What we—unMonastery—see is a radical paralysis blocking the connection of needs and resources of people and places. While models for mobility, sharing and co-operation in the work sphere are becoming ubiquitous, the model for domestic life is still based on the family or the single person. This is wasteful both quantitatively and qualitatively. Refugees, migrant workers, digital nomads, wandering academics, flown-in executives and space travellers all share the need for new, sustainable, adaptive strategies for living together.
Interweaving the history of monasticism and design patterns of a hackerspace, the unMonastery is in the process of building a network of outward facing, long-term, and harmonious co-living communities. Extrapolating from the framework of genuine monastic practice, the unMonastery enterprise seeks to channel the efforts of a generation that is over-educated and underemployed into meaningful hard work. We do this by rekindling service-oriented co-operative living as a way of both personal and species survival.
In February 2014 the first unMonastery opened its doors in the historically poignant city of Matera, Italy. Established by a small and committed group, in collaboration with the City of Matera and EdgeRyders (an online activist bank spawned by the Office for Social Cohesion research at the Council of Europe), it proved pivotal in the city’s winning bid to become the European Capital of Culture of 2019 by re-imagining the city and its history of resilience within the context of an open future. The Matera prototype hosted projects including CoderDojo Matera, a branch of the international initiative to teach children coding, Mapping the Commons, a methodology placing the city’s cultural assets on OpenStreetMap, and unTransit, a mobile app to follow the city’s transport system in real time. Funding was stretched through a commitment to frugality, which allowed us to extend our field presence and to collect valuable experience while amassing a huge amount of documentation covering every aspect of our work and life. (The habit to document our every move has followed us as we have developed our network in Berlin and Athens). This regurgitating of our process has been used in two major ways: to produce an unMonastery in a box toolkit (Basic Input/Output System or BIOS), and to script our own history—in varying forms of reflection, analysis or diatribe—as the project seeks to develop a blueprint for a open source 21st-century monastic order to support our development of new models for communal living.
Elements of the unMonastery Model
We accept at this point in history that retreat is as legitimate as growth; that models of collective effort indicate a path of low-consumption human living; that a synthesis of urban and regional survival strategies might provide a platform for future life; that ‘frugal abundance’ can be an attractive strategic goal that provides significant emotional satisfaction, too.
The unMonastery proposal is to amplify this emotional satisfaction through evolving cultural life forms that promote valuable social spin-offs. The key question is ‘how’? We are working to develop an open source model for the potential futures of living together.
Routine and Daily Practice
We search for a model of life, governed by inspired routine and daily practice in which both rule and life lose their familiar meaning. Our goal is to bring to light a viable community model. The group is strengthened by a shared daily rhythm: Cooking, cleaning and cultivating a garden ensure a healthy, clean and organised living and working environment, while others— shared meals, circles—safeguard the ensemble.
Wake-up Bell, Day Closing Bell
There may be a physical bell rung at the beginning of the day to wake everyone up and reverberating at the end of the day as a sign for any guests to join us in collective contemplation.
A functional hearth is the physical foundation of a home; in a Test Lab the kitchen occupies this vital space. The culture of shared meals, cooking and eating together are nutritious beyond body chemistry; simple tools like the kitchen rota facilitate fine-tuned co-operation. Into this environment, guests are more than welcome.
Groups meet. Borrowing from open space technology, the circle is the basic form underlining all forms of participatory process. The use of seated circles, morning and evening, serve as check-in moments for the group to share their current state and understanding.
Group communication comes at different tempos. An active collective morning practice, whether it is meditation, stretching or yelling jubilantly into the caverns below, can help tweak the community and dismantle the ethos of individualism.
The Weird Stuff
The unMoaners may yet reveal themselves as devout animists. They believe in talking stones and memory laden walls, they consider our ancestors as ‘invisible stakeholders’. We train to download our thoughts from their immediate source, not from a memory bank of rehearsed patterns or a personal library of certified theories. This skill has value (we seem to think) for the health of the collective, although not everyone can provide a convincing reason why...
Documentation and Design Patterns
We aim to collect, try and share best practices in as many fields of research and aspects of life as possible. Our goal is to develop a comprehensive how-to library, a contemporary survival guide, without building on commonly held assumptions about infrastructure, resources and entitlements.
Zero Waste (Vision)
A Zero Waste System is cyclical, like in nature, and does two fundamental things: it redesigns our systems and resource use—from product design to disposal—to prevent wasteful and polluting practices.
The Budget is a monetary organisational plan to manage group finances over a fixed period of time, supporting frugality and financial stability.
Decision Making (Tools)
Decision Making is one of the most basic tools for the group to function as a community. It ensures transparent problem solving, and generally becomes more granulated over time, to balance efficiency and participation.