Crowdsourcing Architecture Criticism

Gone are the days when you have to trawl through Wikipedia and scores of architecture blogs to reliably research a building online. OpenBuildings.com is the Web site architecture geeks like me have been waiting for: it aims to collect everything there is to know about individual buildings into one mega-resource. Even better, the information is crowdsourced, Wikipedia-style. Readers can submit buildings to the site and upload images, additional information, or even their own opinions.

This last feature is the key difference between Wikipedia and this site. Wikipedia tends to be long on technical information and short on architectural criticism. A typical page on OpenBuildings, on the other hand, has all the basic information you might need—contractors, materials, costs, etc.—but it also has the potential to gather opinions, in the form of user reviews as well as links to articles by professional architecture critics. The site is still in its infancy, so there is little of this discourse so far. But I can’t wait for people to start uploading things like, “I work in this building, and the staircase sucks!”

Some other features are still works in progress, such as a publications tab where users can build a list of books about a building, by linking to the books’ Amazon pages.  And I am very distracted by a bar at the bottom of the page where the site’s algorithm suggests “Similar Buildings.” I spent a long time pondering the similarities between New York’s Grand Central Terminal and Jean Nouvel’s National Museum of Qatar.

The site is clearly laid out, easy to search, and slowly building up a following. An iPhone app is also on the way, so you will soon be able to read about a building while you’re standing in front of it. If it takes off, OpenBuildings.com could not only revolutionize walking tours but also bring a breath of fresh, crowdsourced air to architectural discourse.

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