The computer industry has borrowed terminology from the discipline of architecture to describe structural and conceptual workings of electronic computational machines and its designers: computer architecture and software architects.

Now, what if architecture borrowed popular terminology from the discipline of computer science

The idea has its genesis in the comparison between a computer microprocessor and a city, where, looking down upon the microcosm of a microchip, one sees a city plan with its interrelating streets, buildings, and infrastructure.

But this paradigmatic model stops inside the heart of every computer. It remains invisible to the computer using community at large because it is locked-away from most, and thus this conceptual connection remains mysterious.

But what if architecture were instead more like the computer itself, where the desktop of each computer is a city-state of sorts, with each software program being its own architecture, each software file its own building…

This viewpoint borrows from Rudolf Arnheim’s idea of architecture as an interface.1 In this case, the computer interface becomes an architectural interface, and the software program becomes an architectural program, of function, aesthetics, and structure.

Each software program can then be seen as a building with its own specific architecture, and the operating system as an amalgamation of different buildings and architectures in a city plan, and more- as different computers are internetworked, they become a mirror of the plan of a local and global state, connected via an infrastructure of servers, routers, and hubs…

In effect, then, by reciprocally borrowing some terminology from the field of computer popular culture, such as interface and programming, architects can begin “seeing” the discipline of architecture anew, from a different perspective, in relation to the ubiquitous computer.

Ultimately, doing so necessitates we analyze the computer operating system, the meta-software which orchestrates the running of other software on a machine, as a determinant of the possible programs or architectures that can be designed and built in a computer-based environment.

There are at least two choices of operating systems (OS) that exist today: proprietary and open-source. The Microsoft OS and the Linux OS represent these two different models, respectively.

Microsoft is appealing an anti-trust ruling for alleged monopoly power over 80 percent of computer desktop operating systems in the world. Microsoft is accused of inflating software prices and illegally quashing competition and innovation from outsiders.

It is ironic, then, that Bill Gates, who is speculated to become the world’s first trillionaire given enough time, has stepped down as Chief Executive Officer and added the position of Chief Software Architect to his title, in addition to being the Chairman of Microsoft.

What do these metaphors mean?

Of course, a comparison can be made between Microsoft Chairman and a well known Chairman and founder of the Communist party. And surely has been made before that Microsoft acts like a pseudo-Communist state, tightly controlling the development of software for the Microsoft OS, so much so that the system becomes corrupt from the top-down, with every bit of power and wealth going back to the state, or in this case Microsoft as state, leaving the individual a servant of the state and not vice-versa.

Further, if one is going to “develop” software programs that run under the Microsoft OS then, one needs to be in collusion with the ideals and ideology of the Microsoft way of seeing. The licensing of Microsoft’s proprietary source-code to software developers is under a type of total control. This concentrates the wealth generated from the platform, so much so that Bill Gate’s is the world’s richest person given a good day on the stock market, with a net worth of around 80 billion U.S. dollars, more than many countries.

The economic, social, and political nature of Microsoft’s proprietary computer code, a type of intellectual property, can then be seen as a type of communist governance of the state of the computer, where the flag of Windows represents the spread of both an ideology and an empire replete with programming bugs, protected markets, dumping, and corrupt institutions; a type of legalized pyramid scheme.

But that’s the old conceptual model, what about architecture- what does it mean that Microsoft metaphor has now changed from CEO to Chief Software Architect?

Bill Gates decision to work on the future development of Microsoft software products as Chief Software Architect refers most directly to the definition of an architect as a master builder… and this ultimately relates directly to the “development” of the real estate of the computer screen, as it is governed by the Microsoft OS.

Each software program developed for the Microsoft OS can then be seen as a kind of building with its own architecture. And the Microsoft estate directs all building development. The proprietary OS is the totalized master plan.

To be a part of the building process, a licensed “developer” must follow the rules and regulations set forth by Microsoft. The computer desktop then becomes a visible city, populated by software programs (architectures) and their files (buildings), which compose the Microsoft city-state, all of which are designed to work together in a completely planned development. ­† This makes for a company town on a scope never seen before in history, with inhabitants in the hundreds of millions.

