To start a revolution, the best weapon is patience. Promoting collaborative urban planning for the past 15 years, Alain Renk hits the mark with Wikibuilding. This project, conceived for the future Paris Rive Gauche in the Reinventing Paris competition, has just been pre-selected.
“There are still people who say we lack a Haussmann,” says Alain Renk, only half-joking. For the urban planner and architect programmer, the orderly architectured model defined by the baron and former governor of Napoleon III belongs to the past. Fanatic about new technologies and an ardent promoter of collective urbanism, he is fighting to bring architecture into the 21st century—beginning with his first great success, seeing his Wikibuilding among the 76 innovative projects selected for the Reinventing Paris competition.
His ambition is no less than to turn 7 billion Earthlings into urban planners. Or at least, to get them involved in designing their habitat. “The way of urban planning is neither up to par nor in proportion to the need,” says Renk. To carry out his plan, he surrounded himself with a galaxy of organizations, as if bearing arms: UFO (Urban Fabric Organisation), a start-up that designs collaborative digital tools; HOST, an architecture agency; 7 billion urbanists, a collective that includes architects, sociologists, philosophers and computer programmers.
In architecture, while the collaborative model is somewhat recognized in the field of research, it struggles to get a practical foothold. “I almost closed the agency several times, the owners are pretty flexible with the rent. I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, but nobody understood. I thought I would change my profession.”
The recently announced pre-selection of Wikibuilding could change all that. The City of Paris’ Reinventing Paris competition encourages new ways of innovation. Jean-Louis Missika, deputy mayor in charge of urban planning, explains his vision of innovation in the field of architecture: “First it’s about practical innovation (…), the sharing economy applied to new ways of living, new ways of working. Coworking, telecommuting, working remotely, fablabs. Even new ways of doing business. There’s a whole field to explore.”
Prototyping, open data and updating the building
Whether or not the project becomes reality, UFO has already developed tools to allow civil society to participate in Wikibuilding. The questionnaire is available online, and the results are open data. We learn that 39 % of respondents would like to see a fablab come out of Wikibuilding, while 63 % favor a “convivial space” such as a bar or restaurant, and that bicycles are more popular than cars (63 % to 8 %).
UFO is also making available for the project its “star product” Unlimited Cities, an app that lets users interact with a map of the neighborhood—more or less dense, type of transportation, vegetation or neighborhood life. A 3D—and open source—map is also under construction.
On the bottom floors of Wikibuilding, a cluster of businesses, start-ups and a coworking space will be managed by a “building community manager”. In the residential part, apartments can be updated like software. Interior partitions, designed by the architects of Volumes, can be moved to adapt to changing circumstances (a child moving out from the family household, live-in nurse, etc). An IRL Living Lab would serve as an experimental laboratory for the community.
Recently in Wroclaw, Poland, for WRO Biennale 2015, Renk was invited to talk about Wikibuilding during the Hacking of the Social Operating System symposium. It was then that he began a collaboration with WRO Art Center to imagine the future artistic program of Wikibuilding.
«Electr°cute», performance by Katarzyna Justka integrated into Wikibuilding, WRO Biennale 2015 (Poland):
If he wins over the market, Renk hopes to make Wikibuilding Paris the first of a new generation of buildings. A prototype distributed worldwide thanks to open source data. If not in Paris, it will happen elsewhere, he warns. The wiki revolution has begun.
The end of experts
Its origins are diverse. First, American tactical urban planning, which advocates low cost, hyper local and participative action, symbolized by Parking Days. It’s also about urban acupuncture, which “revives the whole city by acting on specific points”. Finally, UFO envisions collaborative urban planning and open source architecture.
For Renk, it’s time to implement collective intelligence. 54 % of the world’s population lives in urban areas. In 1960, we were only 34 %. The trend follows the curves. “It’s impossible to strategize urban planning exclusively among experts, including large-scale projects such as Grand Paris,” says Renk. “Experts spend a lot of time trying to understand what’s going on in society—which is good, that’s analysis. But they’ll synthesize this raw data, they’ll check if it doesn’t rattle the politician who commissioned the project, they’ll discover some weak signals. All this good information will be filtered by people who, by the end of their study, want to find a world that they know, that doesn’t scare them. We didn’t want to work that way. So we said, let’s get the data directly from the source and work with the people who are inventing the world of tomorrow.”
What is school like in the age of MOOC?
Placing collaboration at the heart of the city in order to reinvent it. “How do we learn, how do we live, how do we develop? Digital isn’t just an iPhone or wifi, it’s the world that’s changing.” It’s not the walls that need to be modelized, Renk believes, it’s human interactions. What will school be like in the age of MOOC? Do we really want more parking when car-sharing develops?
“We don’t understand why we’re asked to build things that we’ll see disappearing shortly after,” Renk continues, ranting about the Smart City, which has become Bug City. “Smart City is a marketing concept that targets passive payers—a species, I hope, on its way to extinction. We want to talk about the Sustainable City 3.0—except that we skipped the phase City 2.0. So we’re trying to make it exist.”