Democratizing Creativity

by Chris Sharples

Whether at the object or the urban scale, the suite of tools that make possible current systems of mass‐customization have opened up an enormous range of possibilities for consumers of design. On the production side of the equation, however, the implications have largely been limited to two areas: the added value of offering greater choice to clients (or customers), and the increased freedom afforded to designers within traditional process hierarchies. Both understandings may be unnecessarily constrained; the possibility also exists, just over the horizon, for a revolution in exactly where the creative act is situated. Leveraging his experience in the field (with projects such as the modular tower known as B2 and the development of predictive zoning softwares), as well as research in pre‐modern modes of architectural production, Chris Sharples explores the possibilities that may exist for activating current and impending technologies to redistribute design decision‐making. Rather than focusing solely on an end‐user or purchaser’s choice, or the further empowerment of individual designers, for instance, is it possible to steer our new communications‐intensive means of production to create a more equitable system in which, like a return to the ethos of the medieval guilds, craft workers themselves can reclaim creative agency in the process of architectural design and construction? If the technique of mass‐customization is to expand to the scale of city‐building as a salutary force, the holistic consideration of its effects on labor and society only become more pressing.

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