Uber-inspired architecture

Swarm is a manifesto for a new way of working based on collaboration and initiative in the sharing economy

Swarm's creators from the LSA: from left to right Rachel Bow, Stuart Goldsworthy-Trapp, Vanessa Jobb, Milly Salisbury, Timothy Ng, Frazer Haviz, Maeve Dolan.
Swarm's creators from the LSA: from left to right Rachel Bow, Stuart Goldsworthy-Trapp, Vanessa Jobb, Milly Salisbury, Timothy Ng, Frazer Haviz, Maeve Dolan. · Credit: James Kenny

Taking part in end-of-year crits at architecture schools is always an immersive and rewarding experience – even though, from the point of view of the visiting critic, you know that by then it’s way too late to put right any glaring conceptual deficiencies you might spot. But with any luck you get to see wonderful ideas and great drawings for whatever the set projects may happen to be, and perhaps provide some stimulus as the students enter the final frenzy before hand-in. For sure you’ll meet people who’ll go on to do interesting things. This year I was honoured to be asked by the new London School of Architecture to sit in on its ‘Show and Tell’. One LSA presentation in particular stood out for me because it struck out in a new direction. Swarm is about the very production of built architecture and how this might be radically changed. 

Swarm – part of the LSA’s Design Think Tank project module – is a well-thought-through manifesto for alternative practice put forward by a group of seven students – Rachel Bow, Maeve Dolan, Stuart Goldsworth-Trapp, Frazer Haviz, Vanessa Jobb, Timothy Ng, and Milly Salisbury.  Their tutors are Javier Quintana and Lionel de Real Azua.  Their presentation was slick, convincing, witty. They had already published the SWARM book (subtitle: ‘A new mode of practice for the sharing economy era’). They had anticipated pretty much any questions the panel threw at them: (‘You’ll find the bit about insurance in the FAQs’.)

I won’t go through it all here – it’s online, and the link is at the end of this piece. In summary, the Swarm septet rejects the present mode of practice and cheerfully waves goodbye to the RIBA institutional model in a tongue-in-cheek separation letter (‘It’s not that we don’t love you… we know we’ll keep learning from each other…honestly, it’s not you, it’s us’). But to me it seems that ideas such as theirs are very much the kind of thing that should interest the Institute. 

Swarm envisages a pro-active way of working, co-authoring designs for sites they find using technology familiar to us from Uber cabs and Airbnb. The Swarm app flags up sites and Swarm architects and planners jointly develop a scheme

Swarm envisages a pro-active way of working, co-authoring designs for sites they find using technology familiar to us from Uber cabs and Airbnb. The Swarm app flags up sites – an example they give is of a neglected area of mostly council estates surprisingly close to central London – and Swarm architects and planners jointly develop a scheme which develops and links up the potential sites identified. Local residents take part, and then the Swarm approaches potential funders. Alerts about redundant buildings being dismantled turn into a source of recyclable materials.

Key to all this is a new form of building regulation that they call ‘Part S’, the S standing for Sharing – both space and programme. It’s an open-source document.

And of course, this concept being part of an architecture course, there are drawn examples of differing building types that are made, converted or improved on the Swarm model. So there you have it. Forget old notions of practice, instead welcome to Swarm-sourced, locally appropriate and distinctive projects. I like the style of these people. I almost want them to form a practice, they look the part and clearly get on well together. But that goes against the idea, doesn’t it?

Details of Swarm and the LSA student hardship crowdfunding initiative here.