By Fred Abler
One of the first things architecture students learn is that less than 3% of the built environment is designed by an architect. This vanishingly small fraction is meant to inflame young architects and fill them with purpose and passion.
There are only about 140,000 architects in the U.S.. Not nearly enough to go around. Consequently, most of the world forgoes ‘polite architecture’ designed by professional, and makes due with vernacular architecture – buildings designed and built by non-architects.
Frank Lloyd Wright described the vernacular as “Folk building growing in response to actual needs, fitted into environment by people who knew no better than to fit them with native feeling”. But this was no put down. He goes on: “for us, better worth study than all the highly self-conscious academic attempts at the beautiful throughout Europe”.
The wisdom of vernacular architecture obtains from the forced-compromise of locally available building materials and localized needs. Its naive beauty stems from pride-of-place, craft in construction, and the often charming applied decoration of these buildings.
Yet in this modern age of high-tech, you might think vernacular architecture is all but outmoded, a kind of quaint folk-art. But then you’d be wrong. A new kind of Open Sourced meta-tek’ture is making for a vernacular comeback.
The WikiHouse is an open source construction project that aims to make it possible for most anyone with modest skills, to freely download and build affordable housing. It was started by a group of young London designers, and on display last month at the Milan Design Week.
Fig 1. Ready? Design, Print, Build! – The WikiHouse uses a construction system based on plywood FCOs (Flat Cut Outs) with fins that connect together like puzzle pieces, creating a sturdy structure.
WikiHouse builds on the ideas of the Open Sim Sim project, a response to the housing crisis in Japan after the Tsunami. By leveraging both technology and Open Source design, the projects enhance design-flow and collective memory – making architecture more accessible.
To start, would-be builders simply download a SketchUp plug-in that enables them to access the WikiHouse open source website. Thus users can browse a folksonomy of open designs, modify an existing plan, or even design anew – then download and ‘print’ using a CNC milling machine.
The plywood puzzle-pieces are then flat-packed for transport, and subsequently assembled in-situ, secured only with wingnuts and bolts, or mortise and tenon joints that are ‘persuaded’ into place by mallet. The mallet is of course itself a plywood FCO.
Fig 2. WikiHouse Construction Details. The building system uses no glue, nails, or other permanent fasteners. This Finger-Tek™ makes construction more accessible to all.
The WikiHouse is still only in the development phase, but the team is committed to building habitable houses during the next 12-months via collaborations in New Zealand, Japan, and the U.S.. Their target building-type is disaster-relief housing which may be a killer-app.
Yet I can’t help thinking this clever meta-tek deserves a wider audience. WikiHouse clearly addresses the extreme time, material, and construction constraints needed for disaster-relief. But why limit this DIY (Design-It-Yourself) construction only to catastrophes?
Open Source building could easily be applied to small structures – playhouses, utility sheds, dog houses, yoga platforms, writing studios, and all manner of out-shacks. For example, why not capitalize on the urban-farming craze with composting cribs or Chicken-Wiki!
Fig 3. – Chicken-Wiki. Open Source Chicken Coop for urban farming. 3D Model by Gabriel Concha and 2D photofigures by Alan Fraser. Download the SketchUp model at FormFonts 3D Models.
The Swedish flat-masters over at IKEA ought to promote this Finger-Tek™ construction system by partnering with WikiHouse so the idea can go viral. The name for this new flat-pack partnership would be of course … Wiki + IKEA = WiKEA ™!
Fig 4. – WiKEA™ – The new Design-It-Yourself Flat Pack outbuildings and playstructures now available at IKEA. A serious proposal by FormFonts 3D Models. 3D Models developed in SketchUp. Image courtesy of WikiHouse.
The Swedes actually invented plywood. The self-taught Swedish inventor and building contractor Immanuel Nobel (father of Alfred his Nobel Prize) invented the rotary lathe in mid 1800’s. This enabled his follow-on invention… commercial grade plywood. Or was it vice-versa?
So then, it’s only proper that IKEA should host the world’s first collaboratory for plywood construction. And should you need some help tweaking the folksonomic designs, perhaps IKEA can hire some underemployed architects.. to help ‘pimp your plywood’!
The WiKEA™ .SKP file would then be emailed to your nearest CNC provider – a local lumberyard that will ‘cut’ your project for free. Yes, free! ‘Plywood-printing’ would be a huge sales-maker for manufacturers like Columbia Forest Products and Georgia Pacific.
In short: The DIY (Design-It-Yourself) and Open Source movements are co-creating a new generation of vernacular architecture.
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Vernacular Architecture – Wikipedia
WikiHouse Website http://www.wikihouse.cc/library
WikiHouse SketchUp Plug-in – Download Here
Daniel Dendra on Architecture – TedX Berlin
Open Sim Sim Project for Japan – OpenSimSim
Inventor of Modern Plywood – Immanuel Nobel
North America’s Largest Plywood maker – Columbia Forest Products