Michael and Kirk here, back today with a closer look at our motivations behind starting BLDG BLOX (Building Blocks). A very common question we get asked is “how did a pair of architects end up in blockchain?” As career designers, there was something unique about this technology that really captured our attention and resulted in us leaving great jobs to pursue something different. There’s a lot of backstory on how we arrived at this specific type of blockchain application and we wanted to recount that journey for those of you who want to get a bit deeper into the blocks with us.
So let’s jump right into it -
In 2016 we took the red pill, and became hellbent on blockchain. Upon learning about the recent advancements pairing software and governance, we knew that something revolutionary was possible if someone could just digest the technology and migrate it over and into the design world.
Even through our years in architecture, art, and cultural development, we were always attracted to the core ideas of decentralization (despite not using that specific word). We were interested in ideas of co-creation and collaborative development, and less so in the status-quo of client-based / single-person / top-down decision-making. We witnessed the failing of that model time and time again where developments fell horribly short on their promises and misguided idealism. More often than not, the “big moves” proposed and executed by cities around the world left the residents disgruntled, disenfranchised, and broke. It never made sense that dynamic places, lived-in by millions, would be determined by a handful of bank-rollers and crafted by a handful of contractors.
That’s why fresh out of university, after having gone through five years of professional architectural education, we set off to Berlin to explore more facets of the design world. Maybe there were more ways of going about building development than we had exposure to in school. At the time, crowdfunding was becoming the latest wave of social tech. It marked a major step in allowing a broader public to support a work rather than relying on an individual or small group of patrons. We were one of the first global art projects to take advantage of input from our backers, something Kickstarter projects rarely do. We requested our supporters to send in pictures of their hometowns from all around the world which we abstracted into a massive ‘Id’ drawing created between our 4-person team.
This was the beginning of us obsessing over creative practices of co-creation, and for the following months, we consistently returned to the same core question — how could a group of people collectively produce something unique, something we all have some kind of ownership over?
This led to a critical moment in the summer of 2016, right when new opportunities in blockchain were beginning to unfold. Platform blockchains, staking models, industry-specific securitization, and more prospects were beginning to emerge, much of that space paved by the growth of Ethereum. The possibilities with decentralized protocols were really beginning to manifest beyond monetary models and the peer-to-peer precedent set by Bitcoin. That’s when we hopped in, carrying with us the momentum of our creative experience to see if we could design a digital network for the purposes of co-creating our physical surroundings.
We were particularly drawn to the offerings of ‘Delegated Proof-of-Stake’ (DPoS) protocols, a way of governing a blockchain based on buy-in and concepts of earning your way in through performance or ‘sweat equity’. Over the last few years, we’ve started to see some truly unique uses of DPoS including Steem as a backbone for media applications and highly anticipated DApps like Everipedia on Dan Larimer’s successor project, EOS.
So we decided to put it to the test. Could blockchain, as it stood at that time in mid-2017, serve as the financial and development foundation for a new type of design production? Could we feasibly crowdfund and execute a project with cryptocurrency?
And that’s what we ended up doing. Over the course of two months, we raised over $20,000 on the Steem blockchain to create ‘STEEM Park’ in Brooklyn. The fundraising was all done through publishing ongoing updates on the blockchain — sketches, designing, prototyping, blogging, documenting, building, and so on — with no grants, no clients, no external funding. You can watch the full progression and result of the project in the documentary video, here -
With this revelation, we realized we could really begin to value the previously intangible contributions that make up the lifeblood of a design project. This could scale and translate to other forms of development including broader community programs, educational activities, non-profit work, urban renewal, and more. This led us to create an experimental incubator program on the Steem blockchain called SNDBOX, our first blockchain company. The results over the next 1.5 years were staggering; we grew our community to about 13,000 followers, 200 incubator members with 150 unique projects, all the while distributing over $400,000 worth of cryptocurrency to the projects and their contributors.
The Crypto Renaissance came a year after and was an exhibition with the goal to tie it all together and test out a way to create public resources. The 2-month show presented the year-long development of SNDBOX projects around the world alongside the decentralized tools that allowed them to happen. All of the public programs were run by the supporters and participants, and the show continued to garner support through crypto even after the doors were opened. As far as we’re aware, it was the first instance of a communally run and accessible program that was self-sustaining in the blockchain space.
There’s much left to explore including the myriad of creative projects after launching the Creative Crypto magazine, working with star companies like Dapper Labs and Blockade Games, doing dozens of crypto panels and workshops around the world, and much more, but the key moments above were the real eye-opening milestones that helped us arrive where we are now. More info on them on our site www.sndbox.co.
That was quite the long precursor, but a necessary journey for us starting off from scratch when it came to blockchain technology. Looking back on the last three years, our experiences really shaped the trajectory and prospects of decentralized building development. We can’t overstate how excited we are to finally touch and work with a technology we have wished for for over a decade.
We see STEEM Park and the Crypto Renaissance as the small-scale precedents for legitimizing BLDG BLOX’s potential. Going from community parks to full-blown city building and assets seems like a big leap (and it is), but we’re designing a highly scalable system that will make crowdfunding and co-ownership for urban development completely seamless.
Now, we’re ready to put that to work and BLD blockchain’s first urban economy.
That’s it for today, and from here on out we’ll be doing a variety of articles that get right into the meat of the issue including case studies, recent news, spotlights on each of our team members and advisors. As always, thank you all for the support and see you in the next one!