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United Kingdom News Technology

British Architects Develop Open-Source Home Building 96

Posted by samzenpus
from the free-plans dept.
Iddo Genuth writes "Think of a world where you could simply download the blueprints of your future home for free just like you download any open source software today. A team of British architects developed just that and they are hoping their project called WikiHouse will radically change the way we think about building homes."
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British Architects Develop Open-Source Home Building

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  • by fantomas (94850) on Friday May 31, 2013 @03:09AM (#43870063)

    The website notes the project is in its early stages. So it's either in "ideas debating" mode or "vapourware" if you want to be less generous.

    House building is already open source: all the information is out there in your local public library / on the internet. Nothing is closed to you in the way that you can't look inside some proprietary software to understand what's going on. If you have the time, you can read up on everything from applying for the legal permissions to put up a house, designing a building, and all the way through to finding out how to dig trenches, run electric cables and paint walls. Nothing is closed from you (certainly in the majority of countries in the world).

    There are choke points: the expense of hiring architects, specialised builders, legal advisors. None of these are closed to you. What you are doing is saving the years it takes to learn these trades and paying somebody else to do these tasks because its quicker, so more efficient for you in energy terms. There is a small but consistently strong movement in many countries of people who already build their own homes, where they have made the choice to give up their jobs as computer programmers/nurses/rangers/whatever and spend several hundred hours digging trenches, laying brickwork, drawing architectural diagrams etc. It's already open source.

    I think what these people might be doing is trying to shortcut the architectural expert choke point and break architects' hold on construction. But at the end of the day if you want a self build house, you're still going to have to go up a ladder and move heavy things around a lot and deal with construction elements that need careful attention, like mains electricity, water piping and gas.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      regulated open source even.

      if they really wanted to help, they would lobby for double windows and insulation regulations.. I hear UK is rubbish for that.

      • by dominux (731134)

        you heard wrong. new builds and modifications have to be quite well insulated, there are grants available to retrofit decent loft insulation and cavity wall fillings to the older housing stock. We tend to build houses from proper fired clay bricks with tiled roofs rather than bits of wood.

        • by xelah (176252)

          Do you have a good reason for believing that? I've heard the same about UK housing repeatedly, and a quick search finds this as an example: http://www.leedsmet.ac.uk/as/cebe/projects/towards_sustainable_housing.pdf [leedsmet.ac.uk] (try page 16). I think that UK building conventions (ie, bricks and tiles) and government campaigns have convinced the UK public that the difference between a well and poorly insulated building is putting a think layer of foam between two existing brick walls, shoving a couple of feet of loft in

        • Damn. I was looking forward to a game of huff and puff jenga, too.
        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Why on earth would anyone build a house from "proper fired clay bricks"? Have you not seen pictures of the destruction in Mexico and Turkey when earthquakes hit that kind of construction? Masonry is a terrible structural material.

          If you really wanted to build things to last, you'd use steel framing, like this home builder [andarsteel.com] does.

          • by jonbryce (703250)

            We don't really get earthquakes in the UK. An earthquake that is serious enough to damage buildings is a once in a hundred years event for the UK as a whole. For a particular area, it is a once in recorded history event if you are really unlucky.

            • by Grishnakh (216268)

              They probably thought that in some of those other areas too. Earthquakes happen everywhere, though most are very low-magnitude, but even these weaken structures over time. Not building to handle even small tremors is just idiotic.

              BTW, our crappy wood houses handle most earthquakes just fine. If we built houses out of bricks like you, they'd constantly be falling down around here. So for you to criticize us for using wood is inane and stupid.

          • by kermidge (2221646)

            Modified for wind, earthquake, frost heave, and the like, the better, if labor intensive approach would be the suitable blend of ferro-cement and reinforced concrete. Otherwise, unless thoroughly inappropriate for local conditions, a proper stone house with thatched roof is the way to go. A good thatch roof can last easily a century and more. Otherwise, slate.

            Two other approaches that look interesting to me are some of the better modular homes, and another modular line that uses shipping containers.

