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Architecture platforms

Architectural competitions are the closest model that the architecture discipline has developed to implement extractive practices. This can be understood as a form of platform exploitation, as the production of value will always more greatly benefit the network than those who produce the labor.Through a reading of David Harvey, architectural theorist Peggy Deamer recognizes the condition of entrepreneurial-ism of this new “gig economy” as a form of propaganda used by neoliberal practices that place a positive spin on crowdsourced operations. She explains:

The contemporary conditions—flexibility, autonomy, entrepreneurialism— are those handed us by neo-liberalism, and it exploits all the conditions associated with immateriality. Harvey has pointed out that the neo-liberal agenda “can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.”42

Adding to this idea, Pier Vittorio Aureli detects that in the early 20th century, Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-Ino model establishes a model that externalizes architectural production. As he presents it:

[TJhe best embodiment of this model for dwelling is Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-Ino (1914), a simple structural concrete framework that could be built by the inhabitants themselves with minimal resources and filled in according to their means. And yet, the very goal of the Dom-Ino model was to provide the lower classes with a minimum property- that would allow them to become entrepreneurs of their own household condition.43

The reading of the Dom-Ino model as infrastructure for “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) can be more explicitly seen in the work of Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Ara-vena, who in his housing project Elemental decided to spend the government’s social housing budget in providing half a house that could be further expanded by the inhabitants. For Aravena, this is an outcome that is the result of the available capital for public projects and his understanding of what should be the minimal ethical household. The force of neoliberalism here is not direct in the externaliza-tion of work expected by the architect but rather in the structural conditions that have led to a social housing budget not being enough for a complete house. But is important to distinguish who benefits from practices of distributed social production and DIY initiatives. Under digital platforms, all value produced is syphoned by the network. Aravena’s model operates, as we will discuss later, as a form of self-provision, where the value of citizens remains in their hands. This is critical for social production to be able to contribute to the Commons, as opposed to being an extractive practice, as seen with architectural competitions.

Nevertheless, material infrastructure provided for citizens is not enough for a project like Elemental to succeed in the contribution to the Commons, as the networks of knowledge, cooperation and governance cannot be imposed within an architectural proposal. Aravena’s model emphasizes the role of private property and individual self-production, providing empty spaces with clear demarcations of

Quinta Monroy. Elemental by Alejandro Aravena.The initial construction is later completed by homeowners

FIGURE 1.3 Quinta Monroy. Elemental by Alejandro Aravena.The initial construction is later completed by homeowners.

Source: Image Courtesy by Elemental.

ownership. For Commons to emerge, it is necessary for citizens, commoners, to participate in the construction of codes and collective governance. Such negotiations and coordination, are imperative, as argued by Ostrom,44 to avoid the Tragedy of the Commons.

The idea of“self-provision,” where citizens are able to utilize both material and immaterial local resources to establish new relations of autonomy and cooperation, calls for reclamation of the concept of entrepreneur. This would allow citizens to dedicate their efforts in a form of resistance and autonomy rather than in an orchestrated externalization.This is a call that has been presented by Negri and Hardt in their work on the reconstruction of the Common. They explain:

It may well seem incongruous for us to celebrate entrepreneurship when neoliberal ideologues prattle on ceaselessly about its virtues, advocating the creation of an entrepreneurial society, bowing down in awe to the brave capitalist risk takers, and exhorting us all, from kindergarten to retirement, to become entrepreneurs of our own lives. We know such heroic tales of capitalist entrepreneurship are just empty talk, but if you look elsewhere you will see that there is plenty of entrepreneurial activity around today—organizing new social combinations, inventing new forms of social cooperation, generating democratic mechanisms for our access to, use of, and participation in decision-making about the common. It is important to claim the concept of entrepreneurship for our own.45

Using Negri and Hardt’s thinking, self-provided housing can be understood as an entrepreneurial enterprise, but one that cuts links with a capitalist agenda. On the contrary, such efforts suggest a reclamation of capital sovereignty over the inflation and speculative nature of the housing market. The studies by architect Alastair Parvin situate self-provisioning as a different value proposition for architects and citizens. Parvin celebrates a “prosumer” culture, where consumers have become producers of their own goods, not in the interest of corporations to cut costs by externalizing labor, but rather in the capacity for self-empowerment and adaptation to local contingencies. As he presents it:

Although the basic stages of the project are unchanged, this creates a fundamentally different value-architecture. Most simply, because rather than designing for asset value generating shareholder profit, self-providers tend to design for long term use-value in the first place because they are the future users; designing a more generous house which is more appropriate to their specific family needs (out of self-interest). Because of this, their houses are likely to be better in terms of energy performance and quality.46

Parvin relies on the capacity for self-provided labor from communities to propose architectures that operate as a knowledge infrastructure; one that is formalized in a construction system but also coexists as an Open-Source digital platform, allowing the accumulation of knowledge to allow iteration and improvement of the design alternatives over time. His project WikiHouse understands architecture as a multilayered cultural process where only a fraction is its formal manifestation. Parvin’s work builds upon a legacy of radical architects like Walter Segal, who understood that for self-provisioning to be possible, architecture would need to develop methods, construction systems and models that would remove the friction and lower the barrier of entry for citizens to participate in the value production of their communities.

 
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