WikiHouse, an open source construction set

Words: Jacinta Cleary

Sanctuary magazine introduces WikiHouse, an open source information system that enables people to design and build their own houses.

It’s aim is to make it possible for anyone to design, share, download, adapt and ‘print’ houses that are low-cost, high-performance and suited to their local needs. Using a CNC machine, the house parts can be digitally ‘printed’ from a standard sheet material like plywood, and the main structure assembled in about a day without the need for conventional construction skills.

WikiHouse combines the potential of distributed digital manufacturing tools like 3D printing and CNC with open, collaborative design to radically lower the thresholds of time, cost, and skill and to put the capability to make generous, healthy, secure housing into the hands of users.

The What is it section on the WikiHouse website has a nice visual of the eight or so steps involved, from selecting a design, setting out the numbered parts on the ground “like a double-layered jigsaw” through to inviting friends and family for the “barn raising”.

Also worth a look is this interview with WikiHouse co-designer Alastair Parvin of London-based design studio 00 (‘zero zero’), where he talks about applications of the WikiHouse. WikiHouse is new and clearly there are only a handful of protoypes around the world, but the aim is to make it accessible to all, especially those at the lower end of the housing spectrum such as residents in Brazil’s favelas or those affected by natural disasters.

The Guardian’s Sustainable Business section recently wrote about the sustainability benefits of the WikiHouse method including the reduction in waste, transportation and even the potential for the designs to achieve Passivehaus standards.

Parvin says architecture needs to empower amateurs. “We are moving into a future where the factory can be everywhere – and increasingly the design team can be everyone.”

“The reality is that the fastest growing cities globally are not formally developed cities but ‘self-made’ cities. So if we’re serious about tackling problems like urbanisation, climate change and inequality, we need to develop solutions not just to construction but also off-grid sustainable infrastructure, and to put them into a democratic commons. A kind of Wikipedia for ‘stuff’.”

Where next?

WikiHouse is a small experiment continuously under development, with a growing community of teams involved, ranging from a team in Christchurch, New Zealand working on solutions to post-earthquake housing, and a group setting up a community making factory in one of Rio’s favelas. The project is seeking collaborators, funders and simply people who want to use and make a WikiHouse for themselves.


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