brian carroll on Fri, 9 Jun 2000 12:31:36 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> * open-source architecture *

 the following is an inaugural essay for the perspectives section of
 the newly redesigned website, which
 will launch sometime in the next few weeks. if you're interested
 in writing about the natural and built environment, actual and-or
 virtual, please contact me at thanks. bc

open-source architecture				6/7/2000

the computer industry has borrowed terminology from the discipline of
architecture to describe structural and conceptual workings of electronic
computational machines and its designers: computer architecture and
software architects. 

now, what if architecture borrowed popular terminology from the discipline
of computer science..? 

the idea has its genesis in the comparison between a computer
microprocessor and a city, where, looking down upon the microcosm of a
microchip, one sees a city plan with its interrelating streets, buildings,
and infrastructure. 

but this paradigmatic model stops inside the heart of every computer. it
remains invisible to the computer using community at large because it is
locked-away from most, and thus this conceptual connection remains

but what if architecture were instead more like the computer itself, where
the desktop of each computer is a city-state of sorts, with each software
program being its own architecture, each software file its own building... 

this viewpoint borrows from Rudolf Arnheim's idea of architecture as an
interface. [1] in this case, the computer interface becomes an
architectural interface, and the software program becomes an architectural
program, of function, aesthetics, and structure. 

 each software program can then be seen as a building with its own
specific architecture, and the operating system as an amalgamation of
different buildings and architectures in a city plan, and more- as
different computers are internetworked, they become a mirror of the plan
of a local and global state, connected via an infrastructure of servers,
routers, and hubs... 

in effect, then, by reciprocally borrowing some terminology from the field
of computer popular culture, such as interface and programming, architects
can begin "seeing" the discipline of architecture anew, from a different
perspective, in relation to the ubiquitous computer. 

ultimately, doing so necessitates we analyze the computer operating
system, the meta-software which orchestrates the running of other
softwares on a machine, as a determinant of the possible programs or
architectures that can be designed and built in a computer-based

there are at least two choices of operating systems (OS) that exist today: 
proprietary and open-source. these two different models are represented by
the Microsoft OS and the Linux OS, respectively. 

Microsoft is appealing an anti-trust ruling for alleged monopoly power
over 80 percent of computer desktop operating systems in the world.
Microsoft is accused of inflating software prices and illegally quashing
competition and innovation from outsiders. 

it is ironic, then, that Bill Gates, who is speculated to become the
world's first trillionaire given enough time, has stepped down as Chief
Executive Officer and added the position of Chief Software Architect to
his title, in addition to being the Chairman of Microsoft. 

what do these metaphors mean? 

of course, a comparison can be made between Microsoft Chairman and a
well-known Chairman and founder of the Communist party. and surely has
been made before that Microsoft acts like a pseudo-Communist state,
tightly controlling the development of software for the Microsoft OS, so
much so that the system becomes corrupt from the top-down, with every bit
of power and wealth going back to the state, or in this case Microsoft as
state, leaving the individual a servant of the state and not vice-versa. 

further, if one is going to "develop" software programs that run under the
Microsoft OS then, one needs to be in collusion with the ideals and
ideology of the Microsoft way of seeing. the licensing of Microsoft's
proprietary source-code to software developers is under a type of total
control. this concentrates the wealth generated from the platform, so much
so that Bill Gate's is the world's richest person given a good day on the
stock market, with a net worth of around 80 billion U.S. dollars, more
than many countries. 

the economic, social, and political nature of Microsoft's proprietary
computer code, a type of intellectual property, can then be seen as a type
of communist governance of the state of the computer, where the flag of
Windows represents the spread of both an ideology and an empire replete
with programming bugs, protected markets, dumping, and corrupt
institutions; a type of legalized pyramid scheme. 

but that's the old conceptual model, what about architecture- what does it
mean that Microsoft metaphor has now changed from CEO to Chief Software

Bill Gates decision to work on the future development of Microsoft
software products as Chief Software Architect refers most directly to the
definition of an architect as a master builder... and this ultimately
relates directly to the "development" of the real estate of the computer
screen, as it is governed by the Microsoft OS. 

each software program developed for the Microsoft OS can then be seen as a
kind of building with its own architecture. and all building development
is directed by the Microsoft estate. the proprietary OS is the totalized
master plan. 