            Admit

            • by Grishnakh (216268)

              Simplest, many places, one could pour a reinforced slab

              You can't use slabs in most places in the US because of frost heave: you have to dig your foundation below the frost line, which usually requires around 4 feet of depth. That's why houses in the northern states usually have basements: if you're already digging 4 feet for a foundation, it's not that much extra cost to dig 8 feet and make a usable space (if for nothing else than a furnace, laundry room, and storage) out of it. You can do slabs in southe

              • by kermidge (2221646)

                About slabs - I should have made clear I had in mind more than US. Aware of frost heave and personally prefer basement wherever possible. A dodge is below-frost-line footings or piers, and that will depend on local conditions, budget, and need. I've seen it done, and well, but it's agin my druthers.

                Being an old fart, and having worked a fair bit with it, I like and prefer wood for many things but no longer for basic structure, and that's not what I had in mind for that para. To me structure ought be str

    • by drolli (522659) on Friday May 31, 2013 @03:56AM (#43870235) Journal

      I agree. The knowledge is nearly all open (although a few mandatory standards are probably not in the library). The problem is that architecting (and implementing) a house wrongly has an extreme expensive long-term effect. Please use experts (which have all this open knowledge)

      a) Violate a mandatory building standard and you may end up with very high change costs ("Oh, what you mean i cant build x meters high in distance of y meters to z").

      b) If you do something wrong, the effects will not be visible in a shot time, If your walls start to rot in 10 years or your house has a crack of 2cm in 20 years because you did not take care about humidity or the ground below, it your problem

      c) Unless stamped out of the ground by the dozend in a new area which is planned at a single time (in which case the cost of the "manual" expert planning may be even less relevant), every house is special (surrounding, use, standars at the time), and mostly for a reason. If you dont want to spend your time tracking standards, laws, building techniques, and financing and apply an up-to date technique to you specific situation at a specific time

      Somehow this thing remind me of all the "3d-printer"-fans around here, who are obviously unaware of what you can do with a decent set of manual tools, and think just because you can "download" somthing you can understand or control it.

      • by stenvar (2789879)

        The problem is that architecting (and implementing) a house wrongly has an extreme expensive long-term effect. Please use experts (which have all this open knowledge)

        Building a house isn't rocket science. A lot of the complications and costs are regulatory in nature.

        Somehow this thing remind me of all the "3d-printer"-fans around here, who are obviously unaware of what you can do with a decent set of manual tools

        You have no idea what 3D printer fans are "unaware of" and you apparently don't know what 3D pri

        • by drolli (522659)

          Nevertheless the "regulatory" things are complicate to overview and they are expensive if you get it wrong.

          And yes, i have an Idea what a 3d printer is used for. And i have an idea what it should be used for. And with all honesty, if a part is produced more than 100times, has no inner spaces, and is produced by a few cutting/polishing steps, then its unlikely that a 3d printer is the tool of choice - unless its the only thing which you know how to operate.

          Slow, high per-part costs, very limited choice of ma

      • by Jon_S (15368)
        It is pretty open. The codes are available online, but they are hard to print from there (not that you would want to print all that - cheaper to buy). For example: http://publicecodes.cyberregs.com/st/index.htm [cyberregs.com]

        As for "very high change costs" for not doing it right, in most places (note, I am from US), you have to get your plans approved first, and inspected during construction which should minimize that. Some people complain about that (big government, etc. etc.), but I think it is a good thing. With
      • by kermidge (2221646)

        If you are determined to design your own home it's your responsibility to cover all those codes and caveats. One approach I've seen work in a couple of cases is to hire an architect for his expertise to look over your design, point out gotchas and give a few pointers. You don't get an architectural sign-off, he doesn't get full fee, but you've got a workable design - if you've done your homework. It's not an easy thing to do, tho; you've got to dig into materials, loads, and codes. It's not a task for t

    • That's true in Britain, but not everywhere. If you have the privilege to live in Australia (happiest country on earth, folks!) you have to pay ~AU$400 to get a copy of the building code. That's for either the PDF or the printed version. And they make damn sure they update it each year so you have to go buy it again.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      If you want to talk chokepoints you should start with the doorways. Modern British houses are ridiculously small rabbit hutches, The builder have to take the doors off their show houses and fill them with mirrors just to make them look bigger.

      It's so bad now that some estates and blocks have commercial storage facilities built in that residents have to pay for because their homes don't have enough space to hold the stuff they need.

      • by slim (1652)

        If you want to talk chokepoints you should start with the doorways. Modern British houses are ridiculously small rabbit hutches, The builder have to take the doors off their show houses and fill them with mirrors just to make them look bigger.

        I have lived in such a home - the first house I owned was a 2 bedroom new build, and yes, it was pretty cramped. But to be fair, they're like that because that's what the market wants. If you're willing to pay more (or go to a cheaper location), you can get a more spacious house.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          The market doesn't want that, it is just forced to accept it because that is all people can afford due to massively inflated house prices.

          • by slim (1652)

            What you're describing *is* "the market".

            We'd all like a 5 bedroom mansion, but we can't all afford one.

  • Where do I download the building materials? Is there a torrent for it?

  • Does that mean my house won't have windows?
  • As ex-architect, I can point one flaw ......... building codes are different in different states/provinces/colonies.
    Though, idea is very cool. Sites that sell ready architectural designs are ask a fortune for the cooky-cutter designs.

  • Ah, the Wikihouse (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 31, 2013 @03:58AM (#43870243)

    Disclaimer: I'm the founder of the Hexayurt Project, another Free Hardware building system (http://hexayurt.com)

    Wikihouse is exciting technically, but it's *incredibly* expensive to build - something like 7000 EUR of CNC cutting time for a single room. The parametric design aspects of the project are great, however, and I can see a future in which the components are mass produced at reasonable price and then assembled according to plans generated from the parametric design software. But without some kind of standardization, this kind of production is going to remain incurably expensive and therefore just another architectural demo. It's not a technology until costs are estimated. This has happened before: the Open Architecture Network (http://openarchitecturenetwork.org/) rapidly filled with impractical technology demonstrators and student projects - 10000+ designs, but how many practically buildable?

    Actually getting buildings that people can build is hard. Architects are trained to think about custom work, one-offs and impressing other architects. Mass producing housing at a price people can afford (hello, Mortage Crisis, goodbye Mortgage Crisis) requires a radical rethink of how we do construction: modularity, prefabrication, standardization - all the same things we did for every other technology we wanted to be cheap, easy and reliable.

    Home building is the last truly inefficient global industry. Whether the radical change is interchangable modular components (structural insualted panels) or something like 3D printing with insulated concrete, we can't keep buliding houses by hand in a world where everything else is efficiently mass produced with near-zero defects and not distort the shape of our societies.

    Hexayurts are dirt cheap and designed for modular mass manufacture. But they look weird. Such is life :-)

    • by vkg (158234)

      Sorry, didn't realize I wasn't logged in!

    • by bmajik (96670)

      Interesting work, and I appreciate the desire to build homes on the cheap.

      However, I'd like you to read the work of Christopher Alexander, if you haven't (The Timeless Way of Building, A Pattern Language, etc).

      Summary: optimizing homes and buildings towards what is efficient to mass produce isn't necessarily what's best for the people who live and work in them.

  • by vkg (158234) on Friday May 31, 2013 @04:03AM (#43870257) Homepage

    I should start this with a disclaimer: I'm the founder of the Hexayurt Project, a Free Hardware building system aimed at refugees and in widespread use at Burning Man. It's those silver pod things (http://hexayurt.com)

    I think Wikihouse is exciting technically, but it's *incredibly* expensive to build - something like 7000 EUR of CNC cutting time for a single room. The parametric design aspects of the project are great, however, and I can see a future in which the components are mass produced at reasonable price and then assembled according to plans generated from the parametric design software. But without some kind of standardization, this kind of production is going to remain incurably expensive and therefore just another architectural demo. It's not a technology until costs are estimated. This has happened before: Architecture For Humanity's Open Architecture Network (http://openarchitecturenetwork.org/) rapidly filled with impractical technology demonstrators and student projects - 10000+ designs, but how many practically buildable?

    Actually getting buildings that people can build is hard. Architects are trained to think about custom work, one-offs and impressing other architects. Mass producing housing at a price people can afford (hello, Mortage Crisis, goodbye Mortgage Crisis) requires a radical rethink of how we do construction: modularity, prefabrication, standardization - all the same things we did for every other technology we wanted to be cheap, easy and reliable.

    It's often said that home building is the last truly-madly-deeply inefficient global industry. Imagine if they built cars by having people come to your garage to hand-assemble them! Whether the radical change is mass manufacture of entire houses Buckminster Fuller style, interchangable modular components (structural insualted panels) or something like 3D printing with insulated concrete, we can't keep buliding houses by hand in a world where everything else is efficiently mass produced with near-zero defects and not distort the shape of our societies.

    Hexayurts are dirt cheap and designed for modular mass manufacture. But they look weird. Such is life :-)

    • I'm curious where your experience of house building is. In Britain (where the OP's project is from), you can certainly get someone to come out and build a one-off house, but it's far from the only way its done. It's extremely common to drive through parts of towns where a developer came in, bought a huge chunk of land, subdivided it and built somewhere between 30 and 1000 houses on it. There might be slight variations in the style of door used or small variations in the brickwork, and they tend to diverg

      • by Anonymous Coward

        i know 5 architectural firms doing wiki house style already.

        I agree that 99% of architects currenty have no idea about rapid fabrication tech.
        But the studnts are all getting trained in it. And they are learning that they will not be building exotic ego trips for rich clients any more.
        the architects that have perfected cnc based builds are not talking about it and are changing a fortune to use it also. They are the front runners and want to make easy money fro their expertise i think.

        cnc machine that can mak

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Yeah, I built a few houses just like you describe! I didn't call them houses though as the proper term is 'shed'.
          They need about 8 grand spent on them in maintenance every 10 to 15 years when used as housing so builders love those things.

          Your paper insulation will need to be replaced in about 3 years though as it all settles to the base of the walls and the corners of the loft.

        • I had a look at your site but couldn't see any of the elements you describe there. I'm particularly interested in the algae tank system - I didn't realise this had hit commercial production. Can you point me to a link describing it in detail?

      • A typical British housing estate is "mass produced" but it isn't built on a production line. Also they're not built with anything like the tolerances and quality control you'd get on a production line (e.g. it's a hot/cold/wet day and the bricklayer just wants to get finished as soon as they can).

        The only sector in British housing building that is making serious use of production line techniques is the social housing sector, where often timber frame structures are used. These timber frame "modules" are

        • by slim (1652)

          I sort of assume that the companies building cookie-cutter estates in Britain know what they're doing. They seem like cut-throat capitalists who would pick the cheaper option if it would boost their profit margins.

          I suspect that houses built from factory-fabbed modules are better and potentially cheaper - and definitely faster to erect. There was a "Grand Designs" show a while back in which a British couple had one shipped in and build by a German company; it was a beautiful building and took less than a we

    • by kjs3 (601225)

      Mass producing housing at a price people can afford (hello, Mortage Crisis, goodbye Mortgage Crisis) requires a radical rethink of how we do construction: modularity, prefabrication, standardization - all the same things we did for every other technology we wanted to be cheap, easy and reliable.

      It has been done before. [wikipedia.org]

    • by coofercat (719737)

      I didn't read TFA (obviously), but I read the summary as you could download the architectural plans for a house. That sounds pretty good - if it says "this bit is double-skinned brick work, with an 8" RSJ sat on top of it", then that's enough to go off and build it - even without the fabrication technology (although if someone ever makes a brickwork 3D printer, then you could use that).

      You probably wouldn't want to go ahead and do it without some specialist oversight, but getting plans for someone else's ho

    • Interesting, I might try building one as a shed, wish I saw that before I bought a second cheapo hardware store shed a while ago. Has the 12x8 stretch gone beyond the concept stage?

  • ... when you've built your house and the building inspectors or planning enforcement come along to check and find something wrong with it?

    • by slim (1652)

      This is the same "who do you sue" argument you'd use against using Apache on Linux for your web hosting business. So you pay money for ISS on Windows, while your competitors outperform you for less cost.

    • by wilby (141905)

      Good Question,
      In the US you cannot get a building permit without an engineer/architect signing and sealing the drawings.
      So you would need to hire an engineer. The engineer (allowed by the opensource license) could sell you the plans, the plans would be "his work", the engineer of record by state law would be responsible for checking everything and taking full responsibility.

      So the answer would be you would sue your engineer that you hired.

      • by Jon_S (15368)

        You don't need it stamped if the plans are 100% in accordance with prescriptive code.

  • WikiHouse website (Score:4, Informative)

    by worf_mo (193770) on Friday May 31, 2013 @07:10AM (#43870913)

    Does it hurt to add a link to the project's website [wikihouse.cc]?

  • I want to see a simple design, w/ a basic core which is:

    - printable out of concrete using a system easily set up on site (the extruder and rails for it would be removed / re-used after the house was built --- alternately, print a form for the house out of plastic foam into which one pours concrete)
    - structures the roof so that it incorporates a mix of solar panels and skylights (for lighting and hydroponic gardens)
    - has a rain capture system, holding tank and water filtering system

  • by Anonymous Coward

    These ideas are all wonderful. And the concepts have been around for a long time -- inexpensive manufactured, air-delivered housing was one of Buckie's dreams. And there are lots of 'open source' building ideas floating around -- to say nothing of the huge variation in preferred designs around the world. But the problem that Buckminster Fuller and pretty much every other dreamer ran into is that building codes tend to specify the what and how of housing at a very detailed level with little tolerance for var

    • Many states in the US have copies of the building code on line, as they are part of the legal code. That's all you need for the hard parts of building a house. They specify what kind of lumber to use, how to install it, how many nails, where the outlets go, how big the plumbing has to be - everything except the plan of the house. You can make it look like anything you want within the definitions of the code. It's free - all the menial work is done.

      It's when you diverge from the code that you need an archit

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Friday May 31, 2013 @07:48AM (#43871199) Homepage

    I don't understand their goal as house building is already open source. There are thousands of plans available freely out there and the knowlege is freely gained on how to build or even design a home.

    What is needed is public domain release of designs and systems from highly skilled engineers for very very cheap to build but sturdy and code acceptable homes. release designs for $15,000 homes that can be built from recycled material and will meet the ridiculous building codes in many countries. For example here in the USA you are NOT ALLOWED to build a home that is smaller than 500 sq feet. That is utterly retarded with no basis in anything but trying to keep homes expensive.

    you can raise a family comfortably in 500 sq feet, it's done all the time.

    • For example here in the USA you are NOT ALLOWED to build a home that is smaller than 500 sq feet. That is utterly retarded with no basis in anything but trying to keep homes expensive.

      you can raise a family comfortably in 500 sq feet, it's done all the time.

      Sure you can. I don't know if there is a USA National minimum, but if there is, it's commonly supplanted by state or municipal bylaws. For example, it's a 900-square-feet minimum for New York State and 2,500-square-foot minimum for Hillsborough, CA.

      • Sorry, if your point is that there is no single state or municipality has a minimum lower than 500 sq feet, I misinterpreted and you may be correct. New York State may have the lowest. Bloomberg is pushing to reduce the minimum size of Manhattan apartments to 300 square feet, but we're presumably talking about single detached homes here.

        These are urban codes, btw. Rural codes are much more relaxed, hence the assortment of all sorts of shacks, huts, cabins, tents, earth homes, etc out yonder.

  • by houbou (1097327) on Friday May 31, 2013 @09:34AM (#43872527) Journal
    As I'm reading other's comments I see that many have failed to look at the actual WikiHouse site.
    Their goals are to create house designs and let people 'print' these designs along with the material. It's not just about the architecture, but the entire building process, including the fabrication of the material which the house will be made of.
    A few tiny problems.
    Legalities, insurances, etc.
    All of this needs to get some seal of approval at many levels.
    For example in any given town, you need permits to build houses, renovations, etc.., and they cost money and more importantly, you also have to ensure your house meets a set of criteria to ensure it passes the building inspection codes, etc, you know, things like electrical, plumbing, etc..
    So, for all the knowledge and good will this WikiHouse project is, in the end, it might not mean much in the short or medium term. There is a lot of red tape to deal with in order for this knowledge to be practical and useful.
  • It's not a mansion, but it's mine.
  • Former builder here. The idea is great, but it seems fixated on the building shell, which is by far the cheapest part of the house. The electrical, plumbing, foundation, flooring, plaster, sidewalk, fencing, driveway and roofing work, the baths and kitchens, windows, doors, siding and trim are where all the money goes.

    I do like the idea of being able to print out the complex stuff, say the framing for an archway or stairway. Otherwise, no way 3D printing can compete with pre-cut 2x4s.

    ------

    Yawn. Let me kno

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