Last week I wrote about how open source approaches are being used in the automotive industry, helping to accelerate innovation. Today I wanted to mention that a handful of people are trying something similar in architecture.
Generally speaking architecture is bespoke, expensive, and often elitist. Most of us live in fairly standard boxes. Really good houses, whether they are aesthetically or technologically excellent, tend to be for the wealthy. That’s not necessarily a problem on the aesthetics side. Not everyone wants to live in an ‘interesting’ house, or live opposite one for that matter. But in an age of climate change, it would be great if the most sustainable designs were widely available for more of us to build.
One group working on this is the Open Building Institute. They are developing a library of designs for housing elements which all fit together in a modular system – things like windows, doors, greenhouses, insulated panels. The aim is to keep them simple and accessible, so that people could feasibly build them themselves and then combine them into one of their off the shelf buildings, or a design of their own.
The project is based out of Factor E Farm, home to Open Source Ecology. New buildings are developed by a community of designers and engineers, and then built on the farm as a demonstration. This one is the HabLab, a residential unit for volunteers that was built mainly out of mud bricks made on site.
Another group working on Open Source architecture is WikiHouse, which I’ve described before. Their plan is to build a community of makers sharing designs for structures that can be CNC milled and then assembled like a big kit. So far there has been a lot of talk and very few demonstration projects, so I need a bit more convincing on WikiHouse, but I like the philosophy.
Both of those are going for community generated designs, so it’s not led by the architecture profession. But some architects are using Open Source. The best known is Alejandro Aravena, the creator of the ‘half-house’. He’s a high profile architect who specialises in social housing, and who wants to build great homes for the disadvantaged. His Elemental architecture practice has given away some of its famous social housing designs, so that anyone can learn from them, adapt them, and build them.
Other architects have designed specific homes and given away the designs, hosted on a website called Paperhouses. Homes, structures and furniture are also featured on Bricks, a hub for open source architecture and a good place to start.
It feels to me like this movement is in its infancy, with little participation from the wider construction industry at this point. But when you consider the housing needs of a growing global population, and the huge need for affordable and efficient homes, it’s a movement with important work to do. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.