Atoms are the new bits, and its relation with architecture

Atoms are the new bits, and its relation with architecture
Ponoko, Production chain 2.0

Last weekend I had the chance to spend the afternoon with a group of entrepreneurs and Chris Anderson, editor for Wired magazine and author of The Long Tail and Free, two books that define the new economies of the Internet (highly recommended if you haven´t read them yet, specially Free)

Chris did a little speech on his new research, which immediately made sense to me from an architect’s point of view. At this point, it is more than clear that the bit revolution turned our world in 360º, and thanks to the connected world it seems that the technology development curve is more steep than ever. And now, many rules of the online world are being adopted by the physical world, and according to Anderson “atoms are the new bits”.

First, it was the media revolution. Information became democratic, collaborative, the tools became free, and everyone is part of it. But how do we take this to the World (World 2.0?)? Actually… it´s happening and very close to our profession:

Google Sketchup: $0.


Download (and share) a house/building at the Open Architecture Network: $0.

3D printing of your prototypes: not $0, but the cost has fallen dramatically over the last few years. You can upload your model and get a 3d print in the mail via Shapeways, or you can even share and sell your designs for 3d printing at Ponoko.

A 3D printer costs pretty much like a plotter ($750) and you can even build your own.

And this is how the production chain starts to democratize, changing industry business models in a radical way. All of this influenced by what we saw on the web revolution.

But this goes beyond that digital fabrication, which is now pretty much standard on any architecture school, it has more to do with being part of a disaggregated, collaborative and democratic production chain.

Anderson gave two very good examples: A guy and his son wanted to do Lego scenes of his favorite video games, which include guns. Lego has banned guns on their kits as part of their policy. So, this guy decided to model their own and 3d print them for his personal use. But then he noticed that people were actually interested on these small guns, so he started to make more and more and sell them over the Internet with worldwide distribution. Now he runs Brickarms, his own company. He is part of an industry, and all he needed was a 3D modeling tool, a 3D printing system… and his motivation.

In the same way, Anderson is building an interesting project: DIY Drones, a community of hobbyists (almost like pros at this time) who are sharing and building unmanned aerial vehicles. The same ones the army is using in the Middle East, the same ones that cost billions of dollars to design and test. He even got a call from the Pentagon to be consulted on this, and you could say that DIY Drones is a new actor on a big industry.

DIY Drones

And if you need to scale, you just take your model and find a chinese supplier at Alibaba, who will do anything we need in the amounts we need, and it could even be the same factory that does pieces for Sony or Apple.

Facade elements at

Now, back to architecture.

A few days ago a friend of mine told me how his young brother who is still in middle school was very happy to have learned how to model and modify objects on Google Sketchup, something trivial for the new generations. And they could print their models if they want. And that won´t be something “new” for them, it will be something normal.

What if we take this to another scale? What if we had Gramazio & Kohler‘s robot? What if we could make our own robot?

Gramazio & Kohler's robot
Ondulating brick wall done by Gramazio & Kohler's robot

And what if our clients do it? What happens to the architect?

We have a lot to learn from this, and we should be the ones spearheading it. We should embrace this production methods an explore them fully.

The romantic view of the architect behind his drawing board was once endangered by CAD, and still a lot of people criticize 3D for not being “sensible” as the hand. I respect that, but this new revolution has nothing to do with improving the same workflow, it is something completely new in its conception.

This new world will be played with new rules, and we should be open enough to adopt them (or even define them) to be a key actor on their development instead of getting on the wagon when it is too late.

Client? DIY.

About this author
Cite: David Basulto. "Atoms are the new bits, and its relation with architecture" 11 Dec 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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