Daniel Lear

Founder & CEO, Make Architecture Happen

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Empowering communities through crowdfunded architecture

Crowdfunding has the potential to be a powerful tool for architects and designers. It is becoming a way to democratize the often rarefied world of architecture, making projects happen in neighborhoods lacking access to traditional funding sources.

Crowdfunding architecture is a way to empower communities and gives designers the freedom to rethink traditional approaches to design problems and methods of building.

By minimizing the amount of money needed to invest in projects and opening up to the community for investment, projects are validated by their potential contributions to the community.

How do you think crowdfunding will change the field of architecture and what challenges do you think the concept faces as we look towards the future?

  • May 4 2014: Well for one if the community directly see their money going into the building then I think they would have a better sense of ownership and responsibility. I think it would cut down on public vandalism.
    • May 5 2014: Reminds me of back when the !Kung (I think--it may have been a different group within the San) were allowed to hunt local animals for sustenance. They took proprietary interest in the animals. Poachers learned that outsiders who came to take skins lost their own skins. Then environmentalists started meddling and insisted that the local animals had to be "protected" from the local people. The local people now hire themselves out to guide poachers or poach, themselves, for the international market. The locals lost their proprietary interest.
      • May 5 2014: In Africa they are teaching the locals that there is good money in nature tourism and along with it many ways for other side business adventures. So if they preserve Nature as it is the tourists will come forever, if they destroy it the people have nothing and have in effect destroyed themselves. A lesson the entire world should learn.
        • May 12 2014: So, to "preserve nature", we teach the "primitives" to be the source of entertainment for people from rich countries...
  • May 10 2014: This is a great idea, but the funds that trickle in will be a problem. The idea on an Architect Developer is what I also wanted to see, but as you know Architects rarely make enough money to pull this off. A way to accumulate funds to build projects that are beneficial to the community....that's a tough one. Could it be a habitat for humanity on steroids? I was about to write nothing is free and no one works for free, except when you look at Habit for Humanities business plan. The thing is, what you are talking about will need millions of dollars to do and not just a few hundred thousand. Maybe we already have an answer, we just need to extrapolate it. I would love to help collaborate on more ideas.
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    May 6 2014: Nice post Daniel.

    I have thought about crowdfunding in the field of solar power for homes. I'm thinking it would be important for the crowd to have similar interests and see a mutual benefit by participating. My ideal would be to a fund each project to cost threshold build rinse and repeat. The recipients of the solar power would be offered only to voluntarily feed the crowd fund for the next project. They could feed it with money or any support of their choosing or ability. Eventually, I would seek out suppliers to provide materials at reduced costs. Or if the crowd becomes large enough, we could create our own manufacturing hub. Peace to all.
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      May 30 2014: I have had a similar idea where communities come together to fund wind turbines. You can actually buy a smaller, domestic size wind turbine, that can power around 1000 homes. I am big on sustainability and bringing communities, neighbourhoods in actual fact, together to jointly fund projects that benefit their own neighbourhood. Imagine a small neighbourhood of say 100 homes, together buying a wind turbine so they never have to worry about a power bill again, plus with the money they make selling power back to the grid, fund other community projects like a community garden with the ability to use technology to grow greenhouse and seasonal veges all year round (this is perhaps where architecture could play a role). So many people are struggling with higher grocery and power bills and this could be a way to counter the problem. The other idea is taking old shut down warehouses and factories and again, having a group of people go in together to turn it into apartments, with some of the characteristics of the previous idea - solar panels and a giant roof top garden/greenhouse that could produce enough power for the entire building as well as plenty of veges. There is a massive old train building factory in my city that takes up about 3 city blocks and the council are looking at tearing it down, and some rich investors are looking at building apartments for the rich, but if the middle to lower classes got together, it could be doable, without involving rich investors who will reap all the rewards. It would be a cost-effective way for people to purchase their first home. it would be like turning a massive apartment building into a closeknit and tight community that works together to look out for each other. What a concept! Like the old neighbourhoods of our grandparents days where neighbourhoods socialised together, helped raise each others kids, BBQ'd together, looking out for each other and kept each other safe. I wish something like this existed.
  • May 5 2014: It's a crazy, silly pipe dream.

  • May 4 2014: Crowd funding has dramatic potential across the board. The first step is to build confidence that it's real, and not some internet con. The initial ones will require a lot of promotion. Every success will lower the threshold for the next. Start small for fast turn around. Start with the low hanging fruit. Pull in all your favors up front. Time to paddle hard. Once you catch the wave, you'll be the one handing out the favors.
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    S F

