Electrical switchgear and meters

Recently involved in a design studio concerning electricity and the internet of things at ENSCI design school in Paris, I spent some time these days nailing down the topic of people and energy from various angles: perception and representation of electricity, the importance of infrastructures, the social interactions and practices surrounding electrical objects, etc. Most of the material I employ emerges from my readings (been perusing a lot about the history of techniques and electrical devices design as well as usage lately) and the pictures I take. These pictures come both from various urban safari I make (vacation, on purpose, etc.) as well as user studies. Although I have not studied the topic of electricity per se in my field studies, doing home ethnography allowed me to scratch the surface about these issues and discuss that with informants. We had an interesting discussion today about electrical switchgear and meters. These devices are kind of spot-on of the sort of artifacts I find intriguing to examine. There is indeed a lot to draw from observing them. See for instance the following set of pictures encountered in my recent travels (US - Brazil).



Depending on the culture, switchgear and meters are not located at the same place, and not always "protected". In France for instance, both are generally located close to each other indoor, and, of course, the electrical guy needs to have an appointment with the tenant/owner to check the metering. Whereas in lots of other countries (such as northern america but also in the EU), meters are outdoor. Electrical consumption is then more public and less personal.

Moreover, switchgear are generally indoor. France, again has the habit to refer to the "compteur électrique" has a sort of umbrella term for both the meter and the switchgear (no picture here). This interface with the electrical infrastructure is also more and more complex with lots of red buttons which correspond to an odd mapping of the house/appartment structure, with generally no clear rules.

Electrical wiring made apparent

This last picture, taken last summer in Peru is also very compelling to me as it shows how peruvian house actually reveal the electrical infrastructure from the meter to other house parts with white paint. I don't have any answer for this, my two cents would be that it can be useful for security reasons. In any case, the point of taking and discussing this picture is that is allows to question the environment, find intriguing phenomena and eventually inspire design.

Readers really into that topic might want to have a look at Sliding Friction as well as Jeff Makki's Critical infrastructure walking guide.