“Wikihouse is one answer to a very big question,” said Alastair Parvin during his 2013 TED Talk.

The question was centred around how best to house the world’s growing and urbanising population.

According to Parvin, one of the founders of the Wikihouse project, the world’s fastest growing cities are not skyscraper cities, they’re self-built cities such as Rio’s favelas.

The Wikihouse project is an open source, collaborative venture that aims to help people to build their own homes. Making use of open source software and designs, Wikihouses are designed to be built by people anywhere who don’t possess high-level building skills.

It’s a different approach to reality in the developing world for most people, allowing them to build your own house as they can afford it, with locally prevalent materials, in a traditional design. What’s radically different, at least with the current version of the Wikihouse, is using open source design and modern materials such as plywood and high-tech equipment such as 3D printers and CNC routers.

“Machines are radically lowering the thresholds of time, cost, and skill,” Parvin said. “They’re challenging the idea that if you want something to be affordable it has to be one size fits all.”

Parvin describes it as “democratising production” by creating factories everywhere, with everyone potentially a designer. That’s a key factor, as – to cite one example – a home for an arid city must be designed differently from a home for a humid city, i.e. vernacular architecture.

How will that factory be established in developing countries? Perhaps entrepreneurs will be able to buy, beg, borrow, or steal the CNC components, as well as a ready supply of plywood. An alternative scenario involves using locally available materials and traditional construction methods with open source design. Parvin has stated that the CNC machine combined with plywood was just one part of the experiment, and certainly not the only way.

The WikiHouseNZ project

The WikiHouse project is in its early stages, with just a few houses built so far. Several demonstration projects, however, provide a glimpse of the potential of the WikiHouse. For example, the New Zealand group, WikiHouseNZ, has built and shown their design.

Co-founder Martin Luff, on the WikiHouse forum, addressed the group’s aim.

“We’re not only grappling with how to address a broader need for affordable high performance people-centric urban development around the world, but also our immediate post-quake rebuild needs nearer home,” he said.

Sketchup team WikiHouse for Makerfaire

Another built example is that built by the Sketchup team. WikiHouse uses the Google Sketchup program, and the Sketchup team designed and built a structure for the New York Maker Faire in September 2013. The team of 10 people was able to assemble the house in a day and a half, while the disassembly took only three hours.

 Creative Commons image from WikiHouse web site.

Creative Commons image from WikiHouse website.

Foundhouse takes it a step further

The Foundhouse project by Patrick Beseda and Lacy Williams has not only been built, it’s been lived in. The duo, architecture students at the University of Colorado in Denver, built the structure as a project and as their shelter for a field project on the Navajo Nation in Bluff, Utah. Their blog provides extensive detail about building the project, which they crowdfunded through Kickstarter, gathering $2,431 from 74 backers.

Beseda and Williams cut the structural panels at a CNC shop in Denver, then partially assembled the house before packing it all down to move to the site at Bluff, where they finished the build.