Open Architecture Network

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The Open Architecture Network is a collaborative database which Architecture for Humanity hopes will make it easy for architects, designers and engineers from around the world to freely share their work, evaluate and modify existing solutions, and collaborate around new approaches. (


The Open Architecture Network, i.e. "Worldchanging is an online, open-source community dedicated to improving living conditions through innovative and sustainable design. Here designers of all persuasions can:

• Share their ideas, designs and plans • View and review designs posted by others • Collaborate with each other, people in other professions and community leaders to address specific design challenges • Manage design projects from concept to implementation • Communicate easily amongst team members • Protect their intellectual property rights using the Creative Commons "some rights reserved" licensing system and be shielded from unwarranted liability • Build a more sustainable future

Who is behind this?

Worldchanging is the brainchild of Architecture for Humanity and the designers who volunteer with us and through our local chapters. It grew out of our collective frustration in sharing ideas and trying to work together to address shelter needs after disaster, in informal settlements and in our own communities.

Architecture for Humanity is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that seeks architectural solutions to humanitarian crises and brings design services to communities in need. To learn more about our work, please visit our website.

Who else is behind this?

In 2011, Architecture for Humanity acquired Worldchanging and merged it with the Open Architecture Network, which was the result of a yearlong partnership that began in spring 2006 when Architecture for Humanity won the prestigious TED Prize. Each year the TED community honors three individuals who have positively impacted life on this planet. Recipients are granted one wish to change the world. Members of the TED community voluntarily contribute to granting the wish, by offering their resources and talent. Our wish: To build on our success creating opportunities for architects to help communities in crises. We envisioned a truly collaborative online community and gathering place for those dedicated to improving the built environment.

Sun Microsystems, Hot Studio, Creative Commons, AMD and other partners joined Architecture for Humanity in realizing this ambitious undertaking, and at this year's TED conference, together we launched a beta version of the Open Architecture Network: the first site to offer open source architectural plans and blueprints on the web.

Who will the Open Architecture Network serve?

Architects, designers, engineers and anyone else involved in the building trades is welcome to share their ideas on Worldchanging - but the site is not just for professionals. Community leaders, nonprofit groups, volunteer organizations, government agencies, technology partners, healthcare workers, educators and others are also invited to collaborate on projects and share their expertise. After all if we're to meaningfully address the challenges of building a sustainable future, we'll need (a lot of) help from people of all walks of life.

What is our goal?

Far from replacing the traditional architect, the goal of the site is to allow designers to work together in a whole new way, a way that enables 5 billion potential clients to access their skills and expertise. The network has a simple mission: to generate not one idea but the hundreds of thousands of design ideas needed to improve living conditions for all." (

Older Description

"By embracing open-source technology and removing barriers to the improvement, distribution, and implementation of well-designed solutions, we can, more than ever before, ensure that communities in need receive innovative, sustainable and, most importantly, dignified shelter. Since the mid-1990s, the sharing of information and technology has steadily gained popularity in the high-tech and arts communities. Why not adopt this approach in the area of humanitarian reconstruction and long-term development?

The Open Architecture Network will be a gathering place for community designers and all those interested in improving the built environment. Here designers of all persuasions can post their projects, browse projects posted by others, comment and review projects, discuss relevant topics, contribute to shared resources, collaborate with each other and access project management tools to support their work. Designers work will be protected by a licensing system developed by Creative Commons." (

Commentary by Alex Steffen from Worldchanging [2]

"The Open Architecture Network is a collaborative database which Architecture for Humanity hopes will make it easy for architects, designers and engineers from around the world to freely share their work, evaluate and modify existing solutions, and collaborate around new approaches. Think of it as the Wikipedia of humanitarian design, the first big step towards open source design.

With a coalition of sponsors and partners, including Sun, Architecture for Humanity built and is starting to test a system designed to be not just a repository of good ideas, but a tool for collaboration and research. Users will be able, Cameron says, to search existing ideas based on a number of criteria (such as, say, "housing, affordable, tropical, community-designed, passive solar, bamboo materials) and the ratings of other users.

This is no elitist playground, either. "We're not defining an architect as someone who's been through 7 years of education," Cameron says. "If this thing isn't useful to informal community designers living in favelas, it'll fail. We aim to prove that you don't need $15,000 worth of CAD programs to come up with design solutions. You can participate with a napkin sketch, a borrowed scanner and a public Internet connection." (However, it should be noted that the site will be available initially only in English, which will further limit its utility to barefoot architects.)

The Network will also provide insight not only into what people have built elsewhere, but how they built it: "It's not just designs, it goes all the way through to implementation -- it will have not just innovative abstract solutions, but actual projects and built buildings."

The seed stock for the database will come from Architecture for Humanity itself. They plan to include some of the ideas from their book, Design Like You Give a Damn, as well as as many of the 1,200 entries to their previous architectural competitions as possible.

Indeed, Cameron would like to see humanitarian architecture and design competitions change the way they operate in light of the Network's possibilities. "What if design competitions were based around a particular set of criteria, but at the end, you made the good thinking in all the designs open and available to everyone? Imagine if all the great new ideas remained available. For that matter, why should the project end? Once the competition is over, some of the designers might look at other people's work and have a realization about how to make their projects much better. Just because there was a prize awarded shouldn't mean that you stop trying to show your idea to the world and keep refining it in conversation with others."

The legal framework which will allow such collaboration is the Creative Commons Developing Nations License, which gives designers the ability to charge those who can pay for their work, while sharing that same work freely with others who can't afford to pay. It might, in addition, create a mechanism for the new generation of informal designers in emerging megacities to find a market for their leapback solutions. "If the system works, it's a call to action: all that community and humanitarian design work that you said you wanted to do but couldn't -- well, here is the system for doing that. It'll be interesting to see if the design community rises to the challenge."

"This will involve the design community changing how it sees itself," Cameron says at the end of our conversation. "Are designers ready to see themselves not as lone geniuses but as partners in a movement? Can they respond to a need in a distant place -- say a community center in Senegal -- and rally around and share ideas and talk about, given the resources and the needs, what solutions can be suggested and how the community can actually make use of them?"

If the site really takes off, Cameron hopes it will create an entire, constantly-evolving body of solutions. "Imagine that someone comes up with a model for building affordable housing in China, and that it is clever and sustainable, and it can be downloaded and changed and altered for different situations, so next you get fifteen different 'children' of that design and then each of those iterates with other influences elsewhere, until you rapidly get a biodiversity of design, a whole family tree of innovation." (

More Information

Business Week profile at