TED Conversations

Daniel Lear

Founder & CEO, Make Architecture Happen

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How can crowdsourced financing change the way we design and build our cities?

Let's take an in-depth look at how crowdsourced financing is affecting how we design and build our cities. Is crowdfunded architecture driving innovation and creating design that speaks for the people? What challenges can we expect as we move into a world where anybody and everybody can finance a project?

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    Mar 7 2014: I agree, I believe that crowd-funded projects will give the community more of a sense of ownership and I believe that it will begin to shape architecture in a much more connected and reactionary way. I think that, while very humorous, the campaign ran by “The Oatmeal” for the Nikola Tesla Museum is a really thought provoking example of the vast potential of a successful fundraiser. There goal was to raise 850K, with a matched 850K from the state of NY, which would allow them to purchase Nikola Tesla’s old laboratory and turn it into a museum, however they managed to raise over $1,370,000 during the month long campaign. In $3 donations alone they raised over $16,000, to me this is a fantastic way of forming a supportive community around a project and breaking through the constraints of traditional funding. I would love to also see crowd-funding allow for more research and creative freedom among developers and designers. I believe that there are some truly remarkable ideas and innovations in sustainable design construction techniques that just can’t find the funding or support to experiment and make technological and design advances. Crowd-funding could be seen as a terrific resource for students, organizations, and communities to promote progress, allowing for ideas to be proposed, vetted by a mass of people, and potentially funded, and in a relatively short period of time.
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      Mar 7 2014: Victoria, The Oatmeal's campaign for a Nickola Tesla Museum is a great example of how people can come together to express interest in a project idea that would normally be ignored by other funding sources. Some issues that have come up with utilizing crowdfunded architecture to fund large scale projects such as this one are that ultimately the 1.3 million dollars is far too little to fund the entire museum project. However what we have seen from this example is that the initial crowdfunding campaign has sparked interest in investors. This is because the sucess of the campaign has validated the public interest/need for the project to become a reality. A project that is using an innovative way to overcome this challenge is the +Pool project in NYC where the project designers have divided up the process into smaller more manageable goals. This project has a simple goal "instead of trying to clean the entire river, what if you started by cleaning a small piece of it? And what if you could change how New Yorkers see the rivers, just by giving them a chance to swim in it?" They started by funding a mockup of their filtration system which was a wild sucess. This lead to them funding a prototyped floating pool that should become a reality this year. They funded this stage selling parts of the project to funders. Funders get to have their names engraved in the tiles of the pool creating a sense of pride and ownership among the community of funders. Ultimately the project will create a full scall floating pool in the East River of New York City.
  • Mar 7 2014: It seems that crowdsourced financing can level the playing field for cities that wouldn't normally have the opportunity to build they way other more funded areas can. Crowdfunded architecture can give more chances for new designs to surface because more people are a part of the action and are personally getting involved with the projects. Privately funded projects are limited to the people directly in charge and paying the expenses, as opposed to a group of people putting their thoughts and ideas into it. Although challenges arise when people will be able to build what they want, when they want it because of crowdsourced financing, it offers more options for the largely public architecture in urban areas.
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      Mar 7 2014: Maria, thank you for your response. I agree with you that crowdfunded architecture will allow more room for innovation. We may see that crowdfunding will usher in a new way of designing cities where the architecture is curated by the people. Where you say that "challenges [may] arise when people will be able to build what they want, when they want it" I would have to disagree. There will still be a system of regulation imposed by the local and federal governments that will ultimately decide the limitations of what can be built.
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    Mar 21 2014: Popular financing of architecture could produce iconic buildings, but is it likely to create well designed transport infrastructure, neighbourhoods, townships or city centres? I doubt it on the grounds of scale and cost.
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      Apr 2 2014: Heather,
      Scale and cost are certainly major challenges in any project especially in regards to crowdfunding. However you must admit that the idea of supplementing traditional tax-based finance in regards to infrastructural projects with crowdfunding is compelling and provacative. With crowdfunding financing large scale projects, we may see more and more projects that represent the needs of the people becoming a reality. This is because the driving factor in whether or not a crowdfunded project gets funded is public interest rather than financial or political gain.
  • Mar 18 2014: Is this same as raising money through charities but donors are called investors? They get credit but no say if some organizers walk out with lots of money?

    I always have problem with "People". How you guys are defining people? Those small people who do not have enough but can give their couple of bucks to beggars and forget about it?

    Fancy name but sounds interesting. I hope their is provision for people to kill those who cheat and it is legal.
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      Apr 2 2014: Raj,
      It is true that crowdfunding and charitable donations have similar aspects. However there are many types of crowdfunding, one of which is equity-based crowdfunding. With equity-based crowdfunding anybody can become an investor of an innovative new idea and reap the benefits of the project's success. There is also reward based crowdfunding where the funder is given a reward for their contribution. Many times this means getting a product before it goes on the market for a much lower price. People who contribute to these types of campaigns choose to do so because they are interested in the reward or they have a general interest in seeing the project succeed. Some crowdfunding campaigns are donation based. Admitadly this requires much more faith in the project owner to follow through with their proposal, however the decision to contribute is ultimately up to the funder. This is what is so compelling about crowdfunding. The funders decide which projects are worthy of success and this in turn validates the public need for the project.