Prolegomena

“Open design is now finding its place inside the collective imagination […] there are no more isolated projects but a whole ecosystem is emerging through the weaving of collaborative networks
— Massimo Menichinelli, founder of openp2pdesign.org

In the world of immaterial production (information, ideas, code etc), Open Source has granted individuals and collectivities immediate access to the technologies they use by actively re- diagramming the process of design/distribution and redefining the roles of its actors. Apart from the impact of this shift from a political economy standpoint, the spread of the ideas and practices of Open Source have reloaded the discussion on technology democratization and user empowerment, not only in the immaterial but also in the material sphere.
The challenge of “open sourcing” the physical world is, however, considerably more complex; when it comes to actual objects, the question of what it means for something to be “open” has to simultaneously account for its material (manufacturing) and immaterial (design, code) aspects. The multifaceted nature of this “openness” creates the need for layered conceptualizations -e.g. Sterling’s six layer burrito– addressing the theoretical, practical and legislative intricacies of “open design” (the Open Source Hardware (OSHW) definition is an example of community-driven efforts in this direction).

The cultivation of these ideas revive a latent architectural vision, expressed with enthusiastic techno-utopias about four decades ago and abandoned in the mid-seventies, leaving a sense of disillusionment and unfulfilled potential. This vision of technology mediated participatory design, evolved around the use of computer-aided design and (information) technology as a means to encourage user participation and to empower “non-experts” to directly express their needs and desires beyond or without the mediation of the architect.
The combination of this pre-computational historical precedent, which has left a heritage of concepts, diagrams and science-fictional representations (ie. megastructure, design amplifiers etc) with the growing discourse on open source and the affordances offered by information technology, creates the potential for a re-problematization of participatory design under the light of this new paradigm.

The recent initiation of the discourse on “Open Source Architecture (OSArc)” indicates this possibility to rethink Architecture as a peer to peer, collectively driven process, where individuals and collectivities design and change the spaces they inhabit. Initiatives like p2p urbanism, or Architecture for Humanity have already started discussing or actively implementing versions of this concept. However, these movements remain isolated and lean heavily towards either manifestly declarations with sparse case studies, or immediate implementations of a vernacular type of OSArc (emergency habitat, developing world). This breach between theory and practice, creates the need for the initiation of a discussion on the definition of Open Source Architecture, bringing together its current pioneers and engaging communities of architects and users.

Especially when it comes to architecture, the problem of defining “openness” becomes even more complex, first because it has to account for multiple actors/stakeholders who participate in the design, construction and operation of buildings and second because it has to take a position in the persistent question of what is a truly “open” architecture and with which procedures and tools it can be achieved. Given that open access to blueprints and BIM models may be a necessary but is by no means a sufficient condition for this openness, we need to consider how “architectural knowledge” can be made accessible to non-experts and to conceive platforms which allow for horizontal decision-making processes.

Open Source Architecture is not just Architecture going “Open”; it requires a rethinking of the “discipline’s(?)” theory and practice, a re-diagramming of its processes and the roles of the subjects involved in them. Therefore, in order to establish a systematic substrate for the definition of Open Source Architecture, “Open” needs to be viewed from the perspective of two parallel discourses; from a “architecture” point of view (re-diagramming the design process) and from an “open design” point of view (analogies, disparities, extensions of current definitions/problematic etc)

This is what this blog envisions to do: to create a a repository of ideas and attitudes discussing the notion of “openness” in Architecture, through intersections of the past participatory techno-utopias with the conceptual and technical underpinnings of Open Source/Open Design.

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