In Defense of Open Source Design


For the full original feature, please visit ArchDaily (Originally published Jan 22)

“In Defense of Open Source Design” –by Paperhouses

The unspoken truth about housing today? Most of it is ugly – more accurately described as “developed” than “designed.”

What’s the difference? A housing development is bottom line-oriented; a housing design is human-centered. A housing development is made for the masses; housing design is typically envisioned for an individual client. But, at the end of the day, every house was at one point designed. In other words, development and design are merely made to oppose by developers and designers. They can be one and the same.

So how can we negotiate the difference between “development” and “design”– and effectively create better housing for the many without loss of individualism? Allow me to suggest an unlikely solution: making architecture open source.

Architecture has created a cottage industry, continuing to be valued insofar as it is afforded by the wealthy. Access to higher design in lower circuits of the homeowner populous is practically nonexistent – and long overdue.

In a recent survey by the National Realtor’s Association, potential home-buyers overwhelmingly complained that the biggest impediment to home-ownership was not financing, not the mortgage crisis, but “lack of inventory.” The people have spoken and they want better designs.

Part of the reason may be that homeowners are far more savvy to the process than they once were. 92% of people surveyed looked for homes on the internet before going on tours. Almost half of them made up their minds before setting foot through a threshold.

Architects are by no means strangers to the Internet or interactive design, but they continue to elude their potential online audience, preferring instead to keep their relationships cached in licenses. But what if the so-called “end user” and architect were able to collaborate?

This is a question the Internet can answer with authority, if architects would allow themselves to ask the question.

Putting the architect and the end user in conversation, from the very beginning, would not just result in better “inventory.” By giving users the tools to implement design, Open Source Architecture puts power back in the people’s hands. Collaboration enhances both creativity and knowledge creation. Putting the bottled imagination of the end-user in touch with the under-utilized skills of an architectural designer can generate new concepts – concepts architects could not generate inside a closed loop and that homeowners could not design without the right drafting skills.

Open architecture also brings material change. The adaptations made through open innovation are always sustainable, because they are not profit-driven but cost-centered. If there’s one thing open sourcing can provide, it’s efficiency in a design system mired in industry trends and regulations. Open source always eventually causes a significant break in costs, and the architect who is trained to think in unique iterations can stand to benefit from clients – adapters – trained to think in multitudes, in solutions for the masses.

This multitudinous design approach is different from that of mass-developed design. The open source architect’s design is a basecamp for developers, rather than a licensor of copyrighted construction. The open source architect designs for the contexts of location and people, now responsive rather than merely receptive. This adaptability also makes open design playful, as it leaves room for milliard unknowns, critical inventions and whimsy.

Of course, as Tatiana Bilbao said in an interview with us,“Collaborations are never smooth,” and true to witness, when you meld people’s ideas, projects, and processes, one will first notice the divergences, the differences, the seams. Each player has their own blind spot.

Nevertheless, architects should be able to share the responsibilities with their clients, and clients should be able to look at building projects using design math. This collaborative process also represents a kind of sustainability; a more equitable home.

Open source is a methodology rather than a fantasy. Much of what is free today became so through Open Source. Music, recipes, language, and hopefully now, shelter. Housing design is LONG overdue a paradigm shift. So why not let users and designers consider themselves one and the same, and let them speak to each other in conversation rather than in the closed circuit. It’s time to open the doors of our own designs.