to be a part of the building process, a licensed "developer" must follow
the rules and regulations set forth by Microsoft. the computer desktop
then becomes a visible city, populated by software programs
(architectures) and their files (buildings) which compose the Microsoft
city-state, all of which are designed to work together in a completely
planned development.  this makes for a company town on a scope never seen
before in history, with inhabitants in the hundreds of millions. 

the Internet was supposed to change all of this. but instead, the planned
development of the Microsoft OS continued through its proprietary system
of order and control also known as the Internet Explorer browser.
Microsoft's empire keeps growing exponentially, even to this day,
industrializing and privatizing computer real estate all around the world. 

what has changed is that the predominant Microsoft OS ceased being
Windows, and instead became the Internet Explorer web browser. Internet
Explorer pushed Microsoft's way of seeing the web into 70+ percent of the
Internet browser market, defeating its rival Netscape (and others) by
giving away, or dumping, their proprietary software to capture the
majority rule of the marketplace. 

populated Internet markets began to become homogenized by e-commerce and
commercialization, with Microsoft leading the way, transforming everything
in its strategic path. whole industries were taken on, and soon Microsoft
began diversifying in everything from entertainment and real estate to
banking and car sales on and off the Internet, in addition to forging
ahead with its usual computer hardware and software alliances. 

this diversification of Microsoft into industries other than computers
signals the switch from a product-centered OS, Windows, to a
services-based software program that acts like the OS of the Internet,
Internet Explorer (IE). 

this new software architecture enables the user to access any site in the
world accessible on the Internet, made by Microsoft or not, but does not
appear to threaten the monopoly Microsoft has with its indebted users.
this is because Microsoft's new strategy remains within the context of the
privatized computer desktop (city-state) created by the Microsoft OS, the
Internet Explorer browser only extends the reach of this private estate. 

Bill Gates, the Chief Software Architect of Microsoft, is a master builder
who has designed and realized a proprietary state of total architecture. 

there seems to be little stopping Microsoft's expansion of the wall it
builds around its electronic empire under the Windows flag. 

and many people are defensive about questioning this successive business
model, but some are not-

the surprise challenger to the hegemony of the Microsoft OS is grassroots
computer operating system- the Linux OS. 

instead of a private organization of total control from the top-down, the
Linux OS is the ongoing result of a collective of thousands of computer
programmers working from the bottom-up. 

and unlike Microsoft's heavily guarded proprietary source code, the
computer code for the Linux OS is open-source, meaning that it is publicly
available to programmers who want to develop the software architecture in
order to optimize its performance or extend its different tasks. 

not only is the software of the Linux OS theoretically less buggy, but the
wealth of its development is being spread out beyond the workers, to
potentially include the computer using community, as it promises to bring
down the price of computers to new lows, making the possibility of a
mass-market affordable Internet appliance a probability. 

in a sense, the Linux OS is equivalent to the democratic development of
the real estate of the computer, as it represents equal rights for
programmers and wide-ranging freedoms of individual and collective
development.  additionally, because it is open-source and ruled by no one
in particular and everyone all at once, there is a communal sense that the
intellectual property of the Linux OS is public property, and a shared

the spirit of innovation in the computer industry has in part been freed
with the Linux OS, as hardware vendors and software programmers are
finally given a viable mass-market option to the Microsoft model of
development.  software programs are daily being ported over to the open
plan of the Linux OS, with many of Microsoft's traditional allies crossing
over the line. 

this shift signals a strategic movement in the mass marketplace of
computers and ideas, away from the proprietary model of development, and
towards an open-source software architecture. 

but what does this have to do with architecture, besides some mixed and
muddled metaphors? 

there are several parallels to be drawn between proprietary and
open-source development, and the reigning institution of architectural

like the Microsoft OS, architectural ideas and ideologies are often
proprietary, belonging to a tradition of hierarchical, privatized, and
elitist states of mind that then become schools of thought, upon which
people pay to become "educated" or indoctrinated in this insular
marketplace of ideas. 

although there are a plurality of architectural "developers," they all
continue to develop the same old institution of architecture, over and
over again, waving the flag of revolutionary rhetoric, while entrenched in
the ways of prevailing political, economic, and social system of

students, professors, architects, critics, developers, and clients are
given little option of another model of architectural thought besides that
of the established state of the profession, centuries old. 

