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Cameron Sinclair: A call for open-source architecture

Cameron Sinclair: A call for open-source architecture


I’m going to take you
on a journey very quickly. To explain the wish, I’m going
to have to take you somewhere where many people haven’t been,
and that’s around the world. When I was about 24 years old, Kate Stohr
and myself started an organization to get architects and designers
involved in humanitarian work, not only about responding
to natural disasters, but involved in systemic issues. We believe that where the resources
and expertise are scarce, innovative, sustainable design can really
make a difference in people’s lives. So I started my life as an architect,
or training as an architect, and I was always interested
in socially responsible design, and how you can really make an impact. But when I went to architecture school, it seemed that I was
a black sheep in the family. Many architects seemed to think
that when you design, you design a jewel, and it’s a jewel
that you try and crave for; whereas I felt that when you design, you either improve
or you create a detriment to the community
in which you’re designing. So you’re not just doing
a building for the residents or for the people who are going to use it,
but for the community as a whole. And in 1999, we started by responding
to the issue of the housing crisis for returning refugees in Kosovo. And I didn’t know what I was doing —
like I said, mid-20s — and I’m the Internet generation,
so we started a website. We put a call out there,
and to my surprise, in a couple of months, we had hundreds of entries
from around the world. That led to a number
of prototypes being built and really experimenting with some ideas. Two years later we started doing a project on developing mobile health clinics
in sub-Saharan Africa, responding to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. That led to 550 entries from 53 countries. We also have designers
from around the world that participate. And we had an exhibit
of work that followed that. 2004 was the tipping point for us. We started responding to natural disasters and getting involved in Iran, in Bam, also following up on our work in Africa. Working within the United States — most people look at poverty
and they see the face of a foreigner. But I live in Bozeman, Montana — go up to the north plains
on the reservations, or go down to Alabama
or Mississippi, pre-Katrina, and I could have shown you
places that have far worse conditions than many developing countries
that I’ve been to. So we got involved in and worked
in inner cities and elsewhere; and also, I will go into
some more projects. 2005: Mother Nature kicked our ass. I think we can pretty much assume
that 2005 was a horrific year when it comes to natural disasters. And because of the Internet, and because of connections
to blogs and so forth, within literally hours of the tsunami,
we were already raising funds, getting involved, working
with people on the ground. We run from a couple of laptops,
and in the first couple of days, I had 4,000 emails
from people needing help. So we began to get involved
in projects there, and I’ll talk about some others. And then of course, this year
we’ve been responding to Katrina, as well as following up
on our reconstruction work. So this is a brief overview. In 2004, I really couldn’t manage
the number of people who wanted to help, or the number of requests
that I was getting. It was all coming
into my laptop and cell phone. So we decided to embrace
an open-source model of business — so that anyone, anywhere in the world,
could start a local chapter, and they can get involved
in local problems. Because I believe there
is no such thing as Utopia. All problems are local.
All solutions are local. So that means, you know,
somebody who’s based in Mississippi knows more about Mississippi than I do. So what happened is, we used Meetup
and all these other Internet tools, and we ended up having
40 chapters starting up, thousands of architects in 104 countries. So the bullet point —
sorry, I never do a suit, so I knew that I was going
to take this off. OK, because I’m going to do it very quick. This isn’t just about nonprofit. What it showed me is that
there’s a grassroots movement going on, of socially responsible designers
who really believe that this world has got a lot smaller,
and that we have the opportunity — not the responsibility,
but the opportunity — to really get involved in making change. (Laughter) (Laughter) I’m adding that to my time. (Laughter) So what you don’t know is, we’ve got these thousands of designers
working around the world, connected basically by a website,
and we have a staff of three. The fact that nobody told us
we couldn’t do it, we did it. And so there’s something
to be said about naïveté. So seven years later, we’ve developed so that we’ve got advocacy,
instigation and implementation. We advocate for good design,
not only through student workshops and lectures and public forums, op-eds; we have a book on humanitarian work; but also disaster mitigation
and dealing with public policy. We can talk about FEMA,
but that’s another talk. Instigation, developing ideas
with communities and NGOs, doing open-source design competitions. Referring, matchmaking with communities. And then implementing — actually
going out there and doing the work, because when you invent,
it’s never a reality until it’s built. So it’s really important
that if we’re designing and trying to create change,
we build that change. So here’s a select number of projects. Kosovo. This is Kosovo in ’99. We did an open design
competition, like I said. It led to a whole variety of ideas. And this wasn’t about emergency shelter, but transitional shelter
that would last five to 10 years, that would be placed next to the land
the resident lived in, and that they would rebuild
their own home. This wasn’t imposing
an architecture on a community; this was giving them
the tools and the space to allow them to rebuild and regrow
the way they want to. We had from the sublime
to the ridiculous, but they worked. This is an inflatable hemp house.
It was built; it works. This is a shipping container. Built and works. And a whole variety of ideas that not only dealt with
architectural building, but also the issues of governance, and the idea of creating communities
through complex networks. So we’ve engaged not just designers, but also a whole variety
of technology-based professionals. Using rubble from destroyed homes
to create new homes. Using straw bale construction,
creating heat walls. And then something remarkable
happened in ’99. We went to Africa originally
to look at the housing issue. Within three days, we realized