The Internet was supposed to change all of this. But instead, the planned development of the Microsoft OS continued through its proprietary system of order and control also known as the Internet Explorer browser. Microsoft’s empire keeps growing exponentially, even to this day, industrializing and privatizing computer real estate all around the world.

What has changed is that the predominant Microsoft OS ceased being Windows, and instead became the Internet Explorer web browser. Internet Explorer pushed Microsoft’s way of seeing the web into 70+ percent of the Internet browser market, defeating its rival Netscape (and others) by giving away, or dumping, their proprietary software to capture the majority rule of the marketplace.

Populated Internet markets began to become homogenized by e-commerce and commercialization, with Microsoft leading the way, transforming everything in its strategic path. Whole industries were taken on, and soon Microsoft began diversifying in everything from entertainment and real estate to banking and car sales on and off the Internet, in addition to forging ahead with its usual computer hardware and software alliances.

This diversification of Microsoft into industries other than computers signals the switch from a product-centered OS, Windows, to a services-based software program that acts like the OS of the Internet, Internet Explorer (IE).

This new software architecture enables the user to access any site in the world accessible on the Internet, made by Microsoft or not, but does not appear to threaten the monopoly Microsoft has with its indebted users. This is because Microsoft’s new strategy remains within the context of the privatized computer desktop (city-state) created by the Microsoft OS, the Internet Explorer browser only extends the reach of this private estate.

Bill Gates, the Chief Software Architect of Microsoft, is a master builder who has designed and realized a proprietary state of total architecture.

There seems to be little stopping Microsoft’s expansion of the wall it builds around its electronic empire under the Windows flag.

And many people are defensive about questioning this successive business model, but some are not-

The surprise challenger to the hegemony of the Microsoft OS is grassroots computer operating system- the Linux OS.

Instead of a private organization of total control from the top-down, the Linux OS is the ongoing result of a collective of thousands of computer programmers working from the bottom-up.

And unlike Microsoft’s heavily guarded proprietary source code, the computer code for the Linux OS is open-source, meaning that it is publicly available to programmers who want to develop the software architecture in order to optimize its performance or extend its different tasks.

Not only is the software of the Linux OS theoretically less buggy, but the wealth of its development is being spread out beyond the workers, to potentially include the computer using community, as it promises to bring down the price of computers to new lows, making the possibility of a mass-market affordable Internet appliance a probability.

In a sense, the Linux OS is equivalent to the democratic development of the real estate of the computer, as it represents equal rights for programmers and wide-ranging freedoms of individual and collective development. ­† Additionally, because it is open-source and ruled by no one in particular and everyone all at once, there is a communal sense that the intellectual property of the Linux OS is public property, and a shared endeavor.

The spirit of innovation in the computer industry has in part been freed with the Linux OS, as hardware vendors and software programmers are finally given a viable mass-market option to the Microsoft model of development. ­† Software programs are daily being ported over to the open plan of the Linux OS, with many of Microsoft’s traditional allies crossing over the line.

This shift signals a strategic movement in the mass marketplace of computers and ideas, away from the proprietary model of development, and towards open-source software architecture.

But what does this have to do with architecture, besides some mixed and muddled metaphors?

There are several parallels to be drawn between proprietary and open-source development, and the reigning institution of architectural thought.

Like the Microsoft OS, architectural ideas and ideologies are often proprietary, belonging to a tradition of hierarchical, privatized, and elitist states of mind that then become schools of thought, upon which people pay to become “educated” or indoctrinated in this insular marketplace of ideas.

Although there are a plurality of architectural “developers,” they all continue to develop the same old institution of architecture, over and over again, waving the flag of revolutionary rhetoric, while entrenched in the ways of prevailing political, economic, and social system of operation.

Students, professors, architects, critics, developers, and clients are given little option of another model of architectural thought besides that of the established state of the profession, centuries old.

