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  • Writer's pictureChristiaan Gey van Pittius

Smart City + Smart Home: What is so smart about it?

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

A dominant issue in 'Smart City' literature is the lack of consistent terminology. The most prominent example is the use of the term “smart” in various contexts and meanings to either refer to technological or societal intelligence. How did the term come to be and how does it apply to 'Smart Homes'?

Shahryar Habibi wrote that smart approaches and specific ICT related applications could achieve sustainable development goals with user intervention and participation. Habibi infers that those smart approaches are regarded as a separate concept to technology integration. The term smart is used by Habibi purely as its original meaning of intellectual thinking or, as the Cambridge Dictionary put it: “able to think quickly or intelligently in difficult situations.” According to Habibi, the term originated in the 1980s where the word ‘intelligent’ was initially used to describe buildings but was later replaced by the Americanised word ‘smart.’

Rodriguez et al. describe the purpose of a smart city to achieve efficient management in all areas of the city while satisfying the needs of its citizens. Rodriguez does go on to explain that the main drivers of Smart City development are technological innovation and sustainable development. Here technology is identified as one of the many tools utilised in smart cities to improve quality of life.

Marsal-Llacuna et al. list smart cities as consisting of three components; 1. To provide more efficient services to citizens to monitor and optimise existing infrastructure, 2. To increase collaboration amongst different economic actors, 3. To encourage innovative business models in both the private and public sectors. The UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills considers smart cities more a process than a static outcome of effectively integrating physical, digital, and human systems in urban built environments.

Appio et al. explain that smart cities depend on information technology on one hand and human capital on the other.

Figure 1 – Graphical illustration of Appio et al. explanation of smart cities.

Appio also references Hutchinson’s model, The Intelligent Community Open Architecture, where the physical infrastructure of smart cities are visualised in a pyramid form to show how Giffinger’s smart characteristics fit into the physical environment. The pyramid's base represents the ‘place’; these are the buildings, parks, and natural features. Above the ‘place’ foundation comes physical urban infrastructure, then governance and network systems, followed by technological solutions and applications to urban life and economy and atop the model is human life and existence.

Figure 2 – Graphic illustration of Hutchinson’s model by author.

Appio’s paper shows the definition of smart city evolving over time, from intelligent and technological systems associated with buildings and infrastructure two decades ago to today. The definition includes the components of quality of life and innovation in urban ecosystems. Below is a representation of Appio’s discussion of the terminology over time from the year 2000 to recently:

Figure 3 – Evolution of the ‘Smart City’ concept of the time from 2010 to 2018

Publications and literary contributions regarding smart cities from 2010 and earlier are more focused on technology in architecture and infrastructure. After Giffinger’s 2007 publication and popular adoption of its characteristics beyond 2010 and cemented by the European Commission in 2013, the definition of smart cities evolved into a new wave of urban theory, which included architectural aspects as its base but changed its focus to citizens and their lives. It is worth noting that according to a 2014 study cited by the Centre for Cities, general citizens who were surveyed to define their understanding of smart cities included keywords like “technology”, “connected”, “internet”, and “modern.”

In Smart Building Design, by Bali et al., the term smart refers to a culmination of architectural creativity, art and scientific engineering. The authors also describe the characteristic of smart buildings to include the use of technology and a transdisciplinary collaboration towards creating high-quality structures that include an emphasis on aesthetics. Bali does prefer to use the term intelligent building whilst discussing technology in buildings. In their book, the acronym BACS (Building Automation and Control Systems) is used instead of ICTs to describe data-based building evaluation systems.

Conclusively, the terminology can be visualised as a hierarchy of concepts with the ‘place’/ buildings being the foundation, intelligent building systems (BACS/ ICTs/ Urban Tech) forming the structure on top of the foundation and smart building characteristics forming the envelope. Smart buildings include Smart homes as a category of contemporary urban planning and design. Note that Smart Housing is a popular term used by many governing bodies in the smart movement, but it refers mainly to innovative methods of housing delivery and social housing systems. Smart homes are also a term adopted by popular tech companies that manufacture home automation systems and devices and, therefore a widely recognised affiliation with domestic digitisation.

Thus, A smart home is a smart building designed by a multidisciplinary team to combine human capital and information technology to monitor and optimise building systems to develop a sustainable built environment. Smart home design is, therefore, the merger of aesthetic creativity and engineering science to improve the overall quality of life.

Figure 4 – Author’s illustration of Smart Home and Smart Building terminology

[1] ”i-COA” and “The Intelligent Community Open Architecture” are registered trademarks of Hutchison Management International. [i] Habibi, S, “Smart innovation systems for indoor environmental quality (IEQ).” [ii] Jose Antonio Rodriguez, Fernendes, F.J., Arboleya, P., “Study of the Architecture of a Smart City,” In the 2nd International Research Conference on Sustainable Energy, Engineering, Materials and Environment (IRCSEEME) (Spain: MDPI, 2018). [iii] Marsal-Llacuna, M.L., Colomer-Llinàs, J., Meléndez-Frigola, J., “Lessons in urban monitoring taken from sustainable and livable cities to better address the smart cities initiative,” Technological Forecasting & Social Change 90, (2015): 611–622. [iv] BIS, Smart Cities Background Paper, (London: Department for Business Innovation and Skills, 2013). [v] BSI, Smart cities framework: Guide to establishing strategies for smart cities and communities, (London: British Standards Institute, 2014) [vi] Francesco Paolo Appio, Marcus Lima, Sotiros Paroutis, “Understanding Smart Cities: Innovation Ecosystems, technological advancements, and societal challenges,” Technological Forecasting & Social Change 142, (2019): 1-14. [vii] “On the road touting i-COA, the intelligent Community Open Architecture concept,” Hutchison Management, Posted on July 22, 2009, [viii] Authors cited by Appio et al. in the evolution of the ‘Smart City’ terminology is; European Innovation Partnership, “Smart cities and communities: operational implementation plan,” 2013; and Hall, R.E., “The vision of a smart city,“ The 2nd International Life Extension Technology Workshop, September 2000; and Harrison, C., Eckman, B., Hamilton, R., Hartswick, P., Kalagnanam, J., Paraszczak, J., Williams, P., “Foundations for smarter cities,” 2010. [ix] Duckenfield, T., “What people want from their cities,” Connected Cities 2014, (London: Steer Davies Gleave, 2014), as cited by “Smart Cities,” Centre of Cities, Accessed on June 10, 2021, [x] Maad Bali, Dietmar Half, Dieter Polle, Jurgen Spitz, Smart Buildings: Conception, Planning, Realization, and Operation, (Basel: Birkhauser, 2018), 6.


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