A small house raises big questions


The exterior appearance of the little prism-shaped hut in the recently opened Student Project House on ETH’s Zentrum campus is enough to arouse the curiosity of all who view it. It is decorated with LED lights, connected to a solar panel and has comfortable seats for meditation inside. However, the visionary idea on which timber construction is based cannot be seen at first glance. “It’s a powerful vision,” said Hongyang Wang, who started working on the project when she was a master’s student. “It touches all parts of society and upsets many of our basic assumptions. Wang is currently a doctoral candidate at the Chair of Innovative and Industrial Construction, which deals with topics such as new technologies, governance strategies and organizational models for construction processes.

The mentioned vision can be very small or very large, Wang explains. The small vision might look like the Student Project House hut. The solar powered meditation cabin works autonomously and anyone can book it online for a period of time to meditate. The pod grants access automatically when a QR code is presented, which is handy. The larger vision begins at a level higher than the immediate experience of the room, when looking at the operation and organization of the cabin. The name of the project, “no1s1” (pronounced “no one’s one”), gives a clue: the meditation room is a prototype of a building that does not belong to anyone. It is managed and rented. Going forward, the intention is that its income will take the form of Ethereum cryptocurrency – the current test version does not cost real money – and be held in an account (wallet) controlled by the building itself. same. In theory, he could not only call someone himself for repairs in the event of damage, but even legally proclaim himself, facilitated by a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) tied to the building.

Infrastructure with a natural ecosystem

The organization of this computer-assisted self-governance is based on blockchain technology, which promises enormous potential for decentralization: for example, it allows contracts to be concluded without a trusted central authority, such as a bank or a government, vouches for it. (cryptocurrencies are based on the same idea and the same technology). Thus, a large number of people – or digital systems – can coordinate for a specific purpose without the need for hierarchical structures or human mediation. These “smart contracts” form the basis of the DAO which operates the meditation module. Within this framework, people can organize themselves and even modify the rules of contracts according to democratic principles – which means that the structure does not need a human owner. In addition, the continuing evolution of the rules could theoretically be fully or partially supported by artificial intelligence. Depending on their development, autonomous organizational forms such as this could one day have the same legal status as traditional businesses.

This is not yet the reality. Nonetheless, it demonstrates the implications of the idea: no1s1 as an alternative model for real estate and infrastructure. Wang points out that the technology is not yet ready and that no1s1 is still the first known project in the world that links a CAD to a physical property. She explains its potential in these terms: “If real estate does not have a human owner, automated coordination eliminates high administrative costs. Most importantly, the model does not need to be profitable. Any excess income could be reinvested in the maintenance of the structure or returned to users.

If the vision is pursued to its logical conclusion, you come to an idea called “Nature 2.0”: a self-sustaining human infrastructure that manages and regulates itself – just like a natural ecosystem like a forest does. The project demonstrates an alternative to the idea of ​​living space as a capital investment, says Wang’s thesis director Daniel Hall, professor at the Institute of Construction and Infrastructure Management in the Department of Civil Engineering , Environmental and Geomatics (D-BAUG) of ETH: Growing economic inequalities in many places and developments in the real estate market were one of the starting points of our reflection. This is where he sees the idea of ​​decentralized and autonomous properties play a role: “By demonstrating technically that no1s1 can be self-sufficient instead of maximizing profits, we can take one step closer to the goal of providing everyone has adequate and affordable housing. “

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