Architects have long been beholden to patrons—individual clients, developers, building owners—but with crowdfunding, waiting for a benevolent de Medici or Gerald Hines to underwrite a creative vision isn’t necessary. Architects can cultivate their own revenue for projects that would otherwise fail to attract conventional funding. “Traditional avenues of funding are risk averse,” Kazmark says. “Our focus has always been on independence and allowing creators to experiment without compromising on their vision.”
Tobias Holler, AIA, principal of New York’s Holler Architecture, teaches environmental design and technology at the New York Institute of Technology. Crowdfunding enabled Holler, 39, to design a recycling-sorting plant in Costa Rica, currently under construction, with his students. On Kickstarter last year, they reached over 43,000 people from 19 countries and raised over $30,000. “That project would have just existed as drawings if it wasn’t for the possibility of crowdfunding,” Holler says.
In fact, with crowdfunding, as long as an architect can inspire people with a viable idea, it doesn’t matter how off-the-wall it is. Ringelmann points to a project in England in which an architect and a nonprofit used Indiegogo to crowdfund the creation of a floating cinema on the canals and rivers of East London. “A bank or an investor might say: ‘Who would ever do that?’ But if there are people out there who think it’s brilliant, then they should have the power to fund it,” she says.
Moreover, designers can use crowdfunding to underwrite entire businesses. A Brooklyn furniture company called Aellon, specializing in contemporary and sustainable products, was unable to get a small business loan but was able to fund its launch in 2012 through Indiegogo. Now the company sells its designs in 12 stores in the U.S. and Japan.
The sudden popularity in community-funded architecture inspired the American Institute of Architects to launch its Crowdfunding Initiative last fall, with the goal of helping architects harness this new income potential. In January, the AIA published a research report titled “Crowdfunding Architecture,” which examines the nuances of this fiscal model for the profession.
The report distinguishes between three main categories of crowdfunding. Donations-based funding supports a cause—such as rebuilding homes after a natural disaster—and the payout is the altruistic feeling of helping others. (In one of their campaigns, Architecture for Humanity told $25 donors: “You will get pure, unadulterated karma.”) With rewards-based funding, found on sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, backers get something tangible for giving, usually some token related to the project, similar to what Ramsey offered for the Lowline project on Kickstarter. Then there’s equity crowdfunding, in which investors get a fiscal return on the investment.