post Usonian Project
Who is is the post Usonian customer? Is there one? Are there many? In a ValueWeb architecture [link], the market is not just the customer base - the market, in a ValueWeb, is composed of all three networks: customer [link], producer [link] and investor [link]. These networks have become a market - and an Enterprise - because a system integration function [link] has focused the potential of mutually profitable interaction into an actual process of exchange based on reliable and effective rules of engagement [link].
That said, the buyer/user network is the more critical in this venture, the investor network second and the producer network the least. There is no question there is substantial potential in the producer arena [link]. There is strong evidence that there is sufficient capital to supply this potential market and that it is sufficiently innovative to do so [link] given proof of a significant customer base. There is also strong evidence of customer interest - the question remains, however, if this interest will translate into purchasing power. It remains a design challenge [link] to configure a product-service such that all three networks can both contribute and derive value from the exchange.
What creates this circumstance [link] is that the usonian concept is based on a specific life-style choice and this lifestyle is based on a specific set of values. This value-set has been out of style for a long time [link]. The questions are: is it reasserting itself at a significant level to generate a market with enough scale to allow efficient production? Does this market have legs; that is, will it last long enough for a complete R&D through ROI cycle? Can a system integration function be put in place that can focus what unquestionably will be a diverse, geographically disbursed set of players who will require a mass-customization approach?
I think that the answer to these questions is yes. In the last six weeks, over 800 people have visited my 1999 web page on the postUsonian Project. When you think of the facts: the era of the Usonians was between 1936 and the early 50s; Wright has been dead for 45 years this coming June (2004); there are numerous Googol references to “Usonian;” my web site, while positioned well in very specific niches is not a high volume well known site, nor advertised nor even “user friendly” in the conventional sense. All these facts, as a chain, implies a significant interest in this kind of living solution; a resurgence, in fact, of the post-depression, post WWII periods. In addition, there are other indicators: the houses of the early modernists are being preserved and lovingly restored in many geographic markets [link]. The careers of several leading organic architects are showing signs of a work level way beyond what has been the traditional market share for this kind of architecture [link]. The mood of the times, in the post dot-bubble, war-on-terrorism, period shows signs of seeking a more primary values-based approach to asset use and life-style [link]. And, the IP, Intellectual Capital, network organization capability, tool-set, talent and desire-to-succeed in the creation of affordable, sustainable, organic housing is certainly greater than any time I can name in the 48 years that I have been active in the practice of the art [link] of architecture.
Starting April 25, 2004 we will initiate the process of finding out. We will let the ValueWeb speak for itself. The postUsonian BLOG [link] will provide a voice and, if it proves, sufficiently strong, a path to the creation of a network organization and market with the mission of building a 21st Century expression of this approach to architecture. In parallel, several prototypes [link] are being readied for production. Each, in a different way, will test aspects of the Design/Build/Use processes and components.
The Customer/User
I dislike the terms “customer” and “user.” To me, this implies a distancing that I believe to be fatal to the kind of relationship necessary for the creation of architecture. Authentic Architecture [link] requires a life cycle approach: the economics of the building [link] and the way that the building is both created, used and evolved over time [link] has to be seen as a system and part of a long term, sustainable social and ecological fabric. This does not allow for a passive user or “consumer” in the contemporary degraded sense of these terms. Architecture cannot be treated as a commodity to be bought and sold as a mere asset. Nor, can it be “used” as a mere utility. You will get buildings this way - you will not get and keep architecture this way. The relationship between the Usonians and their “owners” (I put this in quotes because you cannot own a work of architecture anymore than you can own a cat) is unique in the history of architecture [link]. These were - still are - passionate and engaging relationships. The building and occupant changed each other and both settled into the landscape over a period of time [link]. It was this quality that made the Usonians special - and rare. It is this quality, not the specific style of the works, that must be recaptured, restated and recreated [link], in the postUsonian Project, or it will be justifiably deemed a failure.
This means the role of the customer/user/owner in the postUsonian project is much greater than is typically seen in “production” housing. And, that this role does not become less upon the completion of the construction - is becomes greater. The art of living a Usonian life-style is an integral aspect of creating the architecture.
The story of how the Smith’s realized and lived in their Usonian is the quintessential Usonian tale. Times have changed however I have the feeling that the postUsonian home makers will be the same kind of people: unique, creative, dedicated, giving, modest, principled, hard working, fun-loving, community focused.
This is why the BLOG has the rules-of-engagement that it does [link]. The ValueWeb is being formed as is the “product.” This is not an exercise in speculation. It is an exercise in doing. It is a consequence of organizational INTENT [link]. I am not interested in what anyone’s opinion of what a postUsonian should be (in other circumstances I would be) - I am interested in what certain self-selected people want to do and have the will to do.
