Complications of crowdfunded architecture
- 1 Overview
- 2 Complications
- 2.1 Cost
- 2.2 Threshold
- 2.3 Catchment
- 2.4 Approval
- 2.5 Longevity
- 3 Conclusions
- 4 Outlook
- 5 Links
- 6 References
As Crowdfunding appears in many different ways, catering various services and fields, certain non beneficial aspects appear. This is an article discussing those aspects for architectural content. What are the downsides and weaknesses when trying to crowdfund an architecture project? How could they be avoided? Starting with an theoretic approach and finishing with examples and case studies.
Following up is a list of complications that make architectural projects special when it comes to crowdsourcing.
It`s hard to summarize the problems which occur since they arise from very individual problems, each architectural project inhabits. As the common ground between a museum, a school in a third world country, a new housing skyscraper or even a public pool is very little- The aim of this article is to focus on problems that a majority of them shares or at least has to consider. The list so far consists of:
more money involved, uncalculated costs, follow up expenses /...
Limited demand, best solutions, 'one way' street /...
Local reach, communication, publicity /...
bureaucracy, permits, unforeseen developments /...
lasting responsibilities, long-term plans, maintenance /...
When dealing with architecture its obviously not like financing a new book or design gadget. The money involved is in most cases excessively outranking other design fields. Making a realistic and understandable demand when starting a crowdfunding campaign is crucial for its success. Considering the high building costs, it seems viable to implement strategies to avoid overreaching the campaigns potential.
These strategies could be for example, to break a big project into smaller pieces in order to make it more accessible. Step by step the Project reaches its goals. During the funding process it gains not only reputation, but also followers who will in turn further its completion.
Another potential strategy could be, to combine crowdfunding with other financial solutions. Private investors but also governmental funds tend to invest or support projects far easier when they see a potential market or demand for it. This follows a classic supply and demand economy.
Apart from the already high initial costs, there are a lot of other factors to consider. design costs, material costs, timelines, schedules and the potential for all of them to change during the long process of actually realizing a project. So what if the costs rise? who pays for them? who can really determine that a given calculation is trustworthy? often it seems to be just a rough guess. and what happens to the money when the guess is wrong in one way or the other?
All these arising questions give room for a feeling of unease when contributing to an architecture crowdfunding project. So when setting up a campaign its essential to be very comprehensible and clear with the costs and all the financial aspects involved.
- The cost of architecture projects is in comparison excessively high.
- Additional costs may occur during the process. who is paying them?
- More then 10.000 often seems to be an unrealistic amount.
- Crowdfunding step by step / research.
- Crowdsourcing instead of funding.
- Combining crowdfunding with other approaches.
- Financing the growth instead of the initial project.
+pool is a great example on how to deal with a major financial expense in terms of crowdfunding.
The estimated project budget is 15$ million. This number not only scares people away, it is also very unlikely to be achieved. Especially considering the reach that architecture projects normally generate. So +pools solution involved a strategy of funding the project step by step while raising awareness and attracting other funds and supporters.
The initial kickstarter campaign therefore tries to generate 250.000$ for research instead of the whole 15million$(1). This is still a lot, but considering the public accessibility and the fact that new york harbors a world wide attraction it is realistic and met his goals.
Bogota tower, initiated by 'prodigy network', is an example of moving outside of existing crowdfunding structures to realize architectural projects on a scale far outside of regular possibilities. By creating a huge marketing campaign and project identity, prodigy network continuously funds projects as an investment for its contributors. Their campaign for Bogota tower states: "A way to turn common colombians into investors that are crowdfunding the tallest skyscraper in Colombia." (2)
Seattle: Neighborhood Matching Fund
Seattles government created a 'neighborhood matching fund' which awards projects with funding if they generate a certain amount of money out of the community supporting it.
"Physical improvement projects (where something tangible and lasting, such as a playground or public art, is being created) require a 1:1 match (the community match must equal the funding request)."
"Non-physical projects (such as design, planning, events, etc.) require a ½:1 match (the community match must equal at least half of the funding request)."(3)
Since it began, the Neighbourhood Matching Fund has awarded more than $49 million to more than 4,000 projects throughout Seattle and attracted an additional $72 million in community contributions.(4)
The next complication circles around the need for an architectural project in a particular space and its specific value for the surroundings. Imagine for example someone starting a crowdfunding campaign to build a playground in your neighborhood. Sounds nice. But if the community chips in money, is this really what the area needs? maybe a school makes more sense? maybe an opera or a statue of Robocop?
What if the playground is build, but there is nobody using it? You can't just start over and build something else. Architecture is mostly build long term and follows an EITHER-OR principal. EITHER the playground OR the school etc.
So we have to really determine what is needed before we build it.
There it gets complicated! If a campaign is started it is mostly build on someones or a group of peoples interest. But what if there are better solutions? Or even within the same paradigm better architectural proposals? how do we determine these and how to make them publicly known? And on the contrary: What if all of a sudden a multitude of projects for the same area or demand show up? Contributions will just get divided and nothing will get build.
As you might see there are still a lot of open questions for which we need answers. The classic approach is that investors analyze and determine what is needed and then competitions are held in order to find the best solution. For crowdfunded projects flashy pictures and a good marketing often seem to work best. So just starting a campaign on a design brief might not work very well.
A strategy could be to locally research and develop an idea thoroughly. To crowdsource instead of crowdfund until the best possible project with the highest demand is collectively designed and only then go further.
Another option that seems to be working is to use niches, that nobody else has any interest in using. To establish experiments, instead of fix buildings or to create temporary solutions before going long term.
- Exclusive setting.
- Limited demand.
- Either-/or principal.
- No going back.
- Research thoroughly
- Evaluate all possible angles and solutions.
- Use niches instead of targeting mainstream issues.
- Initiate urban experiments.
A park in hamburg, collectively designed and build by the local community. The park is a great example of how an idea can manifest into a public statement and then evolve into a collective project. The demand for the public park became so strong within the local community, that they went through excessive lengths in order to collectively design, build and fund the project.
Magdas Hotel is a social business hotel based on cooperation, existing resources and a social vision. Refugees, volunteers and professionals of the hotel business transform a former rest home, situated at the Wiener Prater, to a grand budget hotel. The idea of the hotel deals with the topic of integration and enables the chance for multicultural encounter between people. The business model and setting is very unique and experimental therefore it found its niche in the market. Avoiding big competition by being individual is a good way to deal with the threshold factor.
Crowdfunding depends on participation. The more people participate the easier a project will be funded and the smaller each contribution has to be.
That basic rule already states a problem for crowdfunding in architecture. not only are the costs exponentially higher then the average crowdfunding project, but their reach is very limited.
If all the potential contributors a project reaches, are to be called its catchment, then the aim should obviously be to push this catchment as high or far as possible. But we are talking about architecture. Whereas a new novel can have a global catchment and only a fragment of the cost, architecture is a very local product and therefor its hard to push its catchment over the local boundary.
So does that make crowdfunded architecture only possible in big metropolitan areas? Interesting enough that is not always the case. Smaller towns and even villages often have a different social commitment that made crowdfunding possible way before the internet and globalization took a shot at it.
We should take this into consideration when starting a campaign! What is my reach? Who are these people? How do I get them interested? What do they want? If projects are on a more global level these questions apply non the less, even though the answers might be completely different.
So how to push the catchment of a project? Being in a creative and touristic hub certainly does seem to help. It creates outsiders interest. The same principal applies when dealing with projects where an idea or maybe a famous person becomes a brand that supports it.
But lets imagine neither does apply. Another possible strategy could be to first build up a network supporting the idea and to only proceed if there is enough response and public interest beforehand. Crowdfunding therefore could become a natural response for a public demand. Even if the demand is manufactured, it could raise the catchment before its release.
- Reach mostly limited locally
- Only exceptional cases generate outsiders interest.
- smaller reach> more participation per person needed.
- Campaign locally.
- Clear definition of prospects.
- Invest in Marketing! - Realistic estimation of projects reach.
- Establish network
- Building up a Brand instead of only a building.
- Development of global interest.
- Crowdsourcing instead of crowdfunding.
Lets take park fiction as an example again. If you haven't read this earlier: Its a park in hamburg, collectively designed and build by the local community.
When the authorities and investors wanted to turn the area into a housing project- The local community stood up against them and developed the park fiction concept as a counter initiative. By fighting over years and developing every aspect of the park by designing it collectively- It became one of the most influential projects of "crowdfunded/crowdsourced" architecture.
The MAI is a good example of how a famous person or his/her work and ideas can bring a project to life. Marina Abramovic is an amazing artist and deserves all the attention she currently gets. Her idea of a space for long durational works, multidisciplinary collaboration, educational programs, and the Abramovic Method became part of her artistic creation. An Art Project by Marina Abramovic transcended into physical space to inspire, develop and showcase new projects.
I will also use +pool as an example again, because they managed incredibly well to initiate a brand for their project. The pool became way more then just a pool. It became a statement for New York. People identified with it and wanted to contribute. New York as an international tourism capitol and creative hub obviously played a big role in the global attention. But its not just that. The catchmentgoes further then this. They managed to benefit from various political ambitions, raise money from environmentalists, architects, tourists, the whole creative world and the local community alike.
