Crowd-sourced Architecture

Architecture is expensive.  We all know that whether we're in the field or not, the price tag even on a mediocre firm for a standard building is a huge investment for any owner to undertake. With the recent global economic events, funding for new buildings has plummeted and lead to a lot of renovations or worse, nothing at all.  This has lead to a decrease in AEC industry jobs as well as building material sales, it's a cycle that can get stuck for quite some time if not jolted out of its oscillation.  Alas, a new type of funding has surfaced as frustrated architects and community members alike find that their problems would be much better solved with a new piece of architecture.  And so we have seen the birth of a new type of crowd-sourced funding; architecture.

Websites such as Kickstarter have been extremely busy lately.  Working with anything from small business start-ups to class field trip funding, this site grants some sort of "return" to an investor. Usually as monetary amounts increase, so do the rewards that are guaranteed.  If a goal is met, the money becomes the groups' and they must follow through with what they have promised to their pledger(s).  If no goal is met, no money is given to the group and they must find alternative methods to fund their projects.  This has been vastly popular recently because it relies on multiples instead of singulars.  Multiple people can probably spare five, ten or even twenty dollars whereas singular investors either can or cannot give up half a million as easily.  Using strength in numbers and the minimized individual investments, Kickstarter projects have seen successes that have skyrocketed.  As this system continued to grow and gain support, its first architectural project surfaced and surprisingly raised quite enough money to actually get built (or at least prototyped).  Pool+ in New York, NY received almost $275,000 after setting an initial goal of $100,000 for an inflatable pool that would float in the Hudson in NYC.  Two young architects saw their careers suddenly shoot to the top simply from one project they put on one website.  

So what was to come next?  Kickstarter, while sharing a large amount of success in its projects, also sees a large amount of failures.  Typically the larger the amount one is going after, the larger the rate of failure he/she/they will face and just another obstacle to achieving whatever dream has been posted.  This doesn't bode well for architectural projects since most of Kickstarter's pledges are in a more reasonable range anywhere between $100 - $10,000.  Most architecture projects fall between $10(million) - ∞ leaving those who desire to get their dreams built in the realm of fairy tale land.

A 'Kickstarter' for Architects

Make Architecture Happen was born out of the idea that projects, much like products of inventor's imaginations, could be funded by the general public.  Is there a certain project a community would like to see happen (maybe a new park, new cafe or even a rec center)?  If so, this new website makes it possible for a group of individuals to gather up funds and work with a project design team to make it all happen.  While the idea is still new, the site has been spread well around the likes of ArchDaily, Designboom and other affiliated design websites as well as print media.  So far many of the projects that are posted to the site fall well short of their goal since there isn't a large audience and very little return for investors, but as it continues to gain popularity, look to see potential projects born from simple individualized investments.

So will this ever work?  It's hard to tell right now, but judging from the mentality of our society, something like this would have to give a lot back to those who back the project.  Whether it's naming rights or special use of a facility, most people aren't going to just give out their money with no return.  Could these people have a larger say in the design process then, instead?  Well of course, but that in itself begins to create issues with ownership, liabilities and even aesthetics.  It's hard to see a system such as crowd-funded architecture take off because it just doesn't give much back for such a high investment, unless of course it's a space or facility that directly affects each of the people who invest money (then why not just do it through taxes?).  While crowd-funding has brought concerts to cities and certain events to your favorite venues, it may fall short in something as tangible as architecture because of both the price tag as well as the rights of ownership. 

For young architects and designers, Make Architecture Happen is almost a Godsend.  In the 'older' days, projects were more easy to come by and saw the likes of many young architects (remember Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers?).  With the complexity of buildings only growing, and the costs skyrocketing, less people are building and atop that less people are willing to give a $50 million project to a couple of 24 year old start-up architects (or are they still interns?).  With this new type of funding, architecture has been seen as a possibility to some young start-ups, especially if they are interested in public/urban design in their cities.  All it takes is strength by numbers, once that is achieved, there's no stopping the growth of a young designer, and that in itself should make you smile about all of this.  This will never grow unless it's pushed, so for those of us who are young entrepreneurial architects and designers, let's continue to spread this message of crowd-sourced architecture.  We will figure out all of the kinks later on, when real projects begin to materialize.

What do you think of this new idea that seems to be sweeping through the world of architecture (at least conceptually right now)?  Is architecture, something so "larger-than-life" able to be funded by individuals like you and I?

VIA | ArchDaily

VIA| Make Architecture Happen