Massimo Banzi says that you shouldn’t work on an open source project unless you’re solving your own problems. Since Jasmina and I are a married Serb and a Texan, and we live together in Italy, we’ve got some problematic issues with making a home.
Casa Jasmina — (the house was Jasmina’s idea, and Banzi named it after her) — is our prototype house of the future. It’s upstairs from the sprawling Torino Fab Lab. Casa Jasmina is where Jasmina and I, along with our Turinese friends, experiment with domestic maker culture and the open source Internet of Things.
I was a Make: columnist in the mag’s early days, so when Jasmina and I first arrived in Turin in 2007 we fell in with Italy’s first Fab Lab. Like a lot of European makerspaces, the Torino Fab Lab exists inside a big derelict factory. In 2015, we launched Casa Jasmina; it took our collaborators and us six months to loft-out a space fit to live in. We transformed musty, rusty old factory offices into a prototype Italian family home, where most objects and services are made by open source, maker-style methods.
An Arduino office also exists inside this factory, so we specialize in light electronics: tunable lights, a smart thermostat, a keypad lock, and an automatically irrigated garden. Toolbox Co-Working, the local design office space, finds the house useful. The Internet of Women Things group meets inside Casa Jasmina, where women in the maker scene discuss ideas for a good and ethical home in an era of powerful, intrusive IoT home automation.
So this prototype “house” has a lot going on: It’s a guest residence, a test-bed for open-source hardware projects, and a public showplace. We use it to throw workshops, art events, and big parties. Whenever we learn something useful in Casa Jasmina we tend to port it across town and install it in our own apartment. We don’t work for Casa Jasmina — we’re just the founders, the hostess, and the curator — but it’s been very handy for us.
A house created with maker objects and techniques is an intriguing idea, and Italians adore innovative home design, so it’s been a public-relations success. Journalists drop by, politicians, museum curators, even an Italian astronaut have appeared, and they tend to say that it’s quite cute.
In contrast to the big Torino Fab Lab downstairs, with its drill presses, laser cutters, and six-axis robot, Casa Jasmina is a cozy, pleasant, even a stylish area. People can cook in there, sleep there, wash, enjoy a glass of prosecco in the flourishing garden. Casa Jasmina even features a kids’ room, which, by the nature of kids’ products, is its most genuinely “futuristic” aspect.
Now, though, Casa Jasmina is over two years old. As a building project, it’s been completed. We’ve learned that maker culture can accomplish surprising things. However, as a design lifestyle, “making” is missing important cultural elements.
The maker scene excels at composing things that can be described with Instructables, recipes, and algorithms, and can then be simply constructed from flat-pack elements with numerically controlled machines. We understood that from the beginning, and wanted to get intimate with that situation, and we did. As a married couple we now excel at boldly placing our technical needs front and center in our way of life. We’ll cheerfully drill holes through most anything we possess. We commonly lash things together with Bluetooth and zip ties.
But we have no maker kitchen appliances. White-goods machines are out of reach of the maker ecosystem, being too legally regulated, too complex, too hazardous to users. Plywood router-cut furniture is indeed easy to assemble, but also falls apart too easily. Plastic 3D-printed connectors are versatile, but weak and wobbly.
Maker culture is internet-centric. It has attitude problems with cherished heirlooms, local craft traditions, and unique local materials.
A hacker scene is all about Do-It-Together, but this clubby approach lacks respect for family members who don’t hack, and can’t or don’t want to learn. Grandma in her wheelchair, baby in her crib, they get sidelined, treated as burdens rather than honored family members. Guests who confront weird open source interfaces have to stare and scratch their heads. And the Internet of Things has serious spy and security issues: it imports cyberwar and cybercrime straight into the bedroom and bathroom. Such is the Casa Jasmina real-life.
People tend to call Casa Jasmina an art installation because, although it would be technically possible to make a thousand Casa Jasminas all over this planet, so far there is only one in the world. Why? Well, as an open source project goes, yes, we did solve our own problem. As husband and wife, we both bring a lot of foreign baggage to our home. But we’re OK with that: We’ve learned to upgrade, duct-tape, and zip-tie our alien things like nobody’s business.
Our next problem, though, is to figure out what this might potentially mean to everybody else. We’re thinking your guess is as good as ours.