Beloved urban advocate Jane Jacobs once said, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
Jacobs might never have anticipated the ways in which this powerful idea could be applied in the age of the Internet, but it’s safe to assume that she would have been thoroughly titillated by WikiHouse.
What started as an experiment, this City 2.0 Award winner now spans the globe from London to Rio, thanks to designers Alastair Parvin and Nick Ierodiaconou, who were intent on exploring practical applications of their philosophical commitment to a more democratized design movement. Parvin explains, “For too long, cities have been made by the 1% and consumed by the 99%. We wanted to see what it would take to create something that would allow the 99% to make cities for the 99%.”
With this in mind, they created a blueprint that would allow everyday people to build their own homes using open sourced designs and locally sourced materials. They posted their designs and assembly directions online and encouraged anyone to try it out, iterate on it, and upload their own ideas.
Halfway around the world, Anderson França was educating and organizing over 200 youth in the favelas of his hometown of Rio. His philosophy, though applied in a different context, was very much in line with the designers of WikiHouse. He explains, “We’re training kids to become the owners of their own destinies.”
In a beautiful cross-continent collaboration orchestrated by entrepreneur Jimmy Greer, the designers of WikiHouse met the organizers of Dharma, the organization Franca leads, and they are using their City 2.0 award money to empower kids to construct their own communal WikiHouses in the favelas. Their hope is that these spaces will become 21st century salons—places where the largely disenfranchised youth can discuss human rights and teach one another entrepreneurial and communications skills.
It doesn’t take long in a megacity like Rio to understand how housing is at the heart of the city’s big challenges. While the expanding team on the ground in Brazil hasn’t built a physical WikiHouse yet, if developed into a serious low cost, locally produced, open and off grid urban housing solution as planned, WikiHouse:/ Rio could become an engine of radical renewal that stands for open, local economies that helped people and neighborhoods flourish, that encouraged local production and skills development and that put the power to create within everyone’s reach.
The ethos WikiHouse embodies has brought many people together to try and figure out one of the city’s biggest problems and to develop the initial idea into something much bigger. “What has struck us the most is that everyone is doing this on their free time outside of their jobs. The generosity of many people, not just new partners, but countless others, who have given their time to talk to us and help us understand how to take this to the next level has been very humbling,” says Greer.
Blueprints for everyday people to build their own homes using open sourced designs & locally sourced materials.
Alastair Parvin and Nick Ierodiaconou are designers at 00:/ (‘zero zero’), a London-based studio for architecture and strategic design. Comprising architects, geographers, sociologists, technologists, and entrepreneurs, 00:/ practices radical innovation: unlocking new economies, new forms of production and building new social operating systems for the 21st century. Their partner, Jimmy Greer, is the founder of Brazilintel, a research, analysis, and creative projects hub that explores Brazil’s growing economy, changing society and new role in a rebalancing world. And their local partner is Anderson França, founder of Dharma, a social impact agency that works to mobilize young people in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro towards creativity, prosperity, entrepreneurialism, and citizenship.