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A handful of us were just treated to a preview of Cameron Sinclair's talk at the Barbican debate Ethics in Architecture this evening. I took the opportunity to quiz him on design and self-reliance; and particularly on architecture as the final frontier for the notion that by giving people the insights and processes of design, you enable them to become more resourceful. In construction - as opposed to other areas of design and making - the threshold at which you bring in a professional seems to be pretty low. There's so much at stake - the cost, the physics, the longevity - that most people, sensibly, shrink from the idea that they could put a roof over their own head. Or so I explained it to myself. But among many fascinating facts, Sinclair told us that 98% of structures on the planet have not used the services of an architect in their construction.

A handful of us were just treated to a preview of Cameron Sinclair's talk at the Barbican debate Ethics in Architecture this evening. I took the opportunity to quiz him on design and self-reliance; and particularly on architecture as the final frontier for the notion that by giving people the insights and processes of design, you enable them to become more resourceful. In construction - as opposed to other areas of design and making - the threshold at which you bring in a professional seems to be pretty low. There's so much at stake - the cost, the physics, the longevity - that most people, sensibly, shrink from the idea that they could put a roof over their own head. Or so I explained it to myself. But among many fascinating facts, Sinclair told us that 98% of structures on the planet have not used the services of an architect in their construction.

Cameron Sinclair and his partner Kate Stohr are best known as the people who started the charity Architecture for Humanity. Their associated enterprise, the Open Architecture Network is an open, distributed network dedicated to helping communities build for themselves using "the ultimate renewable resource" of design. While the notorious sharp end of their activities are the reconstruction of villages in the Indian Ocean after the Tsunami, or New Orleans after Katrina; everyday sites include schools and factories in Africa and American industrial cities in decline. By the open-source sharing of design, construction details and funding mechanisms, they aim to make ordinary builders everywhere into master-builders.

Sinclair talked about the When there is no doctor series of books that are ubiquitous in parts of Africa and South Asia where self-reliance is a necessity in healthcare, and asked why there isn't such a series for architecture. A computer-based system of sharing processes and plans is the Open Architecture Network's answer; a kind of electronic pattern-book of architectural adaptation. For the third time this month I was hearing about pattern-books. The earlier conversations were in relation to volume housing in the UK and the revival of the kinds of reference guides that enabled 19th century builders endlessly to replicate quite nice houses. Process guide or style guide, the pattern-book aims to put knowledge and choice in someone's hands other than the architect. Meanwhile Sinclair says "recession is killing the idea of what an architect is now". I wonder how this will all go down with the architects tonight at the Barbican.

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