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Jorge Toledo

Make your Project Downloadable


Editable plan of an incremental housing project from Elemental.              It can be downloaded from the website.

A few short years after FOA sent me—either through generosity or negligence, we shall never know—a CD full of AutoCAD files, Ecosistema Urbano uploaded something they called “Air Tree Commons” to their web site. The download links accessed (and still access) the project execution plans for the Madrid pavilion in Shanghai in PDF format.

This gesture, which was perhaps more symbolic than practical, was a tribute to one of internet’s founding dreams: the sharing of information. By sharing the technical plans, the very origin of the pavilion’s architecture, they were making it open source, allowing “any person, entity, or company (…) to copy it, build it, sell it or modify it with total freedom”. Such a laissez-faire attitude was the exact opposite of the tendency seen in so many other architects to avoid copying, impede modification, enshrine authorship, and generalise the use of patents.

One thing they didn’t do, however, was share the specifications and dimensions, as someone suggested they might have done in their response to the initiative. Neither did they include editable files, something which FOA did do on that CD and which, more recently, the Elemental studio did when making the plans for four “incremental housing” projects available for download from its web page—a gesture fully coherent with the replicable, adaptable nature of that typology.

These proposals, interesting despite their limitations, conceal a deeper truth, something that we have already learned from internet: that sharing also benefits the sharer. The studios mentioned above were not (only) being generous: they were understanding originality and benefits from a new perspective.

Just as Google know full well that by documenting and facilitating the use of Material Design they are extending their influence and control in the field of interface design, Ecosistema Urbano were fully aware that they were positioning themselves as a studio with a unique, differentiated attitude to architecture and Elemental knew that by making their “incremental housing” available to everyone they were creating an architectural concept which ultimately led back to them and which, if it becomes widely popular, will only generate positive publicity for their work.

What’s more, we all know that an architecture project can’t be copied just like that. Even the “simple” adaptation of the same design to another location involves so much expertise and so many factors and resources that shared plans can only pass on a tiny part of everything that is needed.

These efforts, therefore, fall greatly short of the sophisticated systems of online collaboration, version control and code distribution that are used in open-source software, not to mention the licencing systems that support them.

But this just may be the beginning of something deeper, something that will have a bigger impact. Perhaps tomorrow someone will do the same using standard, editable files and will include the whole project… maybe even while they are still working on it, opening it up to external collaboration.

Did I ever mention Opening Design? Remind me to tell you about it in a future article.

Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
Jorge Toledo García es Arquitecto y trabaja en la facilitación de procesos de desarrollo de organizaciones, arquitectura y espacios públicos o comunitarios. Intersado tanto en el "cómo" como el "qué", trata de aplicar los principios de la colaboración y la cultura libre a todos esos ámbitos.

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