Distributed design: Commotion Construction Kit
Architizer recently published an opinion piece by our own Nina Bianchi and Open Technology Institute senior field analyst Greta Byrum. In it, they explore how a collaborative team of designers, urban planners, tinkerers and techies created a set of tools to help any neighborhood build its own state-of-the-art IT infrastructure:
Urban planners and designers generally don’t give much thought to communications infrastructure—it’s difficult to understand and outside of our core expertise. But as technology becomes increasingly essential to community health and development, urbanism professionals have an opportunity to experiment with a powerful new medium, and to interact with communities in new and more participatory ways.
For the past few years, we have been working on the Commotion project, an open-source software that allows anyone to create fully scalable, local, distributed, DIY wireless networks throughout a building, a neighborhood, or even a city. Communities can use the resulting networks to design applications for anything from collecting local environmental quality data using easy-to-build sensors to creating a local digital library or a local private and secure chat service.
But there’s a lot of work that goes into building a network, even once you have the software ready to go. You need to be able to organize your community, fundraise, climb around on rooftops to install hardware, and configure your computer equipment and software—not to mention answer questions like “What exactly is a network and what are the benefits?” And once you have your network installed, you also need to sustain it, financially, technologically, and culturally. Each piece of the process leads to yet another essential, complex component, creating an impossibly complicated fractal design and planning structure.