Other “issues” which question the current economic, social, or political system of operation are considered outside the “programmatic” and ideological functions of the discipline of architecture as it operates day-to-day. And thus the institution remains as it is, as it has been handed down to its willing disciples, a privatized architectural source code.

This traditional way of seeing architecture ignores realities outside of its walled boundaries, and establishes a privatized state of architectural mind.

Global warming, energy inefficiency, pollution, waste, homelessness- these are not within the domain of Architecture, so says the silent majority, heading the calls of a vocal minority of architectural ideologues subjectively determining what is and what is not Architecture from atop the global pyramid scheme.

Everybody becomes an accomplice to this state of mind, because there is no other choice for development…

That is primarily because the architectural “debate” is a protected market, created to sell architectural stars and world-class architectural monuments to the masses, along with coffee table books and luxury goods designed by the elite name brand architects. This diversification of merchandising only fuels the “development” of certain kinds of architecture, in the books, in the schools, in the cities, in the minds, and with enough time and representation a movement or style is created and sustained by which others can emulate their way up the ladder of architectural fame. Those with a different worldview are told to conform or to leave the profession.

This model of development, which protects the power, and prestige of a few architectural monopolists can potentially be changed, given the opportunity…

The crux of the problem centers on the proprietary role of architectural ways of seeing in the realm of architectural discourse, manifesting itself within a privatized architectural source code for all new development.

The architectural institutions- is they universities, organizations, or critics- insulates the architectural discourse from dissent, while legitimating those ideas that support their own systems of operation, with total authority.

The powerful inhabitants of the architectural pantheon are thus protected from having to answer basic questions regarding mission critical economic, social, and political realities because such musings are deemed outside the rules of the oligarchic game of the architecture.

The Internet has changed all of this. New avenues for architectural ideation have formed outside of the traditional institutions of architecture. New, more democratic forums for architectural discourse, such as the Design-List for art and architecture, are leading the way to a new, public model of architectural thought, and architectural development in general.2

The next step, mirroring the transformation of the computer industry by the Linux OS, requires opening up the architectural discourse to all architectural “programmers” who hack and crack the open-source architectural code.

This new model of architectural development no longer bases itself on private property, is it a building or a text, guarded and copyrighted.

Instead, open-source architecture is founded on the public, democratic, and collaborative research and development of architecture by a collective of hundreds of internetworked individuals- lay people, students, professors, administrators, architects, developers, researchers, theorists, and critics- so as to address the pressing issues the discipline needs to address, or else face its own existential extinction.

This new way of seeing is actually an old way, in that architects have a tradition of freely copying what is best in a design and bringing it forward in time, again and again, mutated and altered, but utilized and optimized.

Like its software equivalent, the newly incarnated open-source architecture would fulfill the need for a democratic grassroots architecture, empowering the individual and community, while having the architectural state serve the people and not the other way around.

A soft revolution, open-source architecture is still potently able to compete and survive while facing and fighting the protected markets of proprietary intellectuals, monopoly power, staid institutions, and elitist ideologies…

Let one thousand open-source architectural programmers bloom for each and every entrenched architectural statesmen, acting as the checks and balances of the architectural operating system— away with the elitism, perception management, and proprietary ideology of the reigning architectural establishment!

The new order of development has arrived, and it is open-source. With it comes a renewed freedom in the marketplace of ideas— the intellectual bubble economy of the master builders and their emulators will finally burst!

It is time for the disciples of architecture to innovate, evolve, and mutate- to wrestle control of our public destiny away from the private architectural pirates of civilization… 3

Doing so requires institutions of architecture democratize their systems of operation- to level the elitist hierarchies of power by declaring architectural programmers equals of one another, working on common and public goals in our rapidly developing civilization.

Now is the time to realize an open-source architecture as the destiny of the collective of individual architectural programmers, publicly hacking and cracking the architectural code, within the multidisciplinary internetwork.

An economic, social, and political architecture will surely follow…

  • 1. Rudolf Arnheim, The Dynamics of Architectural For
  • 2. Design-L:
  • 3. Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth