A Communism of ideas: Towards an open-source architectural practice – RESENHA

 

Title A Communism of ideas: Towards an open-source architectural practice
Authors Dennis Kaspori
Reference KASPORI, D. A communism of ideas Towards an architectural open-source practice. ARCHIS, n. 3, p. 13–18, 2003.
Problematic The role of the architect is no longer important, since it has been reduced to a mere visagiste (make up professional). His authority has vanished and he´s at the mercy of the market: everything is affected by risk management, and so everything new is automatically problematical.

Even though there is a vast innovative potential in competitions, there´s little to no influence on the building industry. At each project architects try to reinvent the wheel.

Used Thesis Architects should abandon the traditional method of work and embrace a collective organized renewal of architectural practice.
Methodology Look into other professional fields – like art and software engineering – for collaborative and alternative practices.

He uses the book “Postproduction” by the director of Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Nicolas Bourriaud to talk about the art field and the author Eric S. Raymond to explain about open-source and its impacts to software industry.

After that he compares the characteristics of the two fields and makes the similarities explicits.

Then he analyzes the consequences for the architectural practice.

Quotes (with pages) The role of the architect in the building process would seem to have been reduced to that of a visagiste. (p.1)

The architect is happily doodling away indoors while the big boys are outside building huts. The architect’s authority has completely disappeared. He or she is at the mercy of the market and that means only one thing: everything is affected by risk management. And so everything that is new is automatically problematical. (p.1)

The artist becomes the producer of alternative models that serve to counterbalance the bias of market-orientated thinking. Against the closed ‘stories’ of commerce, the artist offers open-ended narrative structures that presume an active stance on the part of the spectator. The spectator becomes an active participant in such collective and interactive structures: ‘Contemporary art tends to abolish the ownership of forms, or in any case to shake up the old jurisprudence. (p.2)

Eric S. Raymond, appointed by the open-source movement as its ‘minister of propaganda’, described the two organizational structures as the cathedral and the bazaar. The cathedral is the model for software like that of Microsoft which is protected by copyright. It is a business model with a distinctly hierarchical structure. The opposite of this is the bazaar – a seemingly disconnected but functioning web of relationships on which the open-source movement is modelled. To his amazement Raymond finds himself forced to conclude that this ‘great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches’ appears to work and ‘at a speed barely imaginable to cathedral-builders.’ (p.3)

Open source is a model that has meanwhile passed beyond its own frontiers. In ‘The Political Economy of Open Source Software’, the political scientist Steven Weber concludes that the idea of open source is far more widely applicable: ‘The key concepts–user-driven innovation that takes place in a parallel distributed setting, distinct forms and mechanisms of cooperative behavior, the economic logic of “anti-rival” goods – are generic enough to suggest that software is not the only place where the open source process could flourish.’[10] In a recent article, the media researchers Felix Stalder and Jesse Hirsch advocated ‘Open Source Intelligence’. (p.3)

Open source favours free access to information and thus affects the foundations of the knowledge economy. It implies a reversal of a wide range of topics relating to the concept of property. Open source offers an alternative model for the development of new knowledge with considerable legal, economic, political and social consequences. (p.3)

The most striking is that both Nicolas Bourriaud and Eric S. Raymond use the bazaar as model. Bourriaud uses it as the site of a second-hand economy in which ideas and forms are passed on and thus acquire a different meaning. The flea market or bazaar is a place where ‘something that was produced in the past is recycled and changes direction … an object that was once used according to a certain concept finds new applications.’ Raymond emphasizes the self-organizing capacity of this community that is driven by individual goals whose collectivity stems from a similar demand for tools and the willingness to do something to get them. For both, the bazaar is the model for a hands-on mentality in which new ideas are generated in a process of active involvement and experiment. (p.3)

Just as the artist turns existing social and economic models into objects of reworking, so the spectator is made part of the model; he no longer looks at art from a distance, but takes an active part in the ‘artwork’. That may well be most true of the open-source movement which is driven by a large group of users who are constantly supplying comments and improvements. Developer and user have become one and the same person. (p.4)

In short, open source requires a shake-up of established ways of thinking and a different interpretation, both socially and economically, of the concept of innovation. The existing (cathedral) model with the autonomous genius of the chief designer at the top of a strict hierarchy is ‘closed’ and based on competition. That competition has proved to be an important generator of innovation, but also leads to enormous fragmentation. The bazaar model, on the other hand, is based on cooperation. It conforms to the network logic of an effective distribution of ideas, as a result of which these ideas can be tested in different situations and improved. It makes use of the ‘swarm intelligence’ of a large group of users and/or developers. This swarm intelligence presupposes a large user base which is actively involved in development. (p.4)

And then there are the ‘end users’ (the occupants) of architecture. They too could have a role in the process. The fact is that the open-source process can also be an important stimulus for greater participation by residents in the spatial planning process. The only condition that needs to be met in order to produce an actively involved community is a reasonable promise: ‘It can be crude, buggy, incomplete and poorly documented. What it must not fail to do is convince potential co-developers that it can be evolved into something really neat in the foreseeable future.’ (p.4)

Thus, open source provides an organization model for the collective development of solutions for spatial issues involving housing, mobility, greenspace, urban renewal and so on. These are all complex issues that presuppose an interdisciplinary approach; in fact they can only be solved with cooperation. Open source presupposes that these ideas are disclosed and made available to others, who in turn can improve on them. In this way, design changes from a one-off action into a kind of evolutionary process. (p.4)

Thus, open source provides an organization model for the collective development of solutions for spatial issues involving housing, mobility, greenspace, urban renewal and so on. These are all complex issues that presuppose an interdisciplinary approach; in fact they can only be solved with cooperation. Open source presupposes that these ideas are disclosed and made available to others, who in turn can improve on them. In this way, design changes from a one-off action into a kind of evolutionary process. (p.5)

Open source would seem to be an attractive model for an architectural practice wishing to revive its pro-active role in spatial issues. (p.5)

Open source is not a model to be developed and rolled out on a large scale. It must have a chance to evolve gradually. It entails an experimental process of adjustment. Open source is a process of growing awareness, a turn-around in thinking about the fundamental organizational principles of architectural practice. It is important to depict architecture not only as an aesthetic object or showpiece, but also as a learning process and a subject for discussion. (p.5)

Personal quotes The author deposits a lot of confidence in the idea of open-source for architectural practice. He sees it as a possibility for architects to regain relevance in the spatial issues.

But he also points that it´s not an easy task, since it needs an entire reorganization of the principles of architectural practice.

The main point of the article is to envisage that the user can have a much more prominent role if architecture become open-source, because the user itself can become a designer too.

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