Open Source Architecture Offers Good Design Where Needed

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014
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When architecture makes the headlines, it’s often a feature about a “starchitect” such as Zada Hadid and her latest mega-project.

There’s another side to architecture, though, that aims to help people build good quality housing. Open-source architecture dispenses with the starchitects and portfolio projects, and instead aims to help people to share and collaborate as they design and build.

Open source architecture offers a path for creating better housing to the one billion people who now live in urban slums, and to the billions of people who will move to the cities in coming years. In fact, the United Nations Population Fund estimates that by 2030, five billion people will live in cities. Currently, the world’s fastest growing cities are the self-built cities such as Rio’s favelas, according to Alastair Parvin, one of the founders of the Wikihouse project.

One interesting approach, taken by a nonprofit “sustainability think tank” named One Community is called the Duplicable City Center. This collaborative project of more than a dozen architects and engineers is a multi-structure community centre that’s intended to provide flexible space for both housing and numerous other daily functions. A major theme of this work is the community aspect, and the design provides more of a community-living arrangement compared to individual dwellings.

The group is currently seeking land on which to build the prototype, which consists of three connected domes built to the LEED Platinum standard. With more than 1580 square metres, the project includes 12 suites, dining capacity for 150 people, on-site food growing areas, a “living swimming pool” that uses ozone and UV filters in place of chlorine to maintain clean water, and passive heating and cooling.

One Community is also working on open source designs for seven different village projects to be built around the world that will demonstrate the efficacy of these home-building techniques:

  • earthbag
  • straw bale
  • cob
  • adobe brick/earth block
  • subterranean construction
  • earthship
  • bottles and reclaimed materials

The group aims to produce and share designs that are both cost-appropriate and design-appropriate for different areas of the world.

Like One Community, the Open Architecture Network is a group of design professionals working together to improve the built environment. An offshoot of Architecture for Humanity, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing design services to communities in need, and to aiding people in humanitarian crises, the Open Architecture Network is an online community where design professionals can share ideas and designs. The group uses Creative Commons licensing so designers can share readily yet still have some copyright protection, if they choose the “some rights reserved” option.

Hundreds of projects are shown on the group’s website, including school dormitories in Thailand which provides education and housing to refugees from the armed conflict in neighboring Myanmar, and a multipurpose hall in Kenya constructed of bamboo, which is abundant locally but barely used for building. The hall was built with help from the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan.

At the University of Queensland, the School of Architecture has opened an exhibition exploring open-source architecture “that challenges the notion good design is both elitist and costly.”

The exhibition, “Burst Open,” will be open to the public at Gallery Artisan, 381 Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley, until December 24, 2014. The charge that modern design is both expensive and elitist is no doubt true to some degree, but it’s equally true that good design can also exist anywhere and provide real solutions to people in need. As architect Stephen Gardiner said, “good buildings come from good people, and all problems are solved by good design.”

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