Over time, people have found many different ways to fund the construction of a building. Museums for example have long benefited from the support of deep-pocketed patrons, with The Broad Museum, a permanent public home for the renowned contemporary art collection of philanthropists Edythe and Eli Broad, being the newest example in a long history of such practices. However in our ever-more-connected world - and against a backdrop of reduced government support for creative endeavors - the onus of funding seems to be shifting once again, away from the individual and towards the crowd.
As crowdfunding makes strides in all realms of innovative enterprise, including architecture, we wanted to hear from our readers about what they thought of this new opportunity for a publicly held stake in what has historically been the realm of singular, well-heeled organizations in the form of the state or private capital. Writing about the history and current trajectories of public funding, alongside a more pointed discussion of BIG’s Kickstarter for “the world’s first steam ring generator,” we posed the question: does public funding have a place in architecture, and if so, is there a line that should be drawn?
Read on for some of the best replies.
While verdicts tend towards a general skepticism, there was not a clear or unanimous sense of objection by readers to crowdfunding in architecture. Criticism was generally voiced against specific projects, but not the overarching ethics. This outcome follows the basic tenets of public funding, that those who seek money make a pitch and either convince potential pledge makers or not.
With the main instigator for crowdfunding being projects with implied public good, but without public money, the first and most prominent issue raised was about taxes:
"I am surprised this is the first time crowd funding has been attempted for architecture, or gotten press? It's an important step forward in the inevitable future of our practice. If you think about it, crowd funded architecture is as old as architecture itself - we all pay for buildings through taxes." [Scott Smith]
Others believed that without a local consensus for crowdfunded architecture, it seems illogical that a global public should have a say in projects that ultimately have a local audience.
"It’s probably safe to say that we all pay a large portion of our income in taxes. Of course this varies depending on where you live, but generally speaking, the government probably takes a chunk of money from you each month to fund projects just like this. So what this really comes down to is a glitch somewhere in the system. Not necessarily a problem though.
"Either the public doesn’t WANT to spend its hard earned tax dollars on beautifying an industrial power plant, or the public doesn’t have a SAY in how it’s tax dollars are spent. OR, the government isn’t taking enough money from its citizens to give them what it wants. I think an inquiry into the root of the cause is necessary before we can say whether a crowdfunded solution is appropriate. If the citizens of Copenhagen don’t want it (or at least can’t justify paying for it), then what right does BIG have to ask for money from patrons outside of Copenhagen?
"The idea of crowdfunded architecture gaining momentum in the future seems like a symptom of a very broken system. What business do people have paying for public buildings in other regions that they don’t use? And if it’s really important to the community and actually desired, where is the government and why aren’t they being persuaded to step in and pay for it?" [Joshua Young]
In larger projects, where a lack of funds may indicate the absence of support by those footing the bill, many wondered if architects themselves should be responsible for funding or if crowdfunding is just another form of advertising for media hype.
"Crowdfunding is intended to allow small people doing big things. Here a BIG company uses the platform to fund a ridiculously small amount compared to the overall budget. They use Kickstarter to advertise their own design, that's all. Just [as] if multinationals start to misuse crowdfunding, it will no longer be available for small players with little visibility. That would be a shame." [Tai Manu]
"'...they can’t spend money on art' This is only funding for the 1/3 scale prototype. Who will pay for the final thing then? This is nothing but a media stunt - or BIG is in trouble if they can't upfront $15,000 for the prototype?" [Morten]
The most optimistic were either thrilled by a particular design or eager to see how crowdfunding can shape the future of architecture.
"With this campaign Ingels is capturing the very essence of participatory design. If anything, this is exactly what crowdfunding should be about. In an age where the state no longer funds great civic projects as it used to (eg. all the new european museums are private institutions) and where developers are more concerned with making money than improving the built environment, I think crowdfunding has the potential to play a very important role in the future of architecture." [Roberto]