Co.Design

WikiHouse, An Online Building Kit, Shows How To Make A House In 24 Hours

No plans Saturday? Then why not build a house?

WikiHouse is an online, open-source construction kit that lets people design and build a new crib in just 24 hours. Yeah, yeah, we know. It sounds ridiculous — like the premise for some bad reality show. (Can the Joneses build their dream home in a day? Will they survive the frame install? Will Mr. Jones disown Junior over his lousy drywall job?) But this is no joke. Designers tap Google SketchUp, a cinchy 3-D modeling program, to design and edit building templates (sorta' like sewing patterns for architecture). The templates are made available to the masses through Creative Commons. The user then downloads a pattern, cuts out the parts in plywood using a CNC milling machine, and starts hammering away.

“Its aim is to make it possible for almost anyone, regardless of their formal skills, to freely download and build structures which are affordable and suited to their needs,” WikiHouse’s website says.

Sounds promising. And if the designs are really as easy and inexpensive as the site says, you could see this sort of insta-architecture having astronomical value in poor, rural areas and developing countries. Open-source blueprints are already a huge aspect of nonprofit architecture.

But here’s one way WikiHouse is not affordable: You need a CNC miller. Machine shops have them. Universities have them. Sometimes hobbyists have them. Regular Joes do not. That could change as the technology grows cheaper. Nick Lerodiaconou of 00:/, the London design studio behind WikiHouse, points out that the Internet's full of handy how-to guides for cobbling together home-made CNC machines at bargain prices. (Here's one you can make for less than $100, though by the looks of it, I wouldn’t trust it to grind out your kid’s bedroom.)

In any case, WikiHouse is clearly still in trial mode. The only building that the designers have whipped up so far is a small prototype. It "took approximately 24-hours to complete from the start of CNC-milling to the last piece of plywood going up (including a 2-hour car-ride in between to ferry the components to our office in the back of a Volvo estate!)," Lerodiaconou says. "The assembly itself (just building the thing) took about 2 hours one evening and was carried out by 2-3 people, with a few others pitching in to help raise it."

00:/ will build the first official WikiHouse at the Gwangju Design Biennale 2011 in South Korea next month. From there, the designers hope to create a fully habitable WikiHouse (complete with sealing, insulation, finishes, and so on) and start a smattering of communal labs to explore the potential of open-source housing elsewhere in the world. "The driving question beneath something like WikiHouse is whether technology can meaningfully lower the threshold for design and fabrication, and thus democratize making in the same way that the home printer democratized the printing press, or YouTube democratized broadcasting," Lerodiaconou says. "Obviously what we're doing right now is an experiment, but the indications from this project, and lots of projects others are doing, is that it is possible. And it is a very-near future reality."

[Hat tip to Architect's Newspaper]

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8 Comments

  • Koos

    Liewe Jan 

    Waddefok?  Waarheen wil jy die boere vat en dink jy regtig enige iemand sal in so 'n plank-en-spykers skoendoos wil woon?  Dink asseblief twee keer voor jy weer namens ons almal praat - en gaan stof asseblief jy std 7 engelse handboek af - jy's 'n verleentheid vir ons almal.

  • Jan

    Dear Suzan Wonderful article
    I am an activist for Afrikaners in South Africa. We are experiencing a slow attrition Genocide of our people and need affordable housing asap to relocate up to 800.000 of our people out of city slums.
    Our community of ?????? needs to build up to 35.000 housing. I am in Asia trying to source possibilities and support.
    Could you put me in touch with the people behind this project you wrote about?
    Maybe I can try to arrange a joint venture with investors here in Asia to benefit my community and my people.
    Please contact me through my e-mail .
    Thank you for your time.
    J

  • Wize Adz

    @Creativeblox:twitter : You can put any sheet-good that can be cut with a rotary tool into the CNC machine.  It doesn't have to be the kind of plywood you're thinking of.  Whatever is available locally.  In my area (the American midwest), the cheapest, sturdiest, and most readily available sheet good would be the OSB that is used for cladding the outside of houses.  What's scarce in my neck of the woods is affordable labor, though some Republican-lead state legislatures are trying to change that by putting lots of people out of work...
    Using cut-plywood for the structure wasn't my first through of how to do this, either.  I'd use a smaller CNC machine to cut plywood brackets and connector-plates, and screw them to regular dimensional lumber for the spans.  I'd join everything with deck screws, since I have an electric screwdriver.

    But, you're right, we should look through a 3rd-world hardware store to see what's available, when we're trying to solve that problem.  Judging from what I've gathered from some of my friends who were in South America last week, the availability picture is far more complicated than most of us in the US would like to believe.  Just like the US, there are 1st and 3rd world parts of many countries.  In a city of a million people in the 3rd world, you really can go to home depot and pick up whatever you want.  But, can the poor rural people who live 60 miles form the nearest city afford it?  Can they even afford to go to home depot in the capital city?  Isn't poverty the real problem?

  • Creativeblox

    Admirable but not practical. i can see these working in first world countries for homeless or victims of disasters, but plywood is not readily available / and expensive. As are most of the items used to assemble the houses. effort should be taken to include native materials such as bamboo, clay, river stones or waste materials such as corn or rice husk.

  • presidenteobama

    the way is correct  the time is urgent in many countries and million of peoples deserve the effort.Maybe in YK or USA its easy and fogetable but the homeless in africa or asia think diferent

  • Davis James

    This is a pretty interesting way to look at a modern living arrangement. Im going to build one in a tree.