Open Source | White House Redux Competition

This section contains an brief introduction into the project.


Open Source Architecture

After an incubational period of two decades, the open-source movement emerged on to the public arena. It revolutionized the private and commercial end of networking, and introduced quality software alternatives that loom jeopardy on the stance of many of the industry’s giants. Patrons of the movement may take pride in greatly progressing the state of software technologies, while remaining affordable and attainable. Today many enjoy the freely available quality tools while the conscription rates grow, both of end users as well as those involved in the process.

A simple developmental model makes the open-source possible. It bestows involved results, and creates unorthodox cultural bonds and cultural ethics, which seem preferable to many. Herein, a question arises: can one study this phenomenon and employ its prominent concepts in other fields, such the architecture?

Free Redistribution is facet of every publicly targeted institution. Cultural centers, public school, swimming pools, city squares, beaches and other entities, all allow democratic use their property. A road is yet another great example of a medium offering every freedom of use, while using non discriminative laws to optimize commute.

Analogously, the concept of Source Code is readily found in the everyday practice of architecture in forms of drawings, agendas, documentations, ideas, specifications, and material libraries. However, none of the above, with the seldom exception of ‘ideas’, are freely redistributable, publicized, or allow for criticism and input akin to what an open-source model offers. The architectural practice, today, is skewed towards personal benefit and gratification of individual architects. Thus, the laws protect creative property, on one hand, but are constricting and oppose collaborative creativity that could contribute more rapidly to architectural theory and practice.

Moreover, architectural practice could benefit greatly from the transparency of process that open-source module employs. If the design processes, planning, and the general production sequence from design to construction were observable, architects would take on pedagogical role as well. That is especially important in architecture, where training is not a straight forward process.

Project Description:

White House Redux Competition and Open Source

The project is an exploration carried out to challenge my (arch1karch1k) architectural masters thesis, which deals with the open source phenomenon and ways in which it could inform today's architectural practice. You are invited to partake in this investigation and explore new ways of exchanging ideas, designing, discussing, building, and transforming the architectural zeitgeist altogether.

Since this discourse is really about redefining the design process, any project could be taken as a subject of study. However, we are going to partake in the competition held by Storefront For Art And Architecture and called White House Redux. It will serve a healthy level of realism,needed for for a true experiment, while the values attributed to the White House seem to walk hand-in-hand with the principles cherished by the open source movement. Further is the competition brief:

What if the White House, the ultimate architectural symbol of political power, were to be designed today? On occasion of the election of the 44th President of the United States of America, Storefront for Art and Architecture, in association with Control Group, challenge you to design a new residence for the world's most powerful individual. The best ideas, designs, descriptions, images, and videos will be selected by some of the world's most distinguished designers and critics and featured in a month-long exhibition at Storefront for Art and Architecture in July 2008 and published in Surface magazine. All three winners will be flown to New York to collect their prizes at the opening party. Register now and send us your ideas for the Presidential Palace of the future!

Few people realize the extent of the White House, since much of it is below ground or otherwise concealed by landscaping. The White House includes: Six stories and 55,000 square feet of floor space, 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms, 412 doors, 147 windows, twenty-eight fireplaces, eight staircases, three elevators, five full-time chefs, a tennis court, a bowling alley, a movie theater, a jogging track, a swimming pool, and a putting green. It receives about 5,000 visitors a day.

The original White House design, by James Hoban, was the result of a competition held in 1792. Over the centuries, presidents have added rooms, facilities and even entire new wings, turning the White House into the labyrinthine complex it is today.

What if, instead of in 1792, that competition were to be held today? What would a White House designed in 2008, year of election of the 44th President of the United States, look like?

You are, of course, free to make your own submissions to the White House Redux competition and you are welcome to use the material digested here. That said, please give the appropriate credit to the parties involved, as well as, please be kind to inform us of your progress as it is crucial for my(arch1karch1k) thesis research and our progress as an open source community. This is a non profit project in which all of it's participants will be given the appropriate credit (unless otherwise wished).


