Open Source Architecture


Just curious what everyone thinks about the recent talk of an "open source architecture" practice. Is it possible or even benficial?

"Open Source" has been wildly successful in the development of quality software faster and cheaper than the typical "closed" development process. Many of us are familiar with these products, such as the popular webbrowser "Firefox" developed by Mozilla, or the affordable open source CAD software "IntelliCAD 5" ($200 license compared to Autodesk's $6000 license). Also see "Wikipedia", a free-content encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

We have also seen the idea applied to other creative fields besides software development. For instance, the rise of "Open Source Journalism" where bloggers are scooping the mainstream media with their collaborative investigations and explosive stories (for example, bloggers uncovering of the "Propagannon" story about a fake White House press corps reporter). Hundreds of ordinary citizens researching and sharing information online to achieve one common goal. For better or worse, open source is starting to have an effect on the way things are developed these days.

In theory, an open, collaborative process in architecture could work as well, but can it really work in practice -- especially in America? Could it be used to create a better architecture and help the profession, or does it undermine it? If it isn't directly applicable, is it worth considering metaphorically? These two texts are more in depth on the possibility of Open Source Architecture:

[url=]" Towards an open-source architectural practice -
Dennis Kaspori"[/url] (originally public in Archis magazine.)


Feb 27, 05 6:17 pm

I just read Cameron Sinclair (from Architecture for Humanity) talking about this in the latest issue of Wired Magazine (13.03, p 42). Seems the obvious choice for his application.

Feb 28, 05 2:35 pm  · 
R.A. Rudolph

A couple of guys from SCI-Arc used this topic for their thesis January 2000 - I think it was Kai Reidesser & Ted Ngai... they did quite a lot of research on it and may have ended up with a website. SCI-Arc probably has some archives, and Ted is now part of the uni office that is profiled in the latest Dwell magazine.

Feb 28, 05 3:46 pm  · 

It definitely makes sense for a volunteer based, non-profit organization such as Architecture for Humanity to use this process. That's a good point. I was also thinking that it may have been appropriate for a complex and emotionally charged project like the redesigning of Ground Zero. An open source process could possibly have been the ultimate democratic design process, rather than the relatively closed and behind the scenes power struggles between major players that the process became.

Can you imagine thousands of everyday Americans actively and enthusiasically involved in the process? Architects, artists, urban planners, fireman, 9/11 families, concerned citizens, investors etc -- all contributing to the end result, or possibly even collaboratively designing it? It would either be an amazing testament to democracy, or a complete disaster depending on the result. Either way, more people would inevitably take on a deeper interest and understanding of architecture, and more importantly, whatever the result may be, it would be their's.

Other than scenarios of these types, I wonder if it could be applied to everyday firms that attempt to make a profit? If so, it seems to me that the architect would have to loosen his grip on design control and would take on the role of design facilitator, organizer and and administrator. Interesting idea, but I am sure that many architects would resist giving up design control at all costs.

Feb 28, 05 4:24 pm  · 

Interesting links , especially the dennis Kaspori article...
Wikipedia is a good example of an open-source success, however, it never leaves the internet- it doesn;t have to deal with the onlin-to-offline transfer, how would that work for open-source design? it might be that i still don't understand how open-source design would work... ?
Encyclopedic projects seem well suited to open-source, but practically speaking, if it were applied to architecture i think you'd just run into a mess, the designed-by-commitee look is rarely nice.

Feb 28, 05 10:57 pm  · 

a good example for the open source architecture is what is called the 'site and services' approach for housing development, and has been used in India by the architect BV Doshi (the project is called 'Aranya' for those interested)
as the name suggests, the developer/government set up the site infrastructure, plot lines etc and provide a service core - a (set of) toilets and kitchen, and a plinth. The users are then free to make the other parts of the house. The design provides for a huge set of possibilities, and some sample dwellings are also built for examples.

The end result was very vibrant and dynamic, but where the project faced problems was the individual governance. Many people encroached way beyond their properties and created a mess of the whole situation as time passed.

But it still stands as a good example of 'open source architecture'

Feb 28, 05 11:40 pm  · 

Wow, thats a cool project. I guess it is a form of "open source". You make some good points "c". I don't think anyone knows what "open-source design" or "open source architecture" is just yet. Right now it seems to be floated around as a concept that may be beneficial to incorporate into architecture. It is something that needs to be explored at many different levels.

I doubt that it can be imported directly. For instance, I agree with you that the more literal approach of having a thousand people design a building would probably be a distaster. But perhaps a more loosely interpreted approach to "open source" could be benficial or at least a starting point. For instance, the lecture that Rem Koolaas, Mark Wigley and Archis magazine gave last night at Columbia University seemed to be focused loosely on this concept.

Mark Wigley even stated his goal to build and create and "open source network" between schools to share knowledge and information. He declared that architecture schools must reintegrate themselves into the ir campuses rather than being the isolated and separate entity. He called for them to be porous and allow in information from different fields.

Rem spoke about "opening" or "exploding" his office. Perhaps open souce in architecture is as simple as sharing resources, reseach, knowledge and data for architects to build upon, rather than letting it remain in individual offices or die with the completion of each project. Rem spoke about the incredible amount of data and research that his office has generated, yet no one else has access to it. We should share that information so that someone else can build upon it, rather than having to reinvent the wheel over and over again.

Maybe "open" simply means that architects need to network and collaborate with each other. Maybe it means that we have to project ourselves into the media in a time when the media seems to control the minds and direction of our nation rather than simply talking amongst ourselves. Maybe it means that we let in the outside world.

One thing is certain, "open" is not another building or design concept. It is much more important than that. It is a concept that reinvents our office organization and professional infrastructure. As someone appropriately stated on another thread, it is the key to a "21st Century Renaissance" for architecture.

Mar 1, 05 1:18 pm  · 

Open source? Sharing research, details, specifications?

Mar 1, 05 3:21 pm  · 

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