Eric Ho is a Hong Kong-born architect who now lives in New York where he runs a boutique architectural practice. He's also spearheaded a start-up that is aspiring to be the Airbnb for storefronts in New York – which grew out of an ideas and collaborations on our Vibrant Cities Challenge. We caught up with Eric to chat about collaborative consumption and more...
What first drew you to get involved in OpenIDEO?
I was first came upon OpenIDEO at a time when I was writing an article on collaboration: Open Manifesto for Mass Creation and was teasing out ideas around open creative collaboration. As designers, we usually design behind closed doors, possibly amongst several designers. The idea of extending that collaboration across multiple cultures and disciplines seemed liberating and exciting. OpenIDEO is exactly the platform I was dreaming about in my head.
And how's the ride been so far?
The Social Business Challenge was my first intense involvement with OpenIDEO – from reading Inspirations, commenting on them and proposing Concepts to feed from these ripples of communications was definitely an enlightening experience. The most rewarding involvement has been in the Realisation phase of the Vibrant Cities Challenge – where we have brought together a number of OpenIDEO ideas and collaborators to launch our Made in Lower East Side initiative (known as miLES) in New York.
Can you tell us more about Made in the Lower East Side (miLES)
There are currently over 200 vacant storefronts and lots in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, amounting to an estimate of at least 20 million US dollars in rental value per year. miLES started early last year as just an idea – but has evolved into a start-up that is creating channels to tap into these vacant or underused properties.
miLES opens underused storefronts to new possibilities – with classes, events, co-working and short-term space rentals. We work with residents, artists, businesses and landlords in the Lower East Side to identify, program and fill underused spaces and turn them into vibrant community hubs for working, learning, connecting and starting up new projects. Think of us as the Airbnb for storefronts with a community twist. Since its conception, we have people from all kinds of disciplines and expertise from service designers, UX designers, architects, urban planners, economists, brokers, small business owners, residents and community groups expressing interests and helping with our efforts.
Collaboration is clearly part of your way of life. Can you tell us more?
With movements such as collaborative consumption – illustrated by the success of businesses such as Airbnb, Zipcar – as a designer, I think the shared economy should also extend into tapping the creative minds of multiple perspectives and culture to truly embody the diverse nature of our society. We are at a time where we are offered an opportunity for everyone to create together and not just designers. This is why I co-founded Architecture Commons – an architectural practice which addresses design from the bottom up and across multiple disciplines. The collaborations which arise are not only enlightening, bringing new perspectives and surprises – but also humbling because you are constantly learning from other experts and have a horizontal working relationship with them instead of a hierarchical one.
What are your future plans around design + social impact?
Designers and social entrepreneurs are important mediators in society. Designers can visualise intangible concepts into tangible prototypes and solutions, which serves as a common ground for ongoing dialogues among people from multiple disciplines – while social entrepreneurs re-negotiate the value of capital and social impact, seeking solutions for everyone involved. Both of these roles facilitate the re-alignment of power, politics and economy of our society from top-down to peer-to-peer or bottom-up. From my end, miLES and Architecture Commons are both channels for me to play the role of a mediator. OpenIDEO is also an excellent manifestation of a mediating platform that can reshape the power dynamics and values of our society in scalable manner.
Cheers Eric. We hope to enjoy more of your collaborative action in future!