY moving your home or office to an expensive location, without paying any more rent!

Background:

People generally enjoy having a good view from their home or office windows.

However, some locations have a bad view (e.g. a dark alley or cement wall) or cannot accommodate windows at all (e.g. interior offices or basements).

Proposal:

Modern flatscreen displays can be as large as office windows (and some types consume very little electricity).

Thus, we can replace the nonexistent and/or bad windows with large-screen television monitors.

In order to provide a convincing view of the “outdoors” on these screens, we only need two things:

  1. The time of day, so the screens can show a proper day or night scene.
  2. The relative orientations of each screen (e.g., if one screen faces the sea, then a screen on the opposite wall could show a beach).

The scenes could be either real-world video (either live webcam video, or looped video from earlier), or computer-generated scenes. See Figure 1 for an example.

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Fig. 1: Instead of renting an expensive office in a city like New York or San Francisco (shown here), you could simply set the windows of your company to show scenes from that location. Think of the savings!

One additional benefit of virtual screens is that there is no requirement that the screens face out onto a practical (or even real) location (Figure 2).

For example, one could place an office:

  • On the surface of the Moon
  • Orbiting a distant science fiction planet or space station
  • Under the sea
  • In a windswept desert of endless sand dunes
  • Inside an M.C. Escher print, modeled in 3D (this might be extremely confusing)
  • Inside a video game (one could imagine a game development company setting their office windows to show scenes from the under-development game, in order to further oppress and crush the spirit of their programmers with the inescapability of the game)

Computer-generated locations could also feature 3D animations, like a buggy driving around the Moon’s surface or caravans crossing the desert.

 

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Fig. 2: There is no requirement that the virtual windows in your multi-screen room must face out onto a real-world scene. You could also imagine that your home or office was inside a giant abstract painting, as shown in this example.

Conclusion:

This project requires only consumer-level hardware and a web site to implement, so I am actually surprised that it appears not to currently exist. You can make an ad-hoc version by using a maps site with Street View (e.g. Google Street View) and adjusting the orientation of your multiple displays accordingly. (The only downside to this method is that the image will not update to match the current time of day).

PROS: Allows you to cheaply obtain a beautiful view for your home or office without paying exorbitant rental prices.

CONS: Large displays can cost up to $200 a year (2019 prices) to operate 24 hours a day, and the entire idea is essentially a huge waste of energy (unless you can use the extra heat generated by the screens).

Spice up your boring ocean views with this new incredible construction megaproject! Bonus: creates jobs!

Background:

Looking out to sea from most coastal locations results in the same view: a featureless horizon of sky and sea.

But we can fix that with modern construction techniques!

Proposal:

Let’s improve those boring ocean views by adding silhouettes of distant cities and monuments (Figure 1).

This way, when you look out into the ocean, you’ll get an idea of what’s on the other side, even if it’s thousands of miles away.

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Fig. 1: Here are three proposed highly-accurate silhouettes of Mt. Fuji (a), San Francisco (b), and Sydney (c).

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Fig. 2: In order to liven up Hawaii’s ocean views, we can place the three silhouettes from figure 1 off the coast of the Hawaiian islands.

 

Fig. 3: Fixing the skyline: here’s what it might look like before (top) and after (bottom) our silhouette mega-project is complete.

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Fig. 4: A diagram of how the silhouette system would work; Here, a viewer on an island (A) sees the distant image of the Eiffel Tower (B), even though France is actually thousands of additional miles away.

PROS: Provides a useful navigation and orientation aid. Promotes geographical awareness. Livens up the featureless ocean horizon.

CONS: The silhouette is only correct from one angle, so any ships that are out to sea will get a misleading view.

Chalk up another astounding win for the Internet of Things: another major plague on humanity is BANISHED thanks to a wireless chip in your blender.

Background:

People occasionally forget to lock the door before leaving the house, or leave a stove on by accident, or any number of other things.

“Internet of Things” aficionados often suggest that you could, say, turn on and off your stove from your phone, but now someone on the Internet thousands of miles away can also turn on your stove at a random time.

Proposal:

If your appliances could report their status wirelessly to a receiver on your door, then you could check your home’s status as you leave.

Anything that is amiss will glow in an obvious fashion that calls for more investigation (see mockup in Figure 1).

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Fig 1: Since this panel is on your main exit door, it’s nearly impossible to accidentally leave something on / forget to lock the door / leave the microwave popping popcorn for 90 minutes instead of 90 seconds / etc.

Conclusion:

Since this is a one-way channel of communication, you don’t have to worry about hackers turning on your microwave. (Additionally, high security is not crucial here; exposing the information “your microwave is on” to a hacker 8000 miles away is probably not a realistic concern unless you’re making a contrived scenario for a made-for-TV movie.)

PROS: As with all Internet-of-Things things, it solves a problem that actually does (juuuuust barely, anyway) exist, and (more importantly) provides a great hobby for engineers.

CONS: In five years, when your smart home hub supplier is out of business, none of your new appliances will work with your system. And when you buy a new dryer, you’ll have to research it for 80 hours to to see if it’s compatible with your version of the Smart Home hub, and then you’ll to have to dig around on the internet for a firmware update named SmartHouse_v_2.7_North_America_41.80.24b.dat.zip. Which will then turn out to be malware that turns your hub into a Dogecoin miner.