If you decided to participate …

  • Progress Log contains all the up-to-date to content. You are welcome to download and upload any 3D models, videos, hand drawings, architectural drawings, photographs, or anything else that may help you express your ideas and progress the design.
  • 3D models posted can be of any known format. If possible try to stick with blender (*.blend) or SketchUp(*.skp) files since those are freely available. Please let me (arch1karch1k) know if you need any of the files converted into a particular format for you.
  • Ideas section is a good place for brainstorming and posting ideas.

Thank you for any contribution on your part!!!


A project that investigates the open-source movement to find possible parallels in architecture would consider the following two strategies: superficial and symbiotic. The first translates the modes of operation of open-source into a diagrammatic formula, which later becomes the anatomy and organizing principles of architectural spaces. The results would feature programmatic flexibility, explored by such architects as Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, 1970, in Centre Georges Pompidou, Cedric Price, XXXX, in Fun Palace, and Constant Nieuwenhuys from Situationist International with his New Babylon, XXXX. Even earlier, “For many modern architects it was the orthogonal grid itself that acted as the paradigm of the open non-hierarchical horizontal system extending infinitely…”(The Architectural Brain, Network Practices Mark Wiley, p32).

Conversely, the symbiotic approach doesn't abstract the open-source model. It, rather, employs open-source as an ad hoc medium to facilitate the design process. As a result, the projects are open only throughout the design phase, allowing collaboration of the lead architect with others. Typically, the contributing bodies, who are architects or otherwise involved, seek no reward while the project benefits from an array of inputs and critique. Recently, due to the arising awareness of global housing crises and in search for a housing solutions in case of natural disasters, such symbiotic implementation of opens source began gaining popular acclaim. Cameron Sinclair, a co-founder of Architecture for Humanity(AFH), developed a global humanitarian open-source network "…where architects, governments and NGOs can share and implement design plans…", '…offering innovative solutions to housing problems in all corners of the globe." ( Some of the examples are the Siyathemba for South Africa, The Rural Center of Excellence in Tanzania, and the Biloxi Model Program to rebuild after hurricane Katrina.

Buckminster Fuller "devoted his career to modeling such three-dimensional networks and testing new ways of occupying them.". He ofter would photograph himself standing within modular steel framework attempting to look comfortable. Such explorations of inhabiting space frame architecture can be summarized as "…unconscious attempt to visibly model the invisible electronic networks that increasingly defined contemporary life." (The Architectural Brain, Network Practices, Mark Wiley, p33). Unfortunately, the line between architecture and these sculptures is such that the later is uninhabitable, and should remain strictly representational. The open source translated into this superficial architecture avoids dealing with circulation, social interaction, and multiplicity of uses.

Most exquisitely, the open-source model epitomizes the modernist concept of intertextuality as it was introduced first by Julia Kristeva, who's contribution to the modern architecture, and especially, to post-structuralist theory is invaluable . Subsequently, Ronald Barthes elaborated that "…all texts are made of fragments of other texts and are thus necessarily intertextual…" and the reproduction of text is "…a premutative operation of the 'deconstruction-reconstruction' of former texts…"(Transpositions, Louis Martin). Hence the synthesis of open-source and architecture is an anticipated progression of the aforementioned. Regrettably, neither symbiotic nor superficial models exercise intertextuality sufficiently.

Whereas, the utilization of the open source networks for architectural discourse serves as a proven business model. Symbiotic use takes only limited advantage of the open-source phenomenon. It is namely a facultative ectosymbisis, which treats the collaboration as parasitical and an optional resource. Little is earned by the contributing community, while the finalization of the designs remains a discretion of the architects in chief, regardless of the other parties' ambitions. Furthermore, akin of the open-sourced software, the architectural drawings, or their sources, are replicable, but useless upon construction, or, in other words, compilation. A software developer is free to use the source code of a product to develop their own version of a program, having no obligations to the creator. However, the physical construction is available only to those in power or the resources to act. As a result, the architectural source remains open strictly 'on paper', perhaps, leaving the venture open for the superficial approach. Ultimately, current state of affairs offers no perfect synthesis of open-source and architecture.

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