Adam Laskowitz, director of user experience at Target and designer of Open House, discusses Sit Tech and the future of retail

Acrylic House, designed by Adam Laskowitz for Target's Open House, allows visitors to walk through a living room, bedroom, nursery and kitchen and experience how smart devices can assist in a variety of situations. Photo by Adam Laskowitz (c) Target Corp.

By Rebecca Rudell

When Adam Laskowitz (MArch ’12, MFA ’12, BS ’09) met Mark Shepherd of the Situated Technologies Group, he found a mentor that “… opened a world to me I didn’t know existed. Sit Tech allowed me to explore the intersection of many things – like math, music, art, computers, psychology and sociology – through a design and architectural discourse.”

Adam Laskowitz.

Through the Sit Tech group, Laskowitz also discovered that building materials are not just brick, wood and concrete, but wireless signals, cellular data, sensors and computers. “As architects,” he says, “we need to think about how to pull these ‘digital materials’ into our set of design tools and expertise, so we can create a world where it makes sense to interact with physical space and digital things, and still be relevant for an architectural practice.”

Today, Laskowitz brings the knowledge he garnered from Sit Tech to one of the biggest brands in the world, Target. When the megastore became interested in the Internet of Things, in particular the “connected home,” Laskowitz was brought onto their team. The result was Open House, an incredible Lucite space in downtown San Francisco that allows visitors to experience how smart technology works in a real-world setting, not just on a store shelf.

Open House – of which Laskowitz was a primary designer and strategist – was created to answer three questions – why, what and how – and was broken up into three distinct zones:

Acrylic House – This space answers “why,” as in: “Why is this important to me?” Visitors walk through a living room, bedroom, nursery and kitchen and experience how smart devices can assist in a variety of situations. For example, in the bedroom you experience “Midnight Storm”: The lights flick on and a smart phone buzzes to wake homeowners up – sensors in the ceiling have detected a leak in the roof. Next, an app on the phone opens, showing a video feed of the baby to make sure he’s not been disturbed by the peals of thunder.

Visitors can test how a smart device works for home security in the "Garage" section of Target's Open House. Photo by Adam Laskowitz (c) Target Corp.

Deep Dive Area – “What” is explored here, with approximately forty smart devices and several touch screens spread out over long, white tables. This is more like a traditional store setting, but products are out of the boxes, allowing guests to interact with them and find out: “what can I do with these cool things?”

Garage – “How do these products work together?” Here, it’s all about the platform, the app that syncs up products that aren’t made by the same company, but allows them to interact in specific ways. For example, Company A’s smart phone calls the police when Company B’s sensor detects an open window while the homeowner is away. Guests experiment with the smart products performing in tandem, and how a connected home could benefit them.

“We wanted to explore what the future of retail might look like,” Laskowitz says. “To design a store that was a destination for new experiences rather than just a place to buy things.” With a steady stream of guests visiting daily, interacting with products and chatting with other visitors, Open House has certainly achieved its creators’ goal.