Footprint 31: Open Architecture: Tradition, Possibilities and Shortcomings


The notion that works of art and architecture can be open, in the sense of being prone to external influence and change, has a long and diverse tradition. The venerable I-Ching, James Joyce’s Ulysses and Julio Cortázar’s Rayuela, for example, make use of open literary form and language, as they can be read in different orders, or invite the reader to interpret the meaning of words that are suggested rather than defined. Similarly, Heinrich Wölfflin’s 1915 Principles of Art History sees art of the baroque as open configurational systems, different from the finite and static, and therefore closed forms of the Renaissance. These examples fit Umberto Eco’s 1962 definition of The Open Work: a study of the semiotic implications of works of art conceived on the basis of incompleteness and heteronomy.

Simultaneous with Eco’s publication,  attempts at incompleteness and heteronomy reappeared in architecture as open configurations, meant to achieve flexible and adaptable built environments for different reasons. In the early 1960s Oskar Hansen and other structuralists designed open modular building systems; Jaap Bakema tried to understand buildings and cities in relation to Henri Bergson and Karl Popper’s definition of an open society; and Colin St. John Wilson split modernist architecture into an open organicism and a closed abstract rationalism.  

Interest in open architecture has resurfaced in current architectural discussions, animated by investigations into the performance and societal causes and consequences of buildings. Esra Akcan’s Open Architecture, for instance, proposes a new ethics of hospitality by incorporating multiple individuals’ voices, backgrounds and ethnicities in architectural design. On the other hand, Richard Sennett’s article ‘The Open City’ makes a defence of cities that accommodate and foster diversity, adaptability, liveliness and unpredictability, in stark opposition to the over-determination of conventional master plans. With the advancement of digitalisation, participatory design has evolved into ‘open-source architecture’ – a notion used by Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel in their homonymous book to explain how architects determine and share frameworks and parameters with the public through digital networks, moving ever closer to a radically collective design

While open architectures have been historically associated with the in- and under-determined shapes of buildings, and with notions of collectiveness, flexibility, adaptability, multiplicity, plurality, heteronomy, collaboration and participation, recent approaches to open architecture seem more related to the role and agency of the architect in society, shifting attention from buildings to the practice of the architectural profession. In these approaches the architect’s authorship is contested, and replaced by a flexible, mediating role as negotiator of the will and interests of different stakeholders, often with a user-centred approach.

Despite its vibrant tradition and the exciting possibilities it offers for future practice, open architecture is not without its drawbacks. Proneness to external influence and change are not architectural positive qualities per se, always or automatically able to support humane goals and fend off societal evils. The indeterminacy and ambiguity that characterise some open architectures have also led to undesirable outcomes. Even if fundamentally open in a diversity of ways, the most aggressive forms of the contemporary slum, the normalising nature of do-it-yourself architectures and the transience of many participatory commoning practices exemplify the potential setbacks of openness.

All examples mentioned so far point to four different yet interrelated understandings of what an open architecture is, where and when it can be situated, what it can do and what it must reject. Together, they suggest that architecture can be open in structural, procedural, performative and/or conceptual terms. In the face of this interpretation, and aiming for the growth and development of knowledge on the subject, this issue invites contributions that critically and creatively study past, present and future open architectures; by defining their utility and value (or the lack thereof), explaining the methodological advantages and disadvantages of their use, or justifying alternative conceptualisations for their nature.

Proposals for full articles (6000–8000 words) and review articles (2000–4000 words) will be evaluated by the editors in the form of abstracts (max. 1000 words for full articles, max. 500 words for review articles) based on originality, methodological and conceptual clarity, pertinence, and contribution to the growth and development of knowledge on the subject. Abstracts must be submitted by 3 May 2021.

Authors of selected abstracts will be invited to develop their contributions by 6 September 2021. Full articles will go through a double-blind peer review process, while review articles will be evaluated by the editors. We ask authors to refer to the Footprint author guidelines, available at:

All contributors are responsible for securing permission to use images and copyrighted materials.

For submissions and all other inquiries and correspondence, please contact editors Jorge Mejia Hernandez and Esin Komez Daglioglu at

Footprint 31 will be published in the autumn of 2022.