Based on the swimming pool Story [link] experience, It will take a “production” of between three and five a month, in any given geographic area, to create an efficient producer circumstance. This is not a high threshold. The “supply” of the postUsonians will be LEAN - an artful combination of manufacturing and craft, centralized and distributed, mass-produced and mass-customization, standard components and custom layouts, universal grammar and unique site specific and culture-specific expression. In every regard, who the customer is, where the customer is, what life the customer wants to create and experience is key in these design/build discriminations. Far more “customization” will be possible with the postUsonian than what today is called a custom home. Only an architect-designed house in the upper cost range will be able to exceed the postUsonian in variety but not necessary in quality of living experience.
The key to the postUsonian’s economics will be no different than what were the factors that resulted in the economic success of the original: modest size, simple pallet, standard construction method, creative financing, involvement of the owners in the construction process, use of builders - not contractors [link], development of the house over time, long term ownership by one family [link].
These factors seem simple enough and indeed they are, however, they are in sharp opposition to the way that houses are generally created today. The entire system, from concept, codes, evaluation and financing standards, design, contracting methods, relationship of the parties involved - from owner to architect, if any, to builder, sub-contractors and suppliers - is diametrically opposed to what it will take to create quality architecture at affordable prices. There can be be no compromise between these systems - to do so is to put both in jeopardy and to fail to get the benefits of either. It took courage in 1936 to build a Usonian - it will take the same today. However, today, we have far more tools at our disposal and the greatest among them is the Internet. This makes the flow of information easy and it can serve to level the playing field across time and space. Tremendous resource can be focused and brought to bear on each and every project no matter its locality [link]. This is the margin that will make the difference. It is network theory [rtfBook] that will make the postUsonian practice possible [link].
This cannot, however be done for the new owner. It must be done with the owner. One can only legitimately own by being engaged in the process of making. This is not a liability - it is a feature of the process. It is the factor that will make the difference. It is an advantage. This, by the way is what is at the root of the disastrous social mistake of granting corporations the “rights” of people while isolating their ownership from the consequence of their actions [link]. This is a flawed strategy that the simplest cybernetic analysis will reveal as a run-away positive feedback loop [link].
This is why the postUsonian will be offered on four levels of product-service [link]. All will require owner involvement. Each, however, is different. And, each allows the owner to set a scale and scope of their involvement and the subsequent economy of their effort.
Our society has succumbed to the fallacy of over specialization. While this provides tremendous of short term and over hyped-economic leverage, it has created a society of over-dependent, over-trained and under-educated and insecure citizens. While it is useful to delegate and the specialize it is never goodness to do so to the degree that the experience of living a full life is compromised. There are basics that are systemic to any society: learning and knowledge-management, food production, personal and social security, housing, social governance, health maintenance, work as art and work as economy, knowledge of the world and philosophical acuity. Competence in all of these is a requirement of life - not some school. Nature does not care nor does Nature forgive. It does not award well meaning intentions - it requires.We have become a society of very dangerous people: extreme tactical, logistical and thing-focused competency awash in a collective ignorance of monumental scale. We do not know our own power nor the consequence of exercising it. In the name of living the good life we are destroying life at a rate and on a scale that is almost beyond measure and any semblance of self-control. No matter how, at any given time, we individually choose to engage in the process of habitat, direct knowledge (theory, experience plus action) is necessary to each of us, and to us collectively, else we do more harm than good to ourselves and our planet. Both in terms of how it was made and how it was lived in, the Usonian Home was a persistent reminder of the craft and art of making place - place that fit with nature; place that expressed human values; place that reinforced the good habits of living, created strong memory and fused practical living with beauty. The postUsonian is not such a place if it does not do the same and do this in the context of our times. The postUsonian is a process that offers people to practice an alternative to the existing run-away social “life”-style.
A few years of building a few houses a month can accrue an experience of a major alternative to the present way. Are there a couple of hundred that want to explore this alternative? That is the question we have to answer - it is the kind of question that can only answer itself. The “answer” will reveal itself through action.
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Matt Taylor
April 21, 2004


SolutionBox voice of this document:


posted April 21, 2004

revised April 24, 2004
• 20040421.309392 • •

(note: this document is about 45% finished)

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Copyright© Matt Taylor 2004


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