other "issues" which question the current economic, social, or political
system of operation are considered outside the "programmatic" and
ideological functions of the discipline of architecture as it operates
day-to-day. and thus the institution remains as it is, as it has been
handed down to its willing disciples, a privatized architectural source

this traditional way of seeing architecture ignores realities outside of
its walled boundaries, and establishes a privatized state of architectural

global warming, energy inefficiency, pollution, waste, homelessness- these
are not within the domain of Architecture, so says the silent majority,
heading the calls of a vocal minority of architectural ideologues
subjectively determining what is and what is not Architecture from atop
the global pyramid scheme. 

everybody becomes an accomplice to this state of mind, because there is no
other choice for development... 

that is primarily because the architectural "debate" is an protected
market, created to sell architectural stars and world class architectural
monuments to the masses, along with coffee table books and luxury goods
designed by the elite name brand architects. this diversification of
merchandising only fuels the "development" of certain kinds of
architecture, in the books, in the schools, in the cities, in the minds,
and with enough time and representation a movement or style is created and
sustained by which others can emulate their way up the ladder of
architectural fame. those with a different world view are told to conform
or to leave the profession. 

this model of development which protects the power and prestige of a few
architectural monopolists can potentially be changed, given the

the crux of the problem centers around the proprietary role of
architectural ways of seeing in the realm of architectural discourse,
manifesting itself within a privatized architectural source code for all
new development. 

the architectural institutions- be they universities, organizations, or
critics- insulate the architectural discourse from dissent, while
legitimating those ideas that support their own systems of operation, with
total authority. 

the powerful inhabitants of the architectural pantheon are thus protected
from having to answer basic questions regarding mission critical economic,
social, and political realities because such musings are deemed outside
the rules of the oligarchic game of the architecture. 

the Internet has changed all of this. new avenues for architectural
ideation have formed outside of the traditional institutions of
architecture. new, more democratic forums for architectural discourse,
such as the Design-List for art and architecture, are leading the way to a
new, public model of architectural thought, and architectural development
in general. [2]

the next step, mirroring the transformation of the computer industry by
the Linux OS, requires opening up the architectural discourse to all
architectural "programmers" who hack and crack the open-source
architectural code. 

this new model of architectural development no longer bases itself on
private property, be it a building or a text, guarded and copyrighted. 

instead, open-source architecture is founded on the public, democratic,
and collaborative research and development of architecture by a collective
of hundreds of internetworked individuals- lay people, students,
professors, administrators, architects, developers, researchers,
theorists, and critics- so as to address the pressing issues the
discipline needs to address, or else face its own existential extinction. 

this new way of seeing is actually an old way, in that architects have a
tradition of freely copying what is best in a design and bringing it
forward in time, again and again, mutated and altered, but utilized and

 like its software equivalent, the newly incarnated open-source
architecture would fulfill the need for a democratic grassroots
architecture, empowering the individual and community, while having the
architectural state serve the people and not the other way around. 

a soft revolution, open-source architecture is still potently able to
compete and survive while facing and fighting the protected markets of
proprietary intellectuals, monopoly power, staid institutions, and elitist

let one thousand open-source architectural programmers bloom for each and
every entrenched architectural statesmen, acting as the checks and
balances of the architectural operating system-- away with the elitism,
perception management, and proprietary ideology of the reigning
architectural establishment! 

the new order of development has arrived, and it is open-source. with it
comes a renewed freedom in the marketplace of ideas-- the intellectual
bubble economy of the master builders and their emulators will finally

it is time for the disciples of architecture to innovate, evolve, and
mutate- to wrestle control of our public destiny away from the private
architectural pirates of civilization... [3]

doing so requires institutions of architecture democratize their systems
of operation- to level the elitist hierarchies of power by declaring
architectural programmers equals of one another, working on common and
public goals in our rapidly developing civilization. 

now is the time to realize an open-source architecture as the destiny of
the collective of individual architectural programmers, publicly hacking
and cracking the architectural code, within the multidisciplinary

an economic, social, and political architecture will surely follow... 


 [1] Rudolf Arnheim, The Dynamics of Architectural Form
 [2] Design-L:
 [3] Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth


 a r c h i t e x t u r e z : an online community for hacking
 and cracking the architectural code -
 s i t e : visit bc's portfolio -

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: