A “Wikipedia for stuff” – The story of WikiHouse

“Architecture for the people, by the people.” Words that the founder of WikiHouse – Alastair Parvin – chooses to live by. WikiHouse has been revolutionizing how the design and production of architecture can be accessed for over a decade.

Image credit: OSL

When Alistair graduated from university with a degree in architecture, he was ready to take on new challenges. Life had different plans and the 2009 economic crash left him struggling to find work. Trained to think up solutions to problems, Alistair worked out ways to keep architects relevant and valuable in times of economic downturn. He came to the conclusion that modern architecture should strive to follow three key tenets:

1. ‘Don’t Build’ – Rather than demolish and rebuild something that isn’t working, find a way to make the current design work better.

2. ‘Go Small’ – Focus on creating smaller and tighter-knit communities and housing, rather than monolithic megastructures.

3. ‘Go Amateur’ – Give power back to the communities and let people do the work they need for themselves.

Alistair became aware of the fact that pretty much all architecture projects at the time were being funded by and designed for the 1%, which resulted in the giant skyscrapers we find in most cities, and the large and oftentimes oppressive housing blocks that many of the 99% live in. He wanted to turn this around and give back the tools of design and production to the common people so that communities could be built which benefited everyone.

Image credit: OSL

Alistair soon discovered the ‘Open Source’ movement on the internet – which put forward a communal sharing of ideas and resources for anyone to use. He envisioned distributed manufacturing to be what people needed in order to build strong communities. Alistair wanted to give back the tools of design and production to the people so that communities could be built which benefited everyone.

WikiHouse started by designing and building homes in some of the poorest shanty towns of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Working alongside the Brazilian youth mobilization project ‘Dharma’ and the analysis agency ‘BrazilIntel’, WikiHouse provided a “maker lab” which used a single CNC router machine for an entire community. The ability to use shared designs and shared resources allowed the inhabitants to take control and build housing at low costs. It also empowered many young people by giving them experience with design and building, developing valuable and scalable skills.

The success of the Brazil project propelled Alistair and the team of WikiHouse forward, and today they continue to provide Open Source design files and help connect consumers to local makers. They want to help humanity to move away from the outdated, carbon-intensive methods of building production, to a more sustainable, zero-carbon, and zero-waste style of home. WikiHouse believes that this is possible by 2050.

Image credit: OSL

The design files are completely open source which means they can be freely downloaded from the WikiHouse website. The files can be edited to meet specific requirements for different people in easily accessible and free software such as SketchUp or Blender. The materials can be cut out at any locally found CNC router machine, and an entire house can be built in a single day with as few as three or four people – even if none of them have any construction experience.

One of WikiHouse’s recent innovations is the Skylark block. These blocks are highly insulated, meaning that they keep heat in and result in ultra-low energy consumption. The plywood actually captures and stores carbon from the atmosphere, which makes the block to be carbon negative. The design has taken an interoperable perspective, which means that the blocks are compatible with almost all types of foundations and cladding, while also including zones for ducts, pipes, and wires to be installed later.

Image credit: Pulp Build

The Skylark blocks are easy to assemble and can be finished in a matter of hours by a group of people with no construction skills. The blocks are lightweight, weighing about 39kg, so everyone can take part in the building process. Spruce plywood can last up to 60 years, or even hundreds of years if kept dry – this durability allows generations of families to live in the same home. If the house does need to be deconstructed, it is easy to disassemble and the blocks can be reused or recycled. The blocks are manufactured with millimeter precision, which creates a straight and accurate building every time. Combined with the strength of interlocked plywood, the Skylock block homes are designed to be easily built and lived in comfortably for decades to come.

WikiHouse lives up to its name as a “Wikipedia for stuff” – revolutionizing communities worldwide.

Featured image credit: OSL

Tagged with: