Originally published in LOBBY No. 5 "Faith", Fall 2016
A lot has been said lately about the sharing economy and the impact that it is having in the development of the cities that we are inhabiting. In an opinion piece in The Independent last May, Associate Editor Hamish McRae claimed that something big is going on when the world’s largest taxi firm (uber) owns no taxis, and the world’s largest provider of accommodations (airbnb) owns no properties. I agree with his assessment. Something big is going on, indeed. That something, however, is affecting much more than just the economy, it is changing the very notions of space and our relationship to it that have been dogmatic for centuries. We are witnessing the birth of an architecture where public and private spaces are no longer living side-by side as they did in the past; nor are they sharing a blurred boundary, as they had been doing more recently. The economic benefit brought by the elimination of the boundaries has outweighed the costs imposed by the revered architectural canon of the private-public dichotomy. Welcome to the age of the architecture of good faith.
The architecture of good faith is what happens when people open the doors of their house to complete strangers to share their home for two days after meeting on airbnb. It can be seen in the boom of shareable workspaces from companies like wework. It is also palpable in realms that are not normally considered within the architectural discourse, but that are nonetheless spatial enclosures, like when the intimate space of a private car is opened to a stranger who needs a ride through uber. The architecture of good faith is not a style, although it could eventually shape new forms of spaces that we haven’t conceived yet. The architecture of good faith is a way of inhabiting intimate spaces in close proximity to a stranger without feeling exposed or threatened.
The dogma that ruled the architectural discourse before this new age had been simple: spaces have an inherent degree of privacy. It was one of the few precepts of architecture that everyone knew, even those with no education in the field. I remember my grandmother when I was little, before going into the home of one of her friends, warning me not to go into the bedroom, open the closet doors or the dresser drawers. Those spaces were not for me to be looking into, they were private. I also remember that the rules that applied when I visited my Grandmother’s friend’s house were not applicable when I visited my Aunt’s house. There, I could even crawl under the bed! As I grew older, I understood that the degree of access that I received to the spaces was directly proportional to the proximity and trust that I had with the owner of the space. The more elements that united us –the more they knew me—the less of a threat I became, and I could dive deeper into their space. This was the architecture of common faith.
What catalyzed the beginning of the age of the architecture of good faith? I see it tied to the surge of the sharing economy. In a recent lecture at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York City, Craig Nevill-Manning, Engineering Director at Google, suggested that the sharing movement started with the inception of eBay in 1995. He argued that eBay challenged people to trust that a stranger from the other side of the world would mail them merchandise after they paid for it online. The system, in order to be successful, demanded lots of good faith from both the customers and the sellers. Looking back, we can see that the strategy was successful, the majority of the merchandise was delivered, and the candle of good faith was lit in the minds of consumers worldwide.
Given the fact that we now know how much to our favor good faith is working in entrepreneurial terms, I suggest we write the dogmas that will guide the development of this new age of architecture. Can you imagine how much space we can afford to not build if we start thinking about our houses as spaces that can have a different purpose when they are empty while we go to work? I know, it sounds silly that an architect would argue in favor of not building, but think about it for a second! Could the staff of a daycare center come to my house and use the building as a place to take care of children while I am away working? Could we turn office buildings that are empty at night into libraries where low-income kids could access computers? Could we turn the empty pews in every cathedral into beds for the homeless at night? Can we turn an empty football field into a vast picnic area?
The architecture of good faith will maximize the use of space, resources, and materials, especially in very dense urban centers where undeveloped land might be preserved as parkland. One point for the environment! The architecture of good faith will foster social connections between strangers who find themselves sharing spaces. One point for humanity! The architecture of good faith will kindle the imagination of architects to produce versatile spaces with more than one user in mind. One point for architecture!
Environment. Humanity. Architecture. Are you ready to join the cult?