The open source movement isn’t only revolutionizing technology and how we share things; it also promises to transform the way we design, construct and interact with our buildings. The proprietary nature of architecture got a major rethink a few years ago with the launch of Open Architecture Network, an open source community where designers worldwide could collaborate and share plans of sustainable designs, and adapted for places in need of affordable solutions. Now, housing faces a similar shakeup from WikiHouse, an “open source construction set” that allows anyone who wants to build their own house to download free designs from a shared global library, which are then “printed” and assembled in a matter of days, no skills required.
Launched in 2011 by by Alastair Parvin and Nick Ierodiaconou of Zero Zero, a London-based design firm, WikiHouse aims to democratize the design and construction of eco-friendly homes. The idea is to allow users to download Creative Commons-licensed blueprints, which can be customized through Google SketchUp. Structural plywood pieces of the design are prefabricated and cut by CNC machine, and assembled on site, jigsaw-puzzle style, and fastened together with the help of wedge and peg connections that are influenced by traditional Korean architecture. Various support systems and add-ons can then be tailored and incorporated on an as-needed basis.
An affordable, sustainable & open source smart home
An interesting but inevitable twist has now been added to this already heady mix. The latest iteration of WikiHouse is version 4.0 — a two-storey smart home prototype recently constructed and exhibited at last month’s London Design Festival. Made in collaboration with engineering firm Arup and The Building Centre, WikiHouse 4.0 features a number of smart home technologies, from smart device-controlled lighting and ventilation, to a safer and more efficient low-voltage DC electrical system. All systems are integrated together via OpenHAB smart home software, an open source alternative to products like Nest.
Even mundane details are made to be shared and adapted upon; according to ArchDaily, Arup for instance developed an open source heat recovery unit called Open MVHR, which can be built with 3D printed components and aluminum — sourced from beer cans (a great incentive to have more cold ones, no doubt). As WikiHouse designer Sarah Gold explains on Motherboard, the project is now taking steps towards a “modular, adaptable system with open data controls [that returns] control of the house in every sense back to its owner.”
Besides the democratization of production, sustainability is another goal of the WikiHouse project. An emphasis on using locally appropriate materials would reduce the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transportation. The nature of the WikiHouse framework means that it can be disassembled and readily re-used, and according to The Guardian, could even be modified to meet stringent Passivhaus standards — an exciting proposal for would-be homeowners looking to build an affordable, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly home.
Privacy, security and a citizen-led design revolution
Though it has been characterized as an IKEA-like house, WikiHouse 4.0 has achieved a different level of complexity, posing a number of interesting questions about the future of housing. For one, although the cost of constructing this particular WikiHouse is pegged at £50,000 (USD $80,000), concerns of possible prohibitive costs associated with hiring CNC fabrication services and purchasing land have been raised. Secondly, local building codes may need to be brought up to speed before widespread implementation can happen. Thirdly, there are valid questions about privacy and security in an interconnected Internet of Things, where smart home systems can be hacked and homeowners’ energy usage data and domestic habits could be unknowingly collected by corporations and governments.
Despite these potential hurdles, the fundamental concepts behind the WikiHouse project have profound and far-reaching implications. Not only would this kind of creative sharing empower ordinary people to build their own cost-effective and sustainable homes, it would also radically change how cities develop, and challenges the idea that affordable housing has to be “one size fits all.” Watch co-founder Alastair Parvin explain further some of these points on TED:
There are certainly a few things to iron out as a movement toward low-cost, sustainable housing for the masses develops. But with rising land and building costs, WikiHouse’s open source, do-it-yourself ethos — which synthesizes technology with architecture in an emergent sharing economy — promises to at least launch a “disruptive debate,” if not change the way we build and inhabit our houses.
Feature image via WikiHouse, Creative Commons.