the problem was not housing; it was the growing pandemic of HIV/AIDS. And it wasn’t doctors telling us this; it was actual villagers
that we were staying with. And so we came up with the bright idea that instead of getting people to walk
10, 15 kilometers to see doctors, you get the doctors to the people. And we started engaging
the medical community, and you know, we thought
we were real bright sparks — “We’ve come up with this great idea: mobile health clinics, widely distributed
throughout sub-Saharan Africa.” And the medical community there said, “We’ve said this for the last decade. We know this. We just don’t know
how to show this.” So in a way, we had taken pre-existing
needs and shown solutions. And so again, we had a whole variety
of ideas that came in. This one I personally love, because the idea is that architecture
is not just about solutions, but about raising awareness. This is a kenaf clinic. You get seed and you grow it
in a plot of land, and it grows 14 feet in a month. And on the fourth week, the doctors
come and they mow out an area, put a tensile structure on the top, and when the doctors
have finished treating and seeing patients and villagers, you cut down the clinic and you eat it. It’s an eat-your-own-clinic. So it’s dealing with the fact
that if you have AIDS, you also need to have nutrition rates, and the idea of nutrition is as important as getting antiretrovirals out there. So you know, this is a serious solution. This one I love. The idea is it’s not just a clinic,
it’s a community center. This looked at setting up trade routes and economic engines within the community, so it can be a self-sustaining project. Every one of these projects
is sustainable. That’s not because
I’m a tree-hugging green person. It’s because when you live
on four dollars a day, you’re living on survival
and you have to be sustainable. You have to know where
your energy is coming from, you have to know where
your resource is coming from, and you have to keep the maintenance down. So this is about getting
an economic engine, and then at night,
it turns into a movie theater. So it’s not an AIDS clinic.
It’s a community center. So you can see ideas. And these ideas developed into prototypes, and they were eventually built. And currently, as of this year, there are clinics rolling out
in Nigeria and Kenya. From that, we also developed Siyathemba. The community came to us and said, “The problem is that the girls
don’t have education.” And we’re working in an area where young women
between the ages of 16 and 24 have a 50 percent HIV/AIDS rate. And that’s not
because they’re promiscuous, it’s because there’s no knowledge. And so we decided to look
at the idea of sports, and create a youth sports center that doubled as an HIV/AIDS
outreach center, and the coaches of the girls’ team
were also trained doctors. So that there would be a very slow way
of developing confidence in health care. And we picked nine finalists, and then those nine finalists were
distributed throughout the entire region, and then the community
picked their design. They said, this is our design, because it’s not only
about engaging a community; it’s about empowering a community, and about getting them to be
a part of the rebuilding process. So, the winning design is here. And then, of course,
we actually go and work with the community and the clients. So this is the designer. He’s out there working
with the first ever women’s soccer team in KwaZulu-Natal, Siyathemba. And they can tell it better. (A cappella singing
in a South African language) Video: Well, my name is Cee Cee Mkhonza. I work at the Africa Centre,
I’m an IT user consultant. I’m also the national football player
for South Africa, Banyana Banyana. And I also play in the Vodacom League,
for the team called Tembisa, which has now changed to Siyathemba. This is our home ground. Cameron Sinclair: I’m going to show that
later because I’m running out of time. I can see Chris looking at me slyly. This was a connection,
just a meeting with somebody who wanted to develop Africa’s first
telemedicine center, in Tanzania. And we met, literally,
a couple of months ago. We’ve already developed a design. The team is over there,
working in partnership. This was a matchmaking,
thanks to a couple of TEDsters — Sun [Microsystems],
Cheryl Heller and Andrew Zolli, who connected me
with this amazing African woman. And we start construction in June,
and it will be opened by TEDGlobal. So when you come to TEDGlobal,
you can check it out. But what we’re known probably most for
is dealing with disasters and development, and we’ve been involved
in a lot of issues, such as the tsunami
and also things like Hurricane Katrina. This is a 370-dollar shelter
that can be easily assembled. This is a community-designed
community center. And what that means is we actually
live and work with the community, and they’re part of the design process. The kids actually get
involved in mapping out where the community center should be. And then eventually, the community,
through skills training, end up building the building with us. Here is another school. This is what the UN gave these guys
for six months — 12 plastic tarps. This was in August. This was the replacement;
that’s supposed to last for two years. When the rain comes down,
you can’t hear a thing, and in the summer,
it’s about 140 degrees inside. So we said, if the rain’s coming
down, let’s get fresh water. So every one of our schools
has a rainwater collection system. Very low cost: three classrooms
and rainwater collection is 5,000 dollars. This was raised by hot chocolate
sales in Atlanta. It’s built by the parents of the kids. The kids are out there on-site,
building the buildings. And it opened a couple of weeks ago, and there’s 600 kids
that are now using the schools. (Applause) So, disaster hits home. We see the bad stories
on CNN and Fox and all that, but we don’t see the good stories. Here is a community that got together,
and they said “no” to waiting. They formed a partnership,
a diverse partnership of players, to actually map out East Biloxi, to figure out who’s getting involved. We’ve had over 1,500 volunteers
rebuilding, rehabbing homes. Figuring out what FEMA regulations are, not waiting for them to dictate
to us how you should rebuild. Working with residents, getting them out of their homes,
so they don’t get ill. This is what they’re
cleaning up on their own. Designing housing. This house is going in
in a couple of weeks. This is a rehabbed home,
done in four days. This is a utility room
for a woman who is on a walker. She’s 70 years old.
This is what FEMA gave her. 600 bucks, happened two days ago. We put together, very quickly, a washroom. It’s built, it’s running and she just
started a business today, where she’s washing
other people’s clothes. These are the Calhouns. They’re photographers who had documented
