The conceptualization of a platform presents the same challenges and opportunities for architecture as it does for other industries. Platforms democratize the design process, advancing the tools and literacy of a crowd by establishing knowledge propagation channels. By socializing design, users are able to build larger databases of references that will aid in solutions for new projects. Patterns can emerge, offering standard solutions for re-occurring cases. The crowd will also develop design literacy, as what is sophisticated will be rare and scarce, demonstrating the effort necessary for achieving quality. On the other end of the spectrum, all design production could end up belonging to a private network, orchestrating the free labor of crowds for knowledge production, one that could feed artificial intelligence algorithms.The current competition model, a dominant model for value extraction in architecture, could be accelerated to a far wider form of digital labor extraction.
It has become urgent for the field of architecture to engage in the conceptualization and design of platform infrastructure, offering core values and denouncing practices of exploitation. To do so, research in architectural technology' associated with the development of tools needs to venture outside established solutions offered by the industry. Platform research should have the main objective of engaging with a social system and looking into technologies and communities that have already started exhibiting interest in participation and the proliferation of knowledge and content within a network. As has been argued by Professor Yochai Benkler, it is possible to design networks biased for cooperation. He states that ingredients like “communication,” “authenticity,” “empathy,” “solidarity” and the construction of “moral systems”38 are the most challenging and key attributes to be embedded in the design of digital platforms that can allow for breakthroughs in social cooperation.
Video games are an interactive medium where players are able to engage with the production of form and systems thinking. They have shown great potential to advance an architectural agenda that attempts to democratize access to local fabrication and community development. Games such as Minecraft that have a network of nearly 75 million players have the closest resemblance to what we could consider a social platform for spatial content. Games have been able to establish a two-way dialogue between users and developers, actively participating in the production of a network via forums, polls and streams among other forms of digital
FIGURE 4.6 Flatwriter, 1967, was a computer program conceived by Yona Friedman to enable the user to design the plan of his future home (self-planning) in the Ville Spatiale, or for a citizen to redesign his neighborhood in the Ville Spatiale.
content. Games have also adopted a practice of modding, where a platform opens channels for user modification, although such practices have been studied as forms of exploitative labor.’9 Nevertheless, game environments have been able to develop a medium conducive for combinatorial design, as with games such as Minecraft (Figure 4.7) or Cities Skylines (Figure 4.8), and knowledge of how to embed robust educational protocols as is exhibited in innumerable in-game tutorials that lead players to advance game states. All these attributes position game environments as strong candidates for the development of architectural platforms. The medium of games has matured over time, allowing for close approximations of reality, as is the case with games such as Kerbal Space Program, which has been embraced by NASA for expanding the literacy of the challenges of the agency.40 In recent initiatives, figures like Lawrence Lessig have started developing projects that could be able to simulate and tinker with models of governance. For example, the Seed project
FIGURE 4.7 Block by Block initiative by UN-Habitat using Minecraft video game to rebuild and envision real-world development.
FIGURE 4.8 Cities Skyline video game by Colossal Order. Urban city simulation.
proposes a simulation game where players are required to design and manage the economy of an exo-planet.41 For Lessig, the challenge is not to iterate over expertly conceived design to arrive at a model that works but rather to sit back and allow for thousands of simulated economies to be created and managed from the bottom up, allowing for the study of stable patterns that emerge.42
While we could consider architectural platforms as repositories of already created content as is the case with 3DWarehouse43 or as a private dashboard for team coordination as in the case with Modelo.io.,44 games have managed to socialize the design process, allowing for multiple participants to interact with one another directly and indirectly through the sharing of digital content.
Projects such as Block’hood (Figure 4.9 and 4.10) and Common'hood (Figure 4.11 and 4.12) are video games that attempt to allow users to design and explore
FIGURE 4.9 Block’hood video game by Jose Sanchez, Plethora Project. Urban simulation based on ecology and interdependence of inhabitants. Educational platform.
FIGURE 4.10 Block’hood video game by Jose Sanchez, Plethora Project.The game has been used as a tool for social participation developing literacy on ecological systems.
FIGURES 4.11 AND 4.12 Comnion'hood video game by Jose Sanchez, Plethora Project. Fabrication and design video game mediated by economic scarcity and social struggle. The game is a platform to aid selfprovisioning of architecture.
socioeconomical problems associated with their local communities. Platforms are utilized as a dashboard for combinatorial design aiming for the production of literacy and the development of digital infrastructure for participation and self-provisioning. At the core of these initiatives is an interest in generating architectural principles and designs that engage the world through a scope of resource management, systems thinking and ecological interdependence. The challenge is to effectively create a platform that is aimed at the construction of the common knowledges and repositories of architecture alternatives.
For architecture, platforms offer an opportunity to populate the landscape between experts and non-experts, generating a spectrum that could both appreciate and actively participate in the production of cultural value, operating as designers, curators or community managers. The expansion of the discipline toward user-created content does not threaten the discipline with a form of deprofessionalization. On the contrary, it suggests a much larger portion of our population could take part in a critical discourse of citizenship through participation. The opportunity for “free innovation” as framed by von Hippel acts as a form of autonomous practice, especially for those communities that have lost access to capital and are able to use labor and knowledge as a mechanism to defeat debt. For these scenarios to take place, we need to design platforms that allow user collaboration and participation while maintaining the value produced in the hands of users. This incentivizes the knowledge that is contributed to common pool repositories that can remain in the public domain. If such ethical imperatives are to be realized by experimental platform design, they can become examples and even expected standards for already established competitors, allowing the crowds to enforce them by popular demand.