The Houses of Westerhaven
Livia's home is a very different kind of place
The heroine of Lady of Mazes, Livia Kodaly, lives in a nation called Westerhaven, within the Manifolds of Teven Coronal. Westerhaven is different from civilizations we're familiar with in a number of ways. To give just one example, let's look at architecture.
The people of Westerhaven have a very distinctive style of architecture. I was interested, upon opening the October, 2006 issue of Architectural Digest, to find articles on several houses that hint at what Westerhaven-style dwellings would be like. The first house is by Wallace E. Cunningham and sits on a bluff outside La Jolla. It's a modernized version of a Roman peristyle house, complete with interior courtyard--but done entirely in glass.
You can look straight through Cunningham's houses. Interior and exterior are more a matter of emphasis than well-defined facts. (Such a house would never work in the -40 of our Canadian winters, of course, but that's beside the point.) There is ample privacy to be had in Cunningham's house, but it's not obvious and never detracts from the sense that you're at one with the landscape.
(Above and below: Wallace E. Cunningham's Razor house in La Jolla)
Another house that hints at Westerhaven forms is one by Norman Foster, shown in the same issue of AD. Both houses try to dissolve the boundaries between interior and exterior by using broad sweeping panoramas of glass; Foster's house also uses movable sails as sunshades, a design feature prominent in the city of Barrastea in Lady of Mazes.
Why talk about how the houses in a novel are designed? --Because where we live is one of the best indicators of how we live, and Lady of Mazes is all about what new kinds of human lives are possible. The technologies that the main characters in LOM use have important implications not just for how they perceive the world, but how they live in it in the practical sense. That most concrete manifestation of such technologies is the house.
Livia Kodaly's house in Westerhaven is not a single, distinguishable object; it's an idea, and is spread out over an extensive area of downtown Barrastea. This is why I say that the houses in the AD issue hint at Westerhaven architecture: because they try to dissolve the boundaries between interior and exterior, or (in the case of Eddie Jones's) dissolve the boundaries between public and private spaces; but do not yet do both. Jones's house isn't really a public space, and the other two are public only in a somewhat voyeuristic sense (you can look in from outside). In Barrastea, however, a house is declared more than built.
Elsewhere, I've talked about what's possible with Steve Wozniak's Wheels of Zeus and related technologies (like RFID): the ability to tag objects as yours in such a way that if they move you know about it. Imagine that everything you own has WoZ-style tags: your coffee table "knows" that you own it, and if somebody tries to walk off with it the coffee table will protest, loudly, via the internet. And, its movements will be tracked, so it's easy to retrieve.
Now consider the purpose of the wall. The wall is a barrier for the movement of people--and goods. The walls of your house help condition the environment, but they also make it harder for people to walk off with your stuff. But WoZ-type technologies potentially replace this function, and with modern environmental conditioning in a benign climate, walls are no longer so important. With unobtrusive security technology like cameras and motion detectors, intruders can be detected before they become a threat. So, the last function walls might perform is to preserve privacy. But, in Westerhaven, even this is no longer necessary.
The pervasive augmented reality system of Westerhaven allows its citizens to 'tune in' or 'tune out' features of the landscape. You can place a virtual vase next to a real one on your coffee table, and the two can appear indistinguishable. Real and virtual occupy the same space.
Here is what the modern houses in Architectural Digest can only hint at: a world in which objects like houses are partly physical and partly virtual. Some aspects of Livia Kodaly's house are merely designated: i.e. some objects scattered around the landscape are tagged as hers, and will be returned to her if carried off, or simply hidden to anyone but her by the augmented reality system (her bedroom is invisible to everyone but her). Many of these objects and places (like the bedroom) actually reside in otherwise public spaces; privacy does not require walls, only the pervasive augmented reality that permits the virtual to sit next to the physical. So, other people's houses may interpenetrate with Livia's, and if she has cordial relations with her neighbours they may happily co-habit--or, if not, then they can tune one another out.
It's significant that it is the very wealthy who can afford (and who want) these boundary-transgressive houses. The poor love their walls; for the rich, the ability to dissolve the boundaries between interior and exterior is a symbol of their power. In Westerhaven, that power is available to everyone, in the freedom to treat an entire city as your own private space.
Much is still possible for un-modified human beings. We haven't even begun to realize how much more freedom we can have while still being ourselves. The houses of Westerhaven barely hint at what's to come.