January 23, 2014

WikiHouse Gives Architecture to the People


WikiHouse logo

Imagine this: You go online to choose a home plan, download the free plan and take sheets of plywood to your local CNC machine where the parts and tools for assembling your home are cut. Transport those pieces to your building site, grab a couple of friends, and put your house together in a day or two.

Unbelievable? Maybe. Too good to be true? No. In fact, WikiHouse, a new open-source architecture website, is making this idea of “architecture for the people by the people” a reality!

Alastair Parvin, designer with Architecture 00:/ and co-founder of WikiHouse says, “This approach is not innovative—it’s actually how we built buildings for hundreds of years before the industrial revolution in community barn raisings. The only difference between traditional architecture and open-source architecture might be a web connection. But it’s a really, really big difference.”

WikiHouse illustration

One of those big differences is that the plans for the structures on WikiHouse are not traditional architectural drawings. They are created in SketchUp by Google, a free design program that Parvin says is “dead easy” to use. This means that not only can anyone draft a structure and share it with the public on WikiHouse, but users can choose a plan, and then customize it to fit their own needs using the 3-D design program.

WikiHouse sequence of cutting models

Another big difference between traditional architecture and WikiHouse designs? “The parts are all numbered and basically what you end up with is a really big IKEA kit,” Parvin says. There are no bolts, screws, or nails. The designs use a wedge-and-peg system for stability. And the design library even includes a printable mallet and ladder for use in assembly! “A team of two or three people working together can build this,” Parvin says. “They don’t need any traditional construction skills. They don’t need a huge array of power tools. And they can build a small house in about a day.”

Eric Schimelpfenig, who previously worked on developing SketchUp software, and is the developer behind SketchThis.net, a kitchen plug-in for design software, was part of a team that designed (using the online design software allowed collaboration with an international team), and built (with 160 sheets of three-quarter inch plywood) a WikiHouse project for Maker Faire 2013 in Queens, New York. “I’ve built a fair number of things in my life, and solved a lot of puzzles,” he wrote in his blog.  “This by several orders of magnitude was one of the most challenging and enjoyable things I’ve ever had the pleasure of helping build.  This could be the future of construction.” The video, above, documents the construction and disassembly of the Market Faire project—1,100 individual parts assembled in about 16 hours, according to Schimelphfenig.

In his TED Talk, above (watching the entire talk is definitely worth your time, but if you want to fast-forward to the nitty-gritty on WikiHouse, advance to 7:19), Parvin says, “We can begin to see the seed of a completely open-source, citizen-led urban development model.” Architecture for the people, by the people, indeed! What an innovative way to share individual and collective creativity with the world! We can’t wait to see how this continues to grow—and to get our hands on a CNC machine!

A big thanks to Inhabitat for putting this on our radar!

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