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Framing architecture's Commons

This book is divided into five chapters. The first chapter, “Architectural progress,” sets the foundation for a critique of architecture operating under neoliberal directives. The chapter questions that the notion of architectural progress has been in the service of citizens prosperity and examines how promises of ephemeraliza-tion, as advocated by Buckminster Fuller, have failed. Building on this, the argument put forward is that architectural progress hasn’t been able to “trickle down” innovations to reach the general public. The chapter identifies how a neoliberal system operates through market enclosures, as is the case with intellectual property, benefiting from externalities, as is the case with poorly regulated labor and extracting value through surveillance mechanisms embedded in digital networks. The chapter makes the case that the value created by such a system is extracted from the Commons, dismantling provisions that define the power of the public domain. The Commons is framed through the writing of Elinor Ostrom, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, as well as the perspectives from David Bollier and Massimo De Angelis, attempting to gather a definition that encapsulates both material and immaterial Common-Pool Resources as well as the social structures that participate in the creation of collective wealth.

Chapter 2, “The coalescence of parts,” dives deeper into how these extractive practices have been manifested in architecture. The chapter introduces a global manufacturing trend where the accumulation of capital has led to the rise of large manufacturing operations that exercise vertical integration, disrupting market diversity. The rise of vertical integration has offered clear innovations to manufacturing, by allowing a reduction of the number of parts that are necessary in technological assemblies. Recent technologies like 3-D printing have been able to offer performative advantages through the dissolution of previously standardized components.The trend toward vertical integration has a clear correlation with the paradigm of parametric design which is founded under a continuous model of mathematics. The chapter hopes to identify that the parametric model serves a narrow section of the population and has impacted market diversity.

Chapter 3,“In defense of parts,” begins to put forward propositions for alternative design trajectories by understanding the social affordance of parts in design and manufacturing. It proposes that in order to sustain a diverse multi-actor economy, the field of architectural design needs to find efficient forms of collaboration and coordination between suppliers. While such efforts could be seen to have a correlation with institutions such as the Modular Society in the 1950s, as has been documented by Christine Wall, contemporary attempts seek to provide non-homogenizing frameworks of dimensional coordination through the advent of digital networks. The framework that is put forward is that of Discrete Architecture, where parts are designed and studied in their capacity for recombination and afford a multiplicity of outputs, a paradigm that lives in opposition to the “one-off” model offered by the continuous model of parametrics. Through Discrete Architecture, design is able to acknowledge the necessity to maintain a pluralistic and non-monopolistic approach to production. The benefits of the discrete agenda are examined through the study of the “combinatorial surplus” of parts and their affordance for the production of Design Commons. The chapter advocates for the adoption of combinatorial design, allowing for reusable patterns to be propagated through information networks.

Chapter 4, “Immaterial architectures,” presents the argument that while network infrastructure has been utilized for the implementation of surveillance capitalism, it is possible to design and envision digital networks that do not exercise coercive power over its users.The chapter maps the challenges that platforms need to overcome to transition from being tools for extraction to tools for cooperation. This chapter revises ideas such as Platform Cooperativism as advocated byTrebor Scholz, who defines a core set of principles that allow digital networks to create wealth to the members of the network and not siphon it out. The chapter speculates further in the possibility of developing platforms for architecture that are able to aid in the collaboration between users, potentially generating repositories of Open Source architecture models that can serve the Commons. The technologies of videogames are analyzed as offering models for cooperation between players and a tradition of participation in digital communities.

It is necessary to theorize and conceptualize what should be expected from the successful implementation of these ideas. Chapter 5, “Reconstruction through selfprovision,” puts forward the argument that the Commons should seek to establish interpersonal freedoms that are grounded on ideas of diversity. The infrastructure developed by surveillance capitalism has effectively deployed intelligence generated from the aggregate data of users but obtained through illegitimate means. The Commons is argued to have the potential to reconstruct a form of consensual collective infrastructure that does not operate as a hierarchy. The chapter seeks to identify how we can embed democracy and oversight into technology, maintaining a level playing field and designing down the barrier of entry.

The ideas presented in this volume have been developed alongside design research in architecture by the studio Plethora Project. While many of the concepts and ideas presented throughout the book can be directly associated with Plethora Project’s work, as can be seen through some of the figures, this volume has made a conscious attempt to expand on the ideas and go beyond what has been already achieved through design research, as often ideas move faster than their implementation. In this way this volume has become instrumental in operating as an ideological guideline for design, reminding us of the critical imperatives and opportunities that the field faces today.

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