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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]