Building the case for Design DAOs: the Blockchain Grammars prototype

The scope of the text:

The following text has been written to describe the potential for Decentralised Autonomous Organisations for design and research activities. We define DAOs as Decentralised Autonomous Organisations operating on the Ethereum blockchain via smart contracts through the platform.

We have started designing our own DAO as a prototype that would connect governance and decision making with architects (of real buildings) and their digital tools. The theoretical model is described in a peer-reviewed academic paper titled ‘Blockchain Grammars” published in the Computer Aided Architectural Design research in Asia Conference, held in Wellington, New Zealand, this past April. You can find the paper on Cumincad here: or you can read it on the website here:

What is the Archchain project.
Archchain is a project that encompasses applications of blockchain and distributed ledgers in the design and management of buildings and cities.

The BIMChain subproject is an integration project between blockchain(s) and building Information modelling applications. The project seeks to redefine value creation, trust, and collaboration in architectural design and the built environment. BIM-to-Blockchain integration subproject is currently developing three prototypes, using the Ethereum public blockchain. The prototypes focus in the conceptual architectural design, in team collaboration and in “digital twins”post-occupancy operation of buildings. BIM-to-Blockchain Integration has been funded by the pump priming research fund of the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland, UK.

What is the Blockchain grammars sub-project and how do we envision this to work.
The Blockchain Grammars is essentially a DAO where people design and vote on the creation of shape grammars, i.e. algorithmic constructs that have a design output. To simplify: a DAO that creates recipes for design (in a digital manner). Since our initial idea is that CAD researchers would like to participate in the DAO, we thought that we would use Shape grammars as vehicle for encoding design decisions. Design needs a target and as such we have create the notional target that the DAO would attempt to design the most integrated, compact apartment layout possible. However the DAO will have an autonomy from its first creators and it might very well be that participants decide to change the initial design target, in a process of collective design intelligence. Our premise is to conduct research and analyse how the DAO will be making design decisions so that we are able to build the best digital tools for designers, whether on-chain or off-chain to enable the best possible decisions. A side

Why this is both a design DAO and a research project.
For us this is research project in making better tools for designers, i.e. research for design. To be a able to actually understand though the tool requirements, we first have to conduct design as research.

Potential constraints of the Blockchain grammars
friction with how the voting method works
timelag between design formulation and design approval because of the voting method.
alchemy’s web interface has a learning curve
the shape grammar paradigm might throw non-academics off.

What do we expect to observe:
The mechanisms by which designers and non-designers interact to create and evaluate a piece of design.
The mechanisms that designers would like to have to connect their digital tools to smart contracts on a blockchain, for governance purposes.
The potential for human and automated agents to collaborate in governing a design project.
The differences (or lack thereof) between the governance of a design project on-chain and off-chain.

All comments and questions welcome.


The case for Research DAOs.

Research to most people appears as an unstructured, open ended process. It is the opposite. It is a very well defined process, with very specific outcomes performed via a rigorous structure and method. In most cases and disciplines around the world, research remains a solitary activity, however there are disciplines and research projects that require collaboration in the extreme. Examples are the Large Hadron Collider and all physics experiments at CERN where one can can observe thousands of scientists working on a single project. Research projects do not come without a rigorous structure, which applies not only to the method involved, but also to the authority of the persons involved. There is as such a hierarchy, based on authority and years (and projects) of experience. In most cases I would expect that most researchers would see decentralised autonomous organisations with suspicion as a modus operandi. Any change in the established methods of how to do research comes in each discipline with a high barrier of verifiability, and rigorous cross checking. I am not making the argument that all research projects need a DAO, nor should the regulation of such Research DAOs be completely democratic. In our recent proposal of ‘Blockchain grammars’ we advocate for example that established researchers, when participating In a research DAO such as blockchain grammars, should receive reputation proportionate to their reputation as researchers in the field. This aligns with the idea of the holographic consensus on DAOstack and alchemy, as true experts in the field would have the wisdom to take rigorous decisions about a project. On the other hand, this idea also allows the new, fresh researcher to propose and vote on ideas, projects, resource allocation using a rigorous proposal mediation structure. As such, it is the rigorous proposal mediation and resolution structure that we believe should exist within research DAOs such as blockchain grammars, along with with clear targets and goals, a distinction that differentiates these DAOs from general purpose ones, such as Genesis Alpha. Thus the DAO can be used as a replacement organisational structure for these research projects.
A further issue that makes research DAOs interesting and potentially groundbreaking, is the potential to control their own funds. Research gets funded through a highly competitive process, in most cases through public funding bodies set up for this purpose. Developed countries and countries with high GDP have of course an advantage. This does not necessarily mean that a research funding application that gets rejected is bad or unworthy, but that the research funding needs to be prioritised, hence very good research proposals that do deserve funding are rejected. One could then imagine a DAO that owns cryptocurrencies and uses either human intelligence or A.I to make strategic investments of these assets so that they grow, with the understanding that the surplus funding will be invested into conducting research. Some colleagues have already done it without the benefits of the DAO, or at least they have indicated that independent science research funding through cryptocurrencies may be a financial sound strategy.


The case for Design DAOs.

Design is a practice, for most people informed by science and the arts. It is though neither a science nor is it an art (unless it touches upon the non-functional, which some designs do!). Design is also in most cases a collaborative activity, hence a potential case for the creation of a decentralised autonomous organisation to govern its activities.

Like research DAOs, a design DAO would be used an organisational and governance structure, but also would allow scales not normal in design organisations. Say a 3000 strong team that designs buildings- This is something that does exist in certain large project, but you do not commission say your kitchen extension to a 3000 designers-strong collaboration. Still one can imagine architecture or design offices that take the form of a DAO, with the potential to develop collaborations in a decentralised manner that would not be easy to do before. The internet has created a lot of potential for remote collaborations, something that I have used with my collaborators on the project but also earlier permutations in architectural design. The difference with a design DAO would be that one would not need to know or potentially even trust other members. Still that does not mean an absence of the structure of operations. Within Blockchain grammars, we provide a case of how designers co-develop an algorithm of how to design an apartment. Other cases can be made for design problems: the DAO could organise mini -competitions where stakeholders, experts and non-experts vote or shape the final design. In fact, we have identified this as a crucial test case for design DAOs: architects, for example, could propose a new masterplan or new building in a city, and the city dwellers could vote and participate in a city-wide DAO that shapes the design, specifications, or outright rejects aspects of it. In the past, designers organised such charettes in real life, but that is constrained by the fact that one can not ask all city dwellers about their opinion. Hence the Design DAO could provide scale to a problem designers have a lot of time: feedback. On the other hand, it would allow for the emergence of new and direct business models: development of design gets compensated directly, and guaranteed through smart contracts.


Regarding researchDAOs or at least Research subDAOs @matan wrote about that a while a go. I’m super sympathetic to decentralized knowledge production
Btw, this all very early stages but relevant still:


I think we have reached the stage where we need to launch the design DAO to see how it will operate and take it from there.