Why contribute to open source architecture?


(Sébastien Lucas / Future Architect) #1

25 architects maps plans

Collaborative architecture, collaborative urbanism, collaborative design… All these terms have the word “collaborative” in common, which refers to a new paradigm where we work together instead of being in competition.


The incredible success of collaborative projects

Collaborative and open source works have produced incredible results that have established them as the new standard in their fields.

We all have in mind successful examples of collaborative works, made possible with the help of new technologies and thousands of contributors.

Think about Wikipedia, the world largest encyclopaedia!

Or Linux, the more widely used operated system, which powers millions of Android smartphones and nearly all web servers.

In the scientific world, the LHC (large hadron collider)—the largest machine mankind has ever built—is also a collaborative masterpiece that is the result of the work of hundreds of scientists worldwide.

OpenStreetMap is also a very good example of successful collaborative work: a map made by thousands of people for fun, just because they have free time and want to help.

The list of successful collaborative works gets longer and longer every day…

Why is collaborative work so efficient?

In the case of Wikipedia and some other open source software, the open source work has largely overcome its primary competitor. At this point, we barely know anyone that still has an Encyclopaedia Universalis or Encyclopaedia Britannica, which were previously the standard.

There are several reasons for that:

  • The number of participants: Encyclopaedia Universalis could not hire as many specialists as there are on Wikipedia.
  • We are all good at something: everybody can help, even with a small contribution. We are all better at something, even for simple reasons like we were the first one to notice a problem, or we live on a street so we know it better than foreigners. So a large number of non-specialists can out-match a few specialists.
  • Testability: a work exists thanks to its creator, but also because of its users. The fact that open source works are used by many, helps detect problems sooner, so they can be fixed early.
  • Motivation: the contributors of open source projects are very dedicated to their work, which is not always the case for a regular paid job.
  • Organic development: in the same way nature evolves thanks to trial and error, open source works develop in an ecosystem of contributors and users. The community help select and reinforce the most interesting parts, for the benefit of all of us.

Why would people spend time on their works only to share them for free?

There are several benefits to sharing our works and giving them out for free. Those of you that have not yet published or shared your works widely may not know this. Often I have listened to the following question: “Why would I share the works I spent so many hours producing with people that might make money with it?” And it definitely make sense!

Here are some motivations that are frequently pushing people to contribute to open source/collaborative works:

  • It is a way to get better at something, and get noticed for it. Indeed, to make a work public and open source requires a higher level of quality than just using our own work on a given project.
  • It is rewarding to see that a lot of people are starting to use our works and interact with us to make it better.
  • To be the creator of a successful open source work makes it much easier to get contracts or jobs in the same field. Indeed, our social success is a very good indicator of our knowhow.
  • Working on a generous cause and helping people solve problems is always rewarding. People think of us as generous, and this makes it easier to engage with our community.
  • Often our creations are rarely used, and just archived in our hard drive. Why not share these old works in collaborative platforms to give them a second life and let other people try to improve them?

Have we convinced you? Can you think of some other reasons to share a work with the community? Do you feel like you might want to share something valuable for free? Please comment on this post to give us your opinion on the subject.

What are the benefits of using open source or collaborative works?

Collaborative works have been tested by others. The more people that have used it, the more bulletproof they are.

When you have a problem with an open source architecture element, you can ask the community to find a solution. Indeed, you are probably not the only one to have this problem.

Popular open source works generally have a community around them that has developed extensions, i.e., works that are compatible with the system. The ecosystem around an open source element, library, or piece of architecture has more value when a lot of other parts are interacting with it.

The creative commons licences

Why open source and creative commons licenses are important for driving engagement.

Creative commons / open source licenses are important for both sides of the collaborative platforms.

The contributors want to be sure a big company will not just swallow what they have made and resell it for their own interest.

The users of open source works want to be sure it is a safe base to build on, both legally, and in terms of the project’s dynamics and the health of its ecosystem.

In software development especially, we want to be sure a library is popular and used by many before using it ourselves; this demonstrates it quality.

In creative fields, like architecture, we want to be sure we have the right to use and modify the work freely.

This guarantee is key to creating trust, which is necessary when spending time on a open source work or—from the other point of view—spending time selecting and using an element.

In all creative fields, this standard has arisen, creating a global framework. This is in stark contrast with author’s rights, which are different from region to region, and have a flexibility of interpretation that can lead to the kind of infinite refinement only big companies can take advantage of. Creative commons licenses simply define which level of sharing we want, and what kind of use we want to allow.

Why we should collaborate to design architecture projects?

We will talk more in-depth in a future post about how collaborative processes can take place in the specific case of architecture, design, landscape architecture, and urbanism.

But let’s talk now about the benefits we can enjoy if we adopt a new, refreshing collaborative practice in architecture.

First of all, architects are not quite used to this concept. But consider developers who now work in an environment dominated by open source: they weren’t used to that mindset 10 years ago either! So it’s clear that changes can succeed quite rapidly.

Architecture is a mix of technical knowledge, experience of site works, artistic inspirations, and sociological concepts. Architecture is a mix of many moving parts that cannot be mastered by one person, or even a team.

Sometimes, even though we have not mastered something, we need to implement it in a project because it is a requirement. This can cause costly errors.

With open source / collaborative works, we are no longer a small team trying to be the best we can. We are a community of designers, architects, and urbanists all around the world who work on shared components, tested in the real world by many.

We can then concentrate on the only elements that are truly original, and spare some precious time trying to reinvent the wheel.

Bricks app

How can we collaborate now?

We have been creating Bricks with the problem of collaboration for architects in mind. We imagined Bricks as a way to find sources of inspiration, organize them in an efficient way, and collaborate on architecture projects. In Bricks, you can share reusable elements from your past projects with your team and the community.

You can choose under which license you want to share your work (including creative commons if you are okay with that), and add collaborators on a “per project” or “per brick” basis to help you add more value to what you share.

Bricks is free for elements of projects you want to share publicly. It has affordable subscriptions if you want to use the tool internally, or simply leave your work private.

Create a free account and join the Bricks community!

(Sébastien Lucas / Future Architect) #2