the Lower Ninth for the last 40 years. That was their home,
and these are the photographs they took. And we’re helping, working with them
to create a new building. Projects we’ve done. Projects we’ve been a part of, support. Why don’t aid agencies do this? This is the UN tent. This is the new UN tent,
just introduced this year. Quick to assemble. It’s got a flap — that’s the invention. It took 20 years to design this
and get it implemented in the field. I was 12 years old. There’s a problem here. Luckily, we’re not alone. There are hundreds and hundreds
and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of architects
and designers and inventors around the world that are getting
involved in humanitarian work. More hemp houses — it’s a theme
in Japan, apparently. I’m not sure what they’re smoking. (Laughter) This is a Grip Clip,
designed by somebody who said, “All you need is some way
to attach membrane structures to physical support beams.” This guy designed for NASA,
is now doing housing. I’m going to whip through this quickly, because I know I’ve got
only a couple of minutes. So this is all done in the last two years. I showed you something
that took 20 years to do. And this is just a selection of things that were built
in the last couple of years. From Brazil to India, Mexico, Alabama, China, Israel, Palestine, Vietnam. The average age of a designer
who gets involved in this project is 32 — that’s how old I am. So it’s a young — I just have to stop here,
because Arup is in the room, and this is the best-designed
toilet in the world. If you’re ever, ever in India,
go use this toilet. (Laughter) Chris Luebkeman will tell you why. I’m sure that’s how he wanted
to spend the party. But the future is not going to be
the sky-scraping cities of New York, but this. And when you look at this, you see crisis. What I see is many, many inventors. One billion people live in abject poverty. We hear about them all the time. Four billion live in growing
but fragile economies. One in seven live
in unplanned settlements. If we do nothing about the housing crisis
that’s about to happen, in 20 years, one in three people
will live in an unplanned settlement or a refugee camp. Look left, look right:
one of you will be there. How do we improve the living standards
of five billion people? With 10 million solutions. So I wish to develop a community that actively embraces
innovative and sustainable design to improve the living
conditions for everyone. Chris Anderson: Wait a sec —
that’s your wish? CS: That’s my wish. CA: That’s his wish! (Applause) CS: We started Architecture for Humanity
with 700 dollars and a website. So Chris somehow decided
to give me 100,000. So why not this many people? Open-source architecture is the way to go. You have a diverse community
of participants — and we’re not just talking
about inventors and designers, but we’re talking about the funding model. My role is not as a designer; it’s as a conduit between the design world
and the humanitarian world. And what we need is something
that replicates me globally, because I haven’t slept in seven years. (Laughter) Secondly, what will this thing be? Designers want to respond
to issues of humanitarian crisis, but they don’t want
some company in the West taking their idea
and basically profiting from it. So Creative Commons has developed
the Developing Nations license. And what that means
is that a designer can — The Siyathemba project I showed was the first ever building to have
a Creative Commons license on it. As soon as that is built, anyone
in Africa or any developing nation can take the construction documents
and replicate it for free. (Applause) So why not allow designers
the opportunity to do this, but still protect their rights here? We want to have a community
where you can upload ideas, and those ideas can be tested
in an earthquake, in flood, in all sorts of austere environments. The reason that’s important is I don’t want to wait
for the next Katrina to find out if my house works. That’s too late, we need to do it now. So doing that globally — and I want this whole thing
to work multi-lingually. When you look at the face of an architect,
most people think a gray-haired white guy. I don’t see that;
I see the face of the world. So I want everyone
from all over the planet to be able to be a part
of this design and development. The idea of needs-based competitions — XPRIZE for the other 98 percent,
if you want to call it that. We also want to look
at ways of matchmaking and putting funding partners together, and the idea of integrating
manufacturers — fab labs in every country. When I hear about the $100 laptop
and it’s going to educate every child — educate every designer in the world. Put one in every favela,
every slum settlement. Because you know what?
Innovation will happen. And I need to know that.
It’s called the leap-back. We talk about leapfrog technologies. I write with Worldchanging, and the one thing
we’ve been talking about is, I learn more on the ground
than I’ve ever learned here. So let’s take those ideas,
adapt them, and we can use them. These ideas are supposed to be adaptable; they should have
the potential for evolution; they should be developed
by every nation in the world and useful for every nation in the world. What will it take? There should be a sheet. I don’t have time to read this,
because I’m going to be yanked off. CA: Let’s just leave it up for a sec. CS: Well, what will it take?
You guys are smart. So it’s going to take a lot
of computing power, because I want the idea
that any laptop anywhere in the world can plug into the system and be able to not only participate
in developing these designs, but utilize the designs. Also, a process of reviewing the designs. I want every Arup engineer
in the world to check and make sure that we’re doing stuff that’s standing, because those guys
are the best in the world. Plug. And so, you know, I want these — I just should note: I have two laptops
and one of them is there, and that has 3000 designs on it. If I drop that laptop … What happens? So it’s important to have
these proven ideas put up there, easy to use, easy to get ahold of. My mom once said, “There’s nothing worse
than being all mouth and no trousers.” (Laughter) I’m fed up of talking about making change. You only make it by doing it. We’ve changed FEMA guidelines;
we’ve changed public policy; we’ve changed international response —
based on building things. So for me, it’s important that we create
a real conduit for innovation, and that it’s free innovation. Think of free culture —
this is free innovation. Somebody said this a couple of years back. I will give points for those who know it. But I think the man was maybe
25 years too early. So let’s do it. Thank you. (Applause)

27 comments found

  1. What's brilliant is the idea of an Open-source architectural site where anyone can have access to sustainable blueprints. EVERYONE has the right to sustainable living and it should not be corporatized. Thank you Cameron.

  2. Many people have creative ideas to solving many problems around the world, problem is they don't know how to bring forth their solutions into reality.

  3. Open source, whether it's in form of text, music, architecture, design or programming is the best thing to human kind in centuries.

  4. David Cameron and Gordon Brown, if you ever get a chance, Please see this Ted video and save the UK a whole bunch of grief.
    watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y
    Thank you.
    One can but hope.

  5. Cameron is speaking at a public talk at the Royal Geograpahical Society (with IBG) in London on 25 May 2010 discussing improving response to Natural Disasters
    21st Century Challenges series

  6. @OASISriffs Watch talks by Hans Rosling. The population will level off around 9 billion people in 2050 with proper education and humanitarian aide preformed by individuals such as Mr. Sinclair.

  7. I had the privilege of meeting Cameron at a conference and invited him to speak at an event for the school of architecture at my university in the Spring of 2009. Some may expect him to be a something of a hippie eco-elitist, but instead, Cameron genuinely possesses a passion for people of all privileges and backgrounds.

  8. Cameron cracked a joke saying that Zaha Hadid, a famous "starchitect" is funding the "War on Terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan due to the migrant workers that are hired for work on her and other starchitects' projects in Dubai who later lose their construction jobs, and with no other sources of income or family for support, join the insurgency.

  9. Bravo! I'm always renewed in optimism when I find people who are making a difference for everyone and fighting against exploitation.

  10. see this interesting project management and cooperation start up for architects, designers and engineers ARCILOOK.COM, something for us 🙂

  11. Open source is nothing new. It was working for ages until patenting started. Everyone could use someones elses ideas for free because nobody thought that ideas can be sold. We are getting stuck because everyone race to patent everything and only way out seems to be reinvent freedom of ideas.

  12. Non-profit organisation Architecture for Humanity has closed its San Francisco headquarters and laid off its staff after apparently being unable to continue funding humanitarian projects… 🙁

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