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Technology behind Bitcoin used in a first for architecture

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Theo Dounas
Robert Gordon University (RGU) is leading an international team to launch the first-ever Decentralised Autonomous Organisation for architectural design by using blockchain technology commonly associated with cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) allow hundreds of skilled individuals to work together on solving design problems while blockchain handles the transactions, safeguards the intellectual property of each participant, and incentivises participation.

This completely new organisational structure fundamentally transforms how people can collaborate for business, removing the need for complex hierarchical companies to manage large projects.

By applying this structure to an architectural design company, RGU’s Archchain project integrates blockchain with Building Information Modelling (BIM), the prevalent method for representing all information about a building's specifications, including geometry, materials, and every conceivable aspect of its design.

The life of these building models can span from concept to occupation and are used by individuals, businesses and governments to plan, design, construct, operate and maintain structures. As such, they typically need to be heavily project managed and trusted.

Leading the international team for the Archchain project is Dr Theo Dounas, a Learning Excellence Leader in The Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and Built Environment at RGU.

Dr Dounas says: “The opportunity to run an entire architecture organisation on blockchain creates a new level of highly trustworthy infrastructure, connects physical buildings to their digital representations and reduces the need for a central authority to project manage the models.

“Records of transactions, smart contracts and architectural source files can all be shared simultaneously. This new way of working with Building Information Modelling could also radically alter the legal framework of insurance and fiscal instruments associated with construction.”

The Archchain project’s research was originally funded by RGU to discover the potential of connecting BIM with the decentralised and digitally-distributed ledger known as blockchain. The project uses custom-made software to make the link possible. The first software prototype to link BIM with Blockchain was developed by RGU in collaboration with Avalone consultants in Aberdeen.

The underlying blockchain technology used for this project is known as Ethereum. It was selected for its technical features, including its ability to run smart contracts.

Dr Dounas said: “Ethereum has emerged as the platform with the most potential in distributed, immutable ledgers. It is essentially a distributed global computer which makes the contracts of DAOs possible.

“In a sense, the DAO operates as an incentivisation and reward mechanism for creatives, where large monolithic central companies are no longer needed to re-distribute income. It’s like a decentralised Spotify for every creative endeavour.”

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