Over the past century, rapid technological advances have revolutionized every aspect of the way we live and communicate. But while there’s been much discussion around technology’s impact on our attention spans, our workloads, and even the art world, less has been said about the physical impact it has had on the way we relate to the built environment.
Take, for example, the classic New York City tenement apartment. Built in the latter half of the 19th century, these dwellings, often just two rooms, were designed to house entire families of multiple generations. Now, these apartments are considered small for even a single individual.
Standards of living have certainly risen from tenement life, which was sometimes downright dangerous—helped in part by safety laws like The Tenement House Act of 1867, which required a shared toilet for every 20 residents in an attempt to codify regulations regarding sanitation, air flow, light, and access. But design also plays a role in this shift in occupancy expectations. The spaces in our apartments where a dining table and maybe even a piano and a bed once stood, are more often now fitted only with a sofa, a coffee table—and, most importantly, a TV.
With improved housing quality and the expansion of entertainment options, of our lives are increasingly spent inside the home. (The average American now spends more than 90 percent of their lives indoors or in a vehicle, according to The National Human Activity Pattern Survey in 2012). And we’re not just spending more time in our homes, we’re often spending those hours staring at screens of different sizes and functions—for the average American, more than 10 hours a day
Visual entertainment wields an unseen influence over our relationship to physical space. As our preferred means of entertainment and the distance required to view it has changed, so too have our rooms and the furniture that fills them.