On a cold, gray day in central London, Alastair Parvin is staring at a coffeepot, or what used to be one before he took it apart to clean it. The appliance lies strewn across an office table, a wreck of wet steel and springs. Parvin co-founded WikiHouse, an open-source construction system that could transform how people design and construct buildings. But rebuilding a percolator seems to have him stumped.
After a few failed attempts, Parvin reconstructsthe machine, produces coffee, and shows me around the maker space he shares on one floor of a mid-20th-century skyscraper. It’s a sprawling landscape of desks, sofas, and bulletin boards with a plywood house frame rising from within the common area. It’s also an apt manifestation of WikiHouse itself: occupants taking back architecture on their own terms.
The 30-year-old Parvin, a member of the design collective 00 (pronounced zero zero), started WikiHouse with fellow architect Nick Ierodiaconou in 2011. In effect, the two set out to subvert their profession just as they were entering the workforce. Architecture, Parvin argued at an attention-grabbing TED talk in 2013, has become a rarefied service for only the very rich. WikiHouse aims to put home design and construction in the hands of all people, regardless of training or economic status. It has established a free library of building plans that anyone can download, adapt, print, and construct.
“WikiHouse is an open production system,” Parvin says. “Using a 3-D–modeling program like Google SketchUp, you can build your plans from scratch, import some from the WikiHouse site, or mix the two approaches. Then, send the plans to a CNC machine, which cuts the pieces from plywood. It’s like printing an Ikea flat-pack house.”
As with ready-to-assemble furniture, the plans clearly match the cut pieces, so construction is straightforward. Moreover, many of the pieces fit together with wedges and pegs that are also cut from plywood, simplifying the tools and reducing, if not eliminating, the number of metal fasteners required. Cover the finished frame with cladding, pack it with insulation, and you have a structure you can live in.
So far, there are a handful of prototype WikiHouses and one completed construction—a walkers’ shelter in Fridaythorpe, England, a moorland village of 300 people previously noted for hosting the World Championship Flat Cap Throwing Competition. “There’s no inhabited WikiHouse yet,” Parvin says. “But we’ve got several on the board.”
Meanwhile, the number of WikiHouse users is growing. What began as a small project has developed into a global community of individuals and teams who experiment with designs, share their experiences, and collectively troubleshoot.
(more at popsci.com)