Nature and Size of Opportunity
I use an image of the Earth for the masthead because the subject of this piece is about the nature and scope of the opportunity of the postUsonian Project.
The nature of the opportunity is to rethink how we create habitat on this planet. The postUsonian, alone, will not solve this issue in its entirety. It is an application of architecture to a fairly narrow spectrum of the global housing challenge. It can be, however, one example of a more affordable, sustainable and human way. The scope is global in two ways. First, the need is global and the postUsonian solution will be able to address this need in a variety of climes, conditions and places. A successful postUsonian design and delivery system will generate projects all over the world. Second, at the heart of it, the postUsonian Project is about launching a new way of doing business in the realm of housing. Although the postUsonian will address the housing opportunity of a miniscule number of the global population - not, however, insignificant in the aggregate - what can be learned from this experience can be employed in the solutions related to a far greater number and types of applications. The model being employed here is that innovation often comes in projects for educated people with steady not necessarily great incomes. This is the history of the Usonians which were “middle class” houses. What is learned can be applied to other income situations including “affordable housing.”
The opportunities created by the postUsonian Project go across the entire ValueWeb. There are opportunities for Investors: social, profit and non-profit; Producers: designers, architects, manufactures, contractors, services and suppliers; and, for Customers: clients, owners, renters and hospitality businesses. These opportunities, however, will be exercised within a new covenant which will create a level playing field and a new game aimed at removing the exploitive aspects of development that now drive up risk and costs.
There are many, diverse members in the INVESTOR NETWORK. These, in the existing organizational model, do not always see themselves as having common cause. Governments, representing civil society - national, state and local - are all investors in any building project. There is always legitimate debate as to the proper role and scope of government in housing but the fact is that society at large is an investor (and beneficiary) and has to be be treated as such. Those that put capital, in any form, at risk are investors. This happens at many levels and in many forms in the construction of a building and includes capital from the owners themselves (which has market value), organizations like Fanni Mae [link], local banks, savings and loans, and now a myriad of mortgage entities. There are investors in the Producer entities. At the moment, the Investors in the housing arena do not make up an efficient market. The postUsonian Project is not going to take on the whole housing industry. It does aim to create a LEAN system for a single segment based on the Usonian vision. This will mean distributed information, fewer risks, fewer failures, lower costs and reasonable profits equal to the value provided. Investment costs will remain variable because of fluctuations in the capital markets, they will not be as volatile, however, because of the usual uncertainties in real estate development [link]. In a properly constructed ValueWeb, the enterprise, market and “local” economy are the same thing.
If you eliminate those who want to design, build and sell houses just to “make” money; if you build a network of those who have a passion for the work and desire to produce art and get paid reasonably for the results; then, the postUsonian Project offers opportunities that are very rare indeed. It will offer few attractions for those who think they work for money. Creating great architecture is not easy. The existing system is full of economic disincentives. The designer and builder do the greatest amount of work, take the largest risks and long ternm liabilities, and get paid the least for their efforts. They are not paid for value created but a percentage of the costs. To take cost but not value out of a house means to do more work at less pay. If you look at the life-cycle costs of a house, the design and build fees pale compared to developer margins, mortgage fees and interest, realtor fees and what the owner can make by turning the home into an act of speculations and selling it. Do you want to know why cliche design rules and why R&D and innovation is almost non existent? A system and market has to be created that pays based on value created and where value can accrue steadily over time and be insulated from ad-hoc speculative grabs. This can be accomplished by contract and conditional ownership. The objective of the Usonian was to create HOMES not objects of speculation. The Usonians have an exemplary record of ownership; they stayed in their families for multiple generations at a time that Americans traded houses like cars. However, over a long period of time, they have become costly possessions or museums. Depending on local markets, their conditions and other random factors, few today fir within the economic range of their founders. Building home equity has been and will remain a means to financial security for many. There can be room for this in a system that also fairly rewards all that create value and keeps rampant speculation, boom and bust out of the equation. The Renascence Home Ownership Program [link] will be one of many mechanisms available to accomplish these ends.
A Usonian or postUsonian is not for everyone. There are many legitimate life-styles and other circumstances that demand a wide variety of housing types. All of these can be wonderful architecture, affordable and sustainable. All contribute to the social landscape. This is why it is important to understand what the essence of the Usonian concept is, to verify if it is valid today, and - if so - build to exactly that specification for those that it truly fits. This is why the CUSTOMER is so important to the process and why it is important for the customer to select in carefully [link]. This is why it is important to know if the customer demand is for 10 a year, a 1,000 or ten thousand. The market of Investor, Producer, Customer has to be kept in balance. This is the process of Mass Customization. The size of the market is not what is important - fitness is. There is a threshold of size that will lift the postUsonian market out of the realm of custom design to a level of production efficiency that will provide significant economic benefits. There are two caveats, however; first, this production should be on the modular and component scale allowing for an endless variety of individual design solutions - in other words, a grammar that will permit many poems. The second caveat is that the concept of “economy of scale” be understood in context of a distributed network system in which information is shipped and many things are made locally and lean methods are at play. It is not the old centralized mass production market that I refer to here - the scale that makes an economy of scale is very different in a cybernetic market.
As described [link], the postUsonian project will evolve from project to organization to fully functioning ValueWeb. This requires a SYSTEM INTERGRATOR [link] to facilitate this process.
In Summary
The purpose of a ValueWeb is create wealth and distribute it equably as a certain community defines it [link]. ValueWebs grow two ways [link]. First, by expanding the number of individuals and organizations in the Investor, Producer and Customer Networks. Second, by creating more transaction possibilities between these nodes. If all of the effort that exists today, globally, aimed at creating house in the spirit of the Usonian, were accounted as a single system it would be seen as a large enterprise. It is not because it is made up of a series of one-off, ad-hoc attempts. A great deal of this work is of high quality yet is far more expensive than necessary because of this fragmentation. The business opportunity for all members of the ValueWeb is to bring systematic effort, shared knowledge and some, where appropriate, economies of scale to an integrated Enterprise without destroying individual freedom and initiative. If the existing interest and efforts that can be called “Usonian” can be integrated into such an enterprise far more effective results will be achieved. This, in turn, will open up a far greater market. An IDENTITY based on a kind of habitat and a way of life will be created, thus, making a movement that can enjoy increasing returns [link]. This “brand” equity based on the product, how it is made and how it is maintained, will accrue to the benefit of all who are engaged in the Enterprise.
If sane, affordable, sustainable and brilliant architecture can be created within this one niche it is certain that a number of principles, methods and means will prove to be transferable to other housing challenges. The human, ecological and economic benefits of doing this are almost without measure. The consequences of not creating better ways of housing, as the development of the planet continues, are potentially catastrophic [link].
The continium of opportunity made possible by the postUsonian project is vast. There are many reasons for a diverse number of individuals to get involved. What are now competing interests in a fragmented market can be made compatable. Increasing returns of a positive kind can be achieved. Individual good and social good can be one. Economy/ecology can be defined and demonstrated as the same thing. The ART of archietcture [link] based on a way of living can become available to a greater number of Earth’s population. Real wealth can be created [link]. And, the act of doing it can be far more fun and enlightening than what is provided by the array of distractions that now pass for recreation and entertainment.
Note: December 5, 2004
Fred Stiff, today, set me a link of some interesting work going on down under [link]. It will be worth while following this effort.
Return To INDEX
Return To postUsonian Index
Return To post Usonian Prototypes

Matt Taylor
May 22, 2004


SolutionBox voice of this document:


posted May 22, 2004

revised December 4, 2004
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(note: this document is about 45% finished)

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Copyright© Matt Taylor 2004



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