Brian has been selected to chair a session at the ACSA Annual conference in Detroit, MI next spring. The session, titled “Disruption: Copyleft and Open-Source Design” will invite papers exploring the impact and future of an open source architecture. More information can be found here.

“Productive, collaborative, shared design is happening all around the world, and it is only accelerating. Yet as it becomes increasingly mainstream for software and consumer goods, the open source mentality has been muscled out of architecture by traditional practice and remains in the murky periphery, away from the discipline’s spotlight. A reductive categorization is that architecture still operates under the authorship model of copyright, when design, media and culture are moving toward copyleft and Creative Commons. Almost all disciplines are rapidly expanding in scope while architecture progresses tentatively.” Carlo Ratti 1

Disruption is defined as a ‘disturbance or problem that interrupts an event, activity, or process’ and can often have detrimental effects on a culture, government, industry, economy, or ecology. Key business and industry disruptors include globalization, outsourcing of services, and shifts in technology. The 20th century fall of Detroit was in part a reflection of disruptions in the automotive industry and demonstrates the systemic connectivity of place. In the last 20 years, the discipline of architecture has witnessed an upswell of changes to practice with simultaneous challenges to the value of design. Technology is more advanced and accessible, the general public are now authors AND makers, representational content is being outsourced globally, and discussions around critical global issues too often do not include the architectural profession.

Post-Renaissance design disciplines of the built environment are predicated on the Albertian model where conception and representation of built form occur initially, followed separately by construction of the artifact as represented without alteration. This relationship seeks to assure control of the content by the author; it is copyrighted. It is also being challenged in the 21st century as the line between designing and constructing becomes increasingly blurred. Enabled partly by a democratization of fabrication, the maker and end user are now authors in the process.

Open-source design, a term first coined late 20th century in the context of software development and computer science, embraces the sharing community where evolution outweighs authorship. Recently, open-source has become even more popular as groups including Google, Facebook, and Tesla have adopted the mindset as a way to encourage rapid, comprehensive development of their products. Within the profession, it has been utilized from WikiHouse to Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena. While the potential of open-source design is invigorating, it faces significant challenges in professional disciplines deeply entrenched in copyright, intellectual property, and/or liability exposure.

This session invites submissions which foster discourse on the impact of the copyleft culture as well as the potential for an open-source architecture. What is the role of copyright and authorship in a 21st century architectural profession? How are architects navigating this new territory of copyleft? What is the role of engagement in a copyleft culture? How are open-source examples from other products/media such as music, fashion, robotics, and furniture impacting or changing mindsets in architecture? What is the source code which is the base for an open-source architecture?
1. Carlo Ratti with Matthew Claudel, Open Source Architecture (London: Thames & Hudson, 2015), 94.