It might be hard to believe at first glance, but Lori Nix's photographs are not pictures of real, full-size spaces. They are, instead, intricately-designed models she has built and shot in her own Brooklyn studio.
Nix – an artist and photographer who has been working in New York since the early 1990s – describes her dioramas of crumbling theaters and sand-filled subway cars as "post-apocalyptic." In her photographs, nature creeps into the built environment raising questions of what the world would be like without humans. Somewhat appropriately, too, Nix builds models specifically to be photographed and destroys them afterward.
But for this week’s issue of TIME – which focuses on how smart homes are changing lives – editors asked her to imagine what a regular house might look if it worked with its owners, rather than what it would look like if it went to ruin without them.
And so Nix – working with fellow artist and girlfriend Kathleen Gerber – created and photographed a striking model of a smart home, replete with replicas of a climbing wall, a wifi-enabled lighting system, air conditioning that anticipates user needs, and many other innovations.
The best thing about the project?
"I get to play ‘what if?’" as Nix says in our video interview. "What if I was able to build my own house? This would be close to what my dream house would be."
Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox.