Rahm Rechtschaffen, an architecture student at Catholic University in Washington DC, is using Flickr to run a participatory architecture project for his senior thesis. We've talked about applications of open source in architecture and design before, and the potential that OS could open for transformation in those fields.
"Unlike the software programmers that participate in open source design projects, the end users of most architectural projects are neither steeped in the guiding principles of architectural design, nor are they able to the use the tools required to create a design," says Rechtschaffen in his introduction to the project, "Although architects often go back and forth between design and client, the architect always keeps the client management and the design process separate. In an open source project the client would be directly involved in the design process."
The idea here is not to eliminate the architect, but to permit all future users of the space full access and participation to any part of the planning and design process, at any time. By putting the project on Flickr, users can track the progress of various contributions and changes as they make their own. Because it's a public project on Flickr, even unsolicited contributors can jump in if they so desire.
Rechtschaffen ran a survey a few months ago to determine how the project was progressing. Based upon the feedback, he developed several new iterations and invited the next round of contributions. He has tracked the entire process in both visual and textual detail on Flickr. It's interesting to scroll through and read the commentary at various stages in the process, which has now been underway for about 4 months.
Where will this fully-participatory ideal dwelling be? A hillside in Costa Rica, an obvious place for utopian dreams to come alive.
Our architecture practice works along these lines. We invite frequent, though not continuous, participation in the design process. (For example, we'd rather not have the clients attempt the structural engineering or calculating the energy loads.) The buzzy term for this is "integrated design". Having better and more-accurate simulations of the project is vital, but the key principle is to obtain feedback early enough for it actually to help the design. Design and construction are too often "relay races" when they need to be "chamber music". (Mixed metaphors anyone?)