Open-source urban commons co-production, or in short, open-source urbanism is defined as “a citizen-driven co-production of urban spaces as urban commons and their design documentation as freely used and shared knowledge commons”

In simpler terms, open-source urbanism is an approach or a technique based on the association of technology and the citizens of an urban environment. It is a way to achieve transparent development in the urban scenario that caters to the needs of its residents and can alter itself with time.

Open-source Architecture

Pritzker prize winner Alejandro Aravena worked on the incremental Quinta Monroy Housing in ChileHis firm released the plans of their project for anyone to freely download it from their website. It was done to tackle the issue of affordable housing. This is an example of open-source architecturea concept that combines design and technology with practices and ideas from open-source projects to reframe architectural design as a collective and collaborative endeavour. 

It focuses on the cultural, social and physical context of a structure and is developed based on the people occupying the area. It is non-restrictive, provides more freedom, is affordable and integrates technology. The difference between open-source architecture and vernacular architecture is that open-source architecture incorporates present-day technology for more rapid growth and is up to date with the problems of its residents. 

Vernacular architecture uses traditional building methods that may or may not cater to current living conditions. Either way, both are citizen-centred movements that involve residents throughout the construction process rather than following a linear process.

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Quinta Monroy Housing_©

Technology and open-source Urbanism

Housing is only one part of an urban area. The concept of open-source urbanism allows a direct thread of communication between urban developers and users. This communication is made easy with the use of technology. One can immediately send across images and feedback, creating a common ground and a better understanding which results in faster and fruitful development of an area. 

This exchange of thought helps create a massive network of information for a city making it easier to find loopholes or areas of concern to everyone in that city. These changes can be recorded and displayed visually through maps, graphs, videos and so on.

There are seven dimensions of open-source urbanism: open data, software, platforms, standards, collaborative research, fund support and education. It is based on the principles of openness, collaboration, modularity, granularity and low-cost integration. What makes open-source urbanization different from a traditional linear approach is that it emphasises public participation, develops a relationship between residents and the city and shows how the city reacts to its inhabitants’ requirements. 

By taking the users feedback and calculating footfall, any common space can transform into a design that smoothes out issues faced earlier. Parks, transport systems, housing, commercial areas, water and waste management systems, electricity grids, offices, educational institutes, and so many others fall under the bracket of the urban context. A majority of these spaces need to be updated at regular intervals. Mapping this data with technology makes finding the root of the problem easier and faster.

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Now the idea of collecting data from residents regularly and making required changes may seem a bit daunting. But the technology made available to the public remains simple. The idea is to urbanize technology as well. It untangles the problems faced by any average person via user-friendly means, by using advanced technology. Once each area is analyzed, a different proposal is suggested based on the needs. 

Since the entire city is changing in small fragmented sections, there is a lot of variety and diversity visible. Each part of the city grows in its unique way, yet unified with the rest of the city.

An example of open-source urbanism is the Prototype. The aim is to make abandoned or unsafe spaces lively. This is done by installing data collection devices within the ground and on the roof. The ground is covered by tiles that collect, store and share information. The roof has an interactive LED that shows energy generation patterns with various colours. The information collected is updated in the app. People who enter these spaces can customize their patterns, hence revealing the most used or safe path. 

Another example is Wheelmap, a platform where people can rate a place based on their wheelchair accessibility. Inclusive design strategies change the game of mobility and interactive spaces. Making flexible designs helps in bringing society together and reflects the city’s behaviour towards its inhabitants.

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Urban development directly impacts the economic growth of a place and vice versa. The need for urban transformation came from the social, cultural and economic crisis that led to the rethinking of spaces. Ecological and economical strategies are presently required. Open-source urbanism seems to be a practical solution that can be implemented but the usage of technology has its own set of risks. Residents may or may not be comfortable sharing their daily routes and might view this as an invasion of privacy. 

However, the rapid rate of urban development, transparency, and comfortable life for the residents of a city and their involvement in the development of their city probably outweighs its negatives. Open-source urbanism is simply an amalgamation of computer science and social science. It creates urban cities that have been built by their residents as per their conveniences. 


Kavya Turaga is a third year architecture student from Bangalore. She believes that every building has a story and a soul, which helps in understanding its unique character. She finds inspiration in the smallest of things and is passionate about architectural photography.