This is an opinion editorial by Frances Hogan Steffian, a writer, bitcoin investor and wife of an award-winning architect.
What should be the architectural styles of Bitcoin? In the history of our world, our enduring buildings give stature to our best ideas and enshrine our core beliefs. If Bitcoin realizes its potential to remake the world’s financial system, and as Bitcoin communities spring up around the globe, how should our ideas and ideals about Bitcoin be expressed in these newly-built environments?
The Power Of Architecture
Do not underestimate the power of architecture. It lives through the ages. It always conveys the worldview of those who built it, whether it is an individual architect or a cultural project built over time. The physical act of walking through a building imprints each visitor with a visceral experience of the ideas that the builders and architect intended.
Medieval fortresses, for instance, tell the story of the people that they housed and protected. They don’t usually have one single architect or builder, but these structures evolved over time, and so their message can be less controlled and more honest. These ancient fortresses convey our best and worst ideas of security, family, enforcement, control, materialism and triumph over the physical world.
And what do our best buildings express? Most often, it is the human desire to transcend our daily physical limitations and live on another level of beauty, freedom and connection to the divine. The classically-ordered interior of Rome’s Pantheon is centered by an oculus open to the sky, which is a constant reminder of the vastness of existence, far beyond human understanding. In India, the sublime Taj Mahal can provide the experience of being in a higher dimension that is grounded on a physical foundation. We can walk in heaven now. This is similar to the better reality that the most hopeful Bitcoiners dream about.
Expressing Bitcoin’s Ideals In The Built Environment
North Korean defector Yeonmi Park electrified the Bitcoin 2022 conference with her talk about how private, secure financial independence is critical in the fight against human exploitation. The link to her talk went viral, even being tweeted by Jack Dorsey. Her personal triumphs over human trafficking demonstrate the greatest hope for Bitcoiners: to break the chains of financial slavery that shackle our planet. Bitcoiners also long for personal wealth that is private and secure. If there is global adoption of Bitcoin, the potential value truly could go to the moon.
As such, now is the time to think about the messages that the architectural style of Bitcoin will convey and how we want to express these ideas in our built environment. As discussed above, the global community could start with such concepts such as freedom, empowerment, stability, privacy and elegance.
Yet the architectural style of Bitcoin should not be founded in nor geared to only one earthly civilization. The point of Bitcoin is that it both liberates and unites the world. This means that the architectural style of Bitcoin that is expressed in Asia will differ from the style conveyed in Central America, for instance. Different stories and cultural experiences will be built.
Now, in this time in the world, Bitcoin communities are emerging all over the globe. The most well known are in Central America, yet more constantly emerge all over the globe.
In El Salvador, there is the built Bitcoin community in El Zonte and an extraordinary city planned for the base of the inactive Conchagua volcano. There is Lago Bitcoin in Guatemala and Bitcoin Jungle in Costa Rica. Bitcoin Ekasi has arisen in a South African township, as well as other communities in Africa. Likewise, Bitcoin communities in places all over the world, including Thailand, are participating in the Global Bitcoin Fest.
The architectural styles should convey beauty and a desire to live beautifully. This is actually a very practical point. Civilizations tend not to bother to maintain their ugly buildings. Again, we want our visions to have permanence.
Existing Bitcoin communities already express a sensitivity to their ecological environment. A vision of peace and harmony has already emerged in the eco-friendly designs in proposed new developments, in particular at El Zonte in El Salvador. But do they also express beauty and self confidence?
Importantly, Bitcoin is decentralized. Everyone who participates in the Bitcoin economy uses Bitcoin in the same capacity as everyone else. It has been called “egalitarian” and “grassroots.” The efforts of some famous modern architects come to mind in their attempts to embody similar ideas in physical form: Le Corbusier, Mies van de Rohe and Walter Gropious, to name a few. These architects are famous for creating spaces that are equally accessible and not elitist. They used everyday material that everyone can access, and their designs focused on elevating everyday life. They created spacial experiences, not ornamented displays of architectural expense. The intention of the modern architects was to employ mundane material to create an extraordinary, uplifting experience that anyone can enjoy.
What should the Bitcoin architectural styles not be? Let’s start with the Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C. The building’s giant scale can make visitors feel insignificant. The narrow windows and minimal detail are not welcoming and convey a sense of impenetrability. While the Fed describes its building’s style as “stripped classicism,” this building that was completed in 1937, exhibits many of the traits of fascist architecture.
Nearby, Washington D.C.’s outdoor common area known as the National Mall was designed to impress upon the visitor the grandeur and size of the American aapital. Intentionally or not, the vast mall swallows up most crowds of people, and conveys the idea that, no matter how big the mass of the crowd, the institution of government will still dwarf the people. The vast scale could make one feel secure in its feeling of unchangeability or, conversely, leave a visitor feeling helpless.
We also need to be very aware of all possible interpretations of Bitcoin's architectural styles. For example, a Bitcoin cynic may joke that the dangerous volatility of bitcoin was perfectly expressed as a city built on a volcano. To counter that sentiment, now is the time to demonstrate the efficiency, stability, endurance, beauty and serenity of harnessing the geothermal power of an inactive volcano.
The 20th century saw the ripping apart of local culture all around the planet. We must pick up these frayed edges and connect them into our future. We must reclaim even our smallest achievements. We must be extremely idealistic as we envision the built environment where we want to live in the future. Through Bitcoin’s architectural styles we have the opportunity to reclaim the best of human endeavors and build a carefully considered vision of our future.
This is a guest post by Frances Hogan Steffian. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.