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    May 2 2014: Totally agree. I love the concept of crowd funding, and there are some good sites, but I really think they are not promoted well and are not really mainstream. Imagine if it was tied into twitter or facebook, where simple $ donations could instantly raise $100K or a million or more....
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    May 25 2014: Interesting proposal. I would like to see how we could go about making a community aware of a crowd sourcing project, and collect the funds. Talking about it is one thing, putting it to action is another. What do you think is the best way to accomplish it? Do you think using existing crowd sourcing services are enough, or would it be necessary to create an entirely new service? Possibly even a hybrid option?
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    May 20 2014: I do agree but I believe the building should not be so much of an art piece and more as a community garden or perhaps a pinnacle of production. that's how I'd say the money be spent still looks nice and interactive but useful.
  • May 12 2014: For larger projects with budgets in the millions, I don't see crowdfunding at the consumer level working like it does for Silicon Valley tech products on Kickstarter. There we may need to think about an architecture-specific kind of crowdfunding platform where the participants are acting more like real estate investors or shareholders, and the base donation is something more in the tens of thousands, where the understanding is that investment is a long-term commitment like property. This would open up the option of investment in building projects, which is often much more profitable than leaving your money in the bank, to that middle range of investors who are not quite professional developers but more risk-taking than the average. There was an interesting conversation with Rodrigo Nino of the 17 John project in NY about this new crowdfunding space: http://www.archdaily.com/499150/rodrigo-nino-in-defense-of-crowdsourcing-and-crowdfunding/
  • May 12 2014: There is no one solution to crowdfunding, it is simply a new model to gather funds from end-user stakeholders in ways they did not have clear access to before. Every case will be unique and the crowdfunding plan must be designed just like the building itself. I agree that starting small is better for the whole community to learn lessons together, and my studio Cloud Architecture is very excited to pave the way. Some examples:

    1. Small-scale private developments that serve a public need, like hostels, bookstores, cafes, skateparks, etc. work well under crowdfunding because local residents have vested interest in local benefits. There are also many more options for "rewards" to donors like discounts on retail and credits via plaques and websites. Cloud Architecture is working on a crowdfunding campaign to revitalize an old factory in Kamnik, Slovenia with a skatepark, hostel, and other amenities.

    2. Solar is also a great way to start crowdfunding, in the sense that there is real payback for investment when residents from solar-incompatible areas can fund panels on the rooftops of homes in sunny places like CA for families that couldn't otherwise afford the upfront costs. It's a great model that SolarCity and other big installers are looking more into.

    3. We're doing a project at Old Spitalfields Market for the London Festival of Architecture in June 2014 and we'll be doing architectural design onsite to propose solutions for revitalizing the retail space. We're going to be trying crowdfunding here, because even though it's just at the research and conceptual design phase, the community still can find vested interest in supporting fresh, new ideas in architecture, especially if the work is pro bono. We'll see how it goes and if we can reach our goal.
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    Gord G

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    May 8 2014: I would argue crowd funding isn't democratization, but rather the distribution of privilege across a bell curve.. There isn't one person, one vote.

    In terms of architecture, a sports arena could be funded on the shear volume of interest where as an art gallery would attract a select few patrons with greater resources. I don't think there is a simple answer. I suppose in the end rhetoric will prevail and in that sense it is not unlike a democracy.
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    S F

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    May 2 2014: You know...in thinking about it...some press..a deal with twitter or facebook....some great youtube videos...and a project that gets everyone talking will start the ball.
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    S F

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    May 2 2014: So, crowdfunding would be great and huge...the question is placing it in everyone's hands and finding a way to properly vet the requests to avoid people just begging for money for silly things. Properly presented ideas with sound fundamentals requiring realistic numbers.

    So imagine tying indigogo or kickstarter into facebook...and local and regions ideas are presented with an easy paypal click. In the end people with present good or bad ideas...its just tying it in. Everyday tens of millions of people go to facebook and twitter....yet...does indiegogo really get that....? nope...most people don't even know about crowdsourcing....

    its just in its infancy.
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    May 2 2014: SF, I agree. Social media is an extremely valuable resource for raising funds. Part of what makes crowdfunding such a viable option for the future of architecture financing is that it lowers the amount of risk an investor needs to take. Combine this with the broad reach of social media networks and you could easily get 1,000,000 people to give one dollar to a great idea. Traditional financing methods however are very restricting and you have to convince a few very conservative investors that your idea is not simply innovative, but also a good investment for them. Projects may begin to respond to community needs rather than the potential for profit.
  • May 2 2014: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdfunding

    "Kickstarter is the world's largest funding platform for creative projects."
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      May 4 2014: Rodrigo,

      I have found that Kickstarter's audience is very centered around technology specifically projects that provide tech products. Do you think that the architectural community would benefit from a more specialized audience of people? The changes to the JOBS act will soon allow anybody to invest in architecture and development projects in the form of equity-based crowdfunding, which is not currently offered through Kickstarter.I believe this will mark a huge change in the architectural industry as a whole.
      • May 4 2014: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumpstart_Our_Business_Startups_Act
        Crowd-funding, Kickstarter and the JOBS Act are new to me and I'm not an architect.

        I'm thinking that you are thinking about investing in an equity-based crowd-funding platform but only if the architectural community care to endorse it for financing ascetic new buildings. But what new buildings? I'm thinking about a new city library, 'neighbourhood-equity-crowd-funded', far more ascetic than something paid for by the local authority, legally entrusted to the local authority who pay for everything else including insurance. But who wants equity in a city library? What do they get out of it? So, once it is built, it is sold to the local authority at the same price as a standard ugly city library. The investors get a return and an ascetically pleasing new city library. Or to simplify it all, the extra money required to get the local authority to buy an ascetic building instead of an ugly one is raised by 'neighbourhood-donation-crowd-funding' - on Kickstarter.