Possibilities of Open Source Architecture

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Paper by Usman Haque: Hardspace, Softspace and the possibilities of open source architecture, 2002 (PDF)

URL = http://www.haque.co.uk/papers/hardsp-softsp-open-so-arch.PDF

what an “operating system” might mean in the context of architecture, particularly an “open source” operating system


Eric Hunting:

“This paper is an excellent example of a new sensibility emerging among contemporary designers. An emerging awareness of the evolution of civilization's artifacts from static products developed by specialist professionals to, as writer Bruce Sterling has dubbed them, networked and information-bearing 'Spimes' http://p2pfoundation.net/Spimes that exist in a perpetual evolutionary feedback loop and shift control over their development and evolution from professionals to end-users. In this discussion Usman presents us with a notion of architecture as evolving toward a conversational process between end-user and structure and offers a new role for the contemporary architect as systems/platform developer rather than creator of static permanent structures. The discussion culminates in the notion of the architectural operating system which mediates the technical and aesthetic aspects of structural design and the dynamic functional needs and personal tastes of the individual inhabitant. We are also presented with the exciting prospect of an open source architectural operating system, where the inner workings of a system of habitation remain open and evolvable in the larger community with participation ranging from the professional to the personal.

What is lacking in this first discussion is a contemporary demonstration of its proposed principles. There is no flaw in this, of course, since this is such a very new area that pre-existing examples are scarce. His one reference goes back to that remarkable era of architectural and intellectual experimentation among mid-century Modernists; the New Babylon project proposed by Constant Nieuwenhui in 1974.

This is a very important reference, which we can examine here;

  1. http://www.notbored.org/new-babylon.html
  2. http://www.notbored.org/ten-years-on.html
  3. http://www.notbored.org/constant.html

Here Usman presents us with not only a model of adaptive architecture and the kind of society evolving with it but also one of the early explorations of what would come to be known as a Post-Industrial culture -though here referred to as a Unitary Urbanism- and one premised on the very same expectation of a state of future post-scarcity deriving from automation that we now see so commonly expressed today in Open Software, Open Industrial, P2P, Post-Industrial, Singularity, and Maker movements. So here Usman has tapped into one of the key common roots and discovered the precedent of a new architecture expressive of these many movements' shared philosophies.

In another article called Urban Versioning 1.0, (http://uvs.propositions.org.uk/uvslongver.html) produced in collaboration with Matthew Fuller, Usman takes us further toward a reduction to practice, as it were. Here the two authors propose a model for open and freely -spontaneously- participatory urban design based on a 'license' akin to that of open software and organized as a series of 'constraints' -though more in the nature of propositions. This is not a reduction to any particular technology but rather to a set of propositions by which a kind of open source operating system for open collaborative architecture can be characterized and it is modeled heavily after the examples and ideals of open source software. One of the most interesting aspects of this license is the notion of avoiding pre-design in favor of participatory construction. This parallels the vision of spontaneous adaptiveness as envisioned by Constant Nieuwenhui but presents us with a question as to the communication of shared tasks among participants that implies a digital solution more advanced than the simple design graphic. Also interesting was the authors note of the overlapping of social entities independent of physical territory -virtual states in shared space, if you will. This is a concept we are likely to see enter an increasing number of discussions in the future.

Overall, we have here a very promising start for the cultivation of an open source architecture model, though one as yet not as accessible in its language to the uninitiated as may eventually become necessary. Above all, though, this work begs -screams for- physical demonstration and experimentation both as a means of research and a means to wider communication. Combined with the various existing and emerging evolvable building technologies this author has discussed in the past, much potential exists for such demonstrations. Perhaps the time is ripe for an exploration of these compelling ideas in the material world. “


Urban Versioning System, http://uvs.propositions.org.uk/