The New World of Building Design

The idea of crowdsourcing is to distribute the labor for a common project across a crowd of workers through an open call. Even if the practice is not in the mainstream yet, we can expect it to have an effect on design and engineering in the AEC industry. First practical applications are there already.

Models of crowdsourcing

There are four major models of crowdsourcing: Microtasks, Macrotasks, Crowdfunding, and Contests. Microtasks are small portions of a project. They last from a few seconds to over 30 minutes. Macrotasks can take several days or weeks to complete. Kickstarter is a well-known example of crowdfunding.

Perhaps the most controversial form of crowdsourcing, from professional designers’ point of view, is contest. If a client wants to have a logo designed by a professional they can post a brief to services like DesignCrowd or 48hourslogo and get over 100 competing designs, pick the winner, and pay a moderate fee.

Arcbazar -crowdsourced architectural design

Crowdsourced contests entered the architectural design scene in 2010 when Arcbazar was founded. Design competitions are nothing new to the industry, but now consumers or companies can get designs for their remodeling or small building project from a pool of 5,000 designers worldwide.

As a client you can upload your design brief and other info to the site and launch a competition. The duration of the competition depends on your project. You can receive entries for a conceptual idea in three to five days. More work-intensive projects can take up to 12 weeks.

Arcbazar has set award levels for projects depending on their type and size. The award sum is around 2 percent of the construction cost for small-scale projects (with up to $50,000 of construction budget). The award will be divided between the three contestants that you’ve ranked highest. The winner will receive 60 percent, the runner-up 30 percent, and the third 10 percent of the award sum. The designers participate for free.

The identities of the client and the designers are kept confidential. Each participant gets an alias for each competition they enter.

The worst thing to happen to architecture?

Is Arcbazar “the worst thing to happen to architecture since the internet started,” as Dwell magazine wrote about the launch of the site? I would not paint such a grim picture, even if I can understand the doubts professional designers might have.

Let’s face it. Buying architectural services is not exactly easy for a layman. Neither is selling to a consumer. Lowering the threshold increases interest in design and gives more opportunities for students and professionals to connect with potential clients.

The biggest worries among professionals seem to be the quality and the price of design. Arcbazar does not require that designers are registered architects. The assessment of the quality is the client’s responsibility.

The pricing for small projects varies in any case, but services like this will set some standards. According to Arcbazar: “As a client you will benefit in two key ways: First, you will get more than one single design solution; and, second, you can get these design solutions at a dramatically lower price range compared to traditional design acquisition channels.”

Arcbazar has been the first of its kind in architectural design. Is Arcbazar a vanguard of a disruptive change or just a passing fad? I believe that crowdsourcing is not going away, on the contrary. In the future it will not be limited to individual or small clients, but professional clients will adopt it as well. Not on every project, but in cases where it makes sense.

Image: iStockphoto