It's not always the public demand that is fulfilled. One has to consider a wide range of permits and bureaucratic hurdles. A lot of these often can't be accounted for in advance or arise during the process. But how to deal with such unforeseeable circumstances? what if projects get funded and then break apart in the process? This can involve not only political issues but also feasibility.
Campaigns should therefore always be very clear and transparent about their status. Also it should be logical how things proceed when certain steps are not met or cant be fulfilled. There is an interesting article (Disputes in Crowdfunding) which shows what we should avoid, while we try to find a place for crowdfunded architecture in the foreseeable future.
There is another big aspect we have to consider. Not trying to be blunt, but architecture and urbanism are very often tangled up in some dubious political or financial affairs. Some way or another. Sometimes its really difficult not to become the play ball of higher powers within the industry or the political scene. Cases where one political side supports a project, but as the structure within, or the wider circumstances change, the support ceases and instead, stones are thrown in the way.
There is no certain way to handle this. Transparency seems play a key role though. The internet is immensely powerful- we have seen this at least since anonymous. A strategy to avoid the play ball issue could therefore be to entrust the process to the backers and not just the final product.
- Funded does not mean approved
- public/ governmental Interests
- political tool
- Elucidation of the sequence of events.
- Being transparent.
- Making the process visible
- Using networks as support.
2011 a Robocop Statue for Detroit was officially funded via Kickstarter. Even though the Backing went through and the public pushed the idea, the Government was of a whole different opinion and denied the notion.
On Monday, February 7th a random dude in Massachusetts tweeted a message to Detroit Mayor David Bing:
@mayordavebing Philadelphia has a statue of Rocky & Robocop would kick Rocky's butt. He's a GREAT ambassador for Detroit.
Shortly after, Mayor Bing tweeted back:
@MT There are not any plans to erect a statue to Robocop. Thank you for the suggestion.(5)
After an online uproar, the statue will now be erected on a private plot instead.
When we talk about architecture and the city, we have to take into account the longevity of things. A building we construct right now might become part of the urban life for the next 10-50-100 years. What if demands change? or politics? or social life? There are no certain ways to determine whats going to happen to the things we create.
One might argue That this is the case for everything that is build. True. But when we crowdfund a project it becomes in a way also a collective responsibility. We have to consider the long term costs, the maintenance, renovations, possibilities of subsequent use, or ways to recycle after the building served its purpose. We cant just alter the urban fabric and then neglect it. Crowdfunded architecture has to consider the life-circle and treat it as part of the initial creation.
If an institution is created along with the building, or an organization is behind it, the long term costs need to be part of the calculations and the responsibilities have to be clearly stated. This also opens another interesting topic about crowd-economics and institutionalized crowdfunding. But this will be discussed elsewhere. If you are interested in that topic try : The Role of Platforms in Crowdeconomies
Especially when dealing with urban experiments campaigns should consider temporary solutions, up-cycling or cradle-to-cradle(6) architecture. I also find the strategy of alternative use interesting. Building something that tries out new ways or pushes the boundary of urban development, but keeping in mind some kind of fail-safe. Following a similar principal, concepts could first be tested in a small scale before they grow into something else after establishing the immediate need. Like in the old modular utopias, one could start with a core and develop a concept that adapts to its use.
- Lasting responsibility
- Subsequent use
- Who carries lasting costs? maintenance? renovation?
- Recycling possibilities?
- Consider the life circle
- Temporary solutions
- up-cycling / cradle to cradle
- Management and solutions for subsequent use
- Adapting or "growing" concepts.
what can we learn from this article?
What seems to become clear during this research is, that there are a lot of different and often very creative solutions one can benefit from. Even though one often has to deal with what can be described as a 'first mover disadvantage' there are lessons to be learned and the more we try to distribute them the easier things will get in the future. One should not forget that this article is the base for a discussion. It shows different strategies and ideas within the experimental paradigm of architectural crowdfunding. It is not, however, a guidebook to success. We are still the early birds. Things will change drastically and i hope that this article and its content will mature alongside this process of change.
how could the future of crowdfunded architecture look?
Crowdfunded architecture is still in very early development. Its hard to say where the trend will lead, but I think that in the experimental phase in which we find our selfs right now, we can hugely benefit from exchanging our accumulated knowledge. Brickstarter (7) was the first blog i know of, that saw the potential in trying to collect this knowledge. The next step will be, to move away from an individual try and error phase and towards a collective one. Strategies, results and also failures need to be exchanged and evaluated. The more we collect and share, the further crowdfunding in architecture will mature and grow in to a serious alternative for traditional funding methods. Its a big chance for change in the architectural or urbanist field. But it also harbors many risks and dangers we have to bring under control.