Crowdfunding as a way of financing your businesses and projects through donations of money from the public is continuing to grow in popularity. But what opportunities can it deliver the architecture profession to help get designs off the drawing board or designed more efficiently?
On a macro level, the Thames Baths project in London – a unique idea that will turn the river into a public bath – is one such project that plans to be delivered via crowdfunding.
Chris Romer-Lee, director at Studio Octopi, the scheme’s architects, believes crowdfunding offers the architecture profession another procurement route that circumnavigates unnecessary levels of bureaucracy.
“Here’s an opportunity to work closely with a (potential) client to catapult a community’s vision towards reality,” he said. “I sometimes wonder if architects (the entrepreneurial ones) should actually take some training in Crowdfunding to advise clients in how to go about it.”
The biggest pro is that community projects get a leg up. Studio Octopi has another project – the Peckham Rye Lido – going to crowdfunding soon with the aim of raising around £50,000. The client saw what was happening with the Thames Baths and thought they could do the same thing. If successful, it will enable funding for the architects to create a package of outline designs and visuals.
“This wouldn’t happen any other way without a lot of form filling and rejection,” said Romer-Lee.
On the other hand, he does admit that the process is intensely time consuming, involving months of preparation, particularly during the campaign period which requires almost 24/7 attention.
“It’s not free money, only certain projects work on it and the sums achievable for large architectural or civic projects are a small percentage of what the project needs,” he explained. “That said, getting public buy-in is quite a good thing to have!”
So how do you build a campaign and crowdfund your next project? Romer-Lee says accessible, engaging, call-to-arms text is essential. And you should include absolutely no jargon.
“We worked with a strategist from an advertising agency who wrote the story brilliantly,” he explained. “It wasn’t dumbed down, but it also definitely wasn’t pretentious tosh! Write inaccessible twaddle and you’re better off chancing your hand holding up a bank! Ultimately you’re building a community to help you realise your dream.
“Whether you like it or not, these campaigns are funded by the public who believe in what you’re doing. They want to understand it all and join a campaign. So prepare for lots of correspondence.”
Studio Octopi built the Thames Baths campaign around the idea of creating various levels of ‘founding investors.’ They have now got in excess of 1,200 people to draw upon as the next stages start.
The practice believes its campaign has been very successful but also admits it has been hampered by maximum pledge limit of £5,000 set by crowdfunding site Kickstarter.
Originally the plan had been to go for £250,000 but when the architects found out Kickstarter wouldn’t raise the pledge level, they retreated very quickly.
“I think they have a problem with this. Architecture and civic projects just aren’t going to raise the same funds that tech ideas do through small investment,” said Romer-Lee. “We went down a rewards based route rather than offering equity.
“And I think we got this right. The rewards continue to build and spread our message. Equity would have meant losing control very early on.”
The Thames Bath approach broadly follows the model of +Pool, a similar initiative in New York, which also utilised Kickstarter. For example, a $100 pledge got you a +Pool Tank Top, while for $10,000 you became a +Pool Partner; giving you a poolside lounge chair adorned with a plaque engraved with your name.
A total of 1,203 backers pledged $41,647 to help bring this project to life. The initial goal had been $25,000.
Studio Octopi wanted a more international campaign, as the proposals had global appeal, and so Kickstarter was the appropriate provider.
An alternative option is Spacehive. This UK-based platform has been specifically developed for those wanting help to bring the civic environment to life, whether that entails transforming a playground, bringing an old building back to life, sprucing up a park, or creating something completely new.
Spacehive success stories include raising more than £368,000 in just 100 days to save the derelict Grade II listed Ancoats Dispensary in Manchester, North England, from demolition. The building is now being restored and transformed into a hub for the community and creative industries.
It can be a long road to success however.
At Lightning Ridge in outback NSW, the ambition of Lightning Ridge Opal and Fossil Centre Incorporated is to build a 21st century architectural icon and set a world record for the biggest crowdfunded project ever.
Some $28.5 million is required to construct the Australian Opal Centre that is the long-awaited masterwork of Australian architects Glenn Murcutt and Wendy Lewin.
The vision for the Australian Opal Centre is to create a global focus for the research and promotion of Australia’s National Gemstone, an international tourism asset, a world class architectural icon and a dynamic stimulus to economic and cultural development in Australia’s opal producing states of NSW, Queensland and South Australia – and beyond.
“All we need is a million people to give $30 each, or 300,000 people to give $100 each. We can do it!” says the community group’s website.
The first fundraising target was $100,000 and hoped to be achieved in 2012. To date, the crowdfunding has only raised a touch over $28,500.