Architecture and Industrialisation: where architecture collides with the housing crisis, the data boom and technology
“There isn’t a bank, corporation, government or NGO who’s going to be able to do it if we treat citizens only as consumers”
As I begin the writing this post, I must admit that I am inclined to remember suggestive images in Buckminster Fuller, Prouve, Cedric Price, etc. to illustrate the close relationship between architecture, innovation and industry. But while the contributions of all of these authors mark significant landmarks in architecture, they cannot compare with what industrialisation triggered in the development of architecture over the 20th century.
As theoreticians like Gideon, Tafuri and Frampton have resolved to show, the industrial revolution transformed turn-of-the-century architecture and gave rise to contemporary architecture. In the process, building techniques were modified, traditional cities were blown apart by the advent of the automobile, street lighting and new communications and, above all, the development of an innovative, experimental spirit paved the way for specialised technical schools.
For decades, we have lived tied to an industrial era way of thinking where technical work was separated from the production line. In many cases, it determined that the only ones who could generate cities were those who held power in public institutions or major corporations.
The technology we have at present, more than just the popular social media, invites people to take the leap from being consumers to being producers or “prosumers”. Computerised control systems, computer aided design, and new forms of learning and self-organisation apprehended from the behaviour of computer programmers in developing free software all force architecture to take a step forward in defining its role in society.
We architects are truly good at developing innovative solutions, modelling strategies and solving complex problems. Therefore, we should not fear this paradigm change obsessed with the idea of producing buildings like consumer goods. Unlike what it may seem, projects like Wikihouse, Architecture for humanity, Open Architecture Network and the Printing of a House (Impresión de una vivienda) do not differ from the standard books to produce reasonably priced housing that became so popular at the beginning of the last century. In both cases, shared knowledge, technology and do-it-youself-building are the pillars of an approach that met with noteworthy media and social success.
The challenges that we face –how to plan cities developed directly by their dwellers, how to work with the data that our cities currently provide, – coupled with the speed at which they emerge –we are still working with 3D printing as 4D printing projects have already appeared– place architecture at the heart of a complex scene where we must respond without avoiding any debate.
The crisis in the model of growth, technology and a greater awareness of the environment have all established the pillars of a new society that is taking shape and posing many questions. In my opinion, we as architects should make an effort to contribute to solving these unknowns by contributing innovation, technical rigour, and a social calling unless we want to end up being part of the problem.
Some references potentially of interest:
Alastair Parvin. Architecture for the people by the people
Nicolas Negroponte. A 30 years histoy of future
Cameron Sinclair. Open Architectures Network
Robert Neuwirth. Shadow Cities: A billion Squatters, A New Urban World
Marcin Jakubowski, Open-sourced blueprints for civilization
Skylar Tibbits, Digital logic as heuristic for physical self-guide-assembly
Zef Hemel. The WikiCity: Building buy-in at the planning stage.
Text translated by Beth Gelb