Without a doubt, affordable housing remains on the top of the list of priorities for most, if not all, cities across the world. While gentrification can be considered the culprit in global gateway cities, others are struggling to find accommodation for an influx of migrants, and others still are juggling massive population increases, or segregation rooted in housing access issues. Founded officially in 2014, the WikiHouse Foundation is a UK-based non-profit that aims to make cost and energy-efficient housing accessible to anyone with an internet connection. A global network of architects, designers and engineers, WikiHouse pools together knowledge and resources from across the world to create an open source digital building system, wherein all plans, designs and instructions for their affordable, green housing units are available to everyone under a Creative Commons license. “The grand plan is to reinvent the housing supply chain, from seeking land to end use,” says Harry Knight, the organization’s Community Host.
Covering every continent through their local chapter program, WikiHouse has a presence around 35 locations and counting and the platform hosts all files related to local projects, experiments and innovations based on the values of the foundation: the WikiHouse Constitution. At the core of their mission, WikiHouse looks to eliminate barriers to affordable and eco-friendly housing through design principles that encourage professionals to share globally and home-seekers to build locally. As such, creating an affordable house becomes as simple as clicking a button to download the plan, buying the materials and assembling it. Or you can hire a professional to take care of the process from manufacturing parts to assembly.
Right now, in the WikiHouse Digital Commons contributors can upload their adaptations or unique designs, alongside manuals, 3D renderings and material guides, and others are free to download them. To date, there have been around 300 uploaded projects from across the world, many of which have been prototyped and each building upon the vision of WikiHouse, while abiding by their principles. There are even downloadable plans for 3D printed tools, including a mallet and a step ladder, making the platform truly a one-stop-shop for affordable and sustainable housing development. When WikiHouse’s digital platform is fully functional, however, you’ll be able to design and download the plans to a custom home, and even hire architects, construction workers and suppliers in one place. “What the founding team of WikiHouse saw was that the current model of large-scale developers backed by big finance, with a one-size-fits-all design process is inefficient,” explains Knight. “So WikiHouse started as physical object being built with digital tools, but the vision has developed into an idea that reinvents the housing supply chain. Instead of the top-down approach, this presents a much more distributed model.” Almost gamifying the design process, the upcoming WikiHouse platform will be easy to use with familiar cursor functions, and hopes to integrate local codes, rules and regulations dependent on the user’s location.
As 3D printing becomes more mainstream, the potential of this system to change the real estate and construction industries is unprecedented, especially given the modular and customizable nature of WikiHouse’s core product. In fact, the Lego-like, prenumbered parts are designed specifically to be printed or cut to precision using CNC (computerized numerical control) equipment and everyone involved is encouraged to design with cheap, abundant, standardized, sustainable and, if possible, ‘circular’ materials in mind. As such, their flagship design, dubbed Studio, can be put together for just £14,500 – just under $21,000. With one physical home already successfully completed in the Midlands, UK – a two-story WikiHouse Farmhouse – it provides for some very convincing evidence that the system works. With this success story already under their belt, WikiHouse hopes to democratize and decentralize the manufacturing of materials, the building of homes and, essentially, usher in a new age of real estate and how we think about it. “With the traditional supply chain, the end user or homebuyer is often paying heavily to mitigate risks as, along the process, come a lot of gatekeepers: surveyors, engineers, construction workers… We open up that process and put it in the hands of the home-seeker,” says Knight.
Big believers in the ‘third industrial revolution’ which thrives on technology which disrupts traditional manufacturing models, WikiHouse’s next phase will involve recruiting local manufacturers across the world that will be tasked with creating all the parts needed for any of their open source designs. For that, they’ve estimated setup costs for a small facility to be part of their distributed manufacturing model at just £15,000 ($21,500) and that each facility would be sustainable and efficient as they can print/manufacture on demand, with a limitless capacity to scale and a resilience to demand gaps. Meanwhile, their manifesto calculates the current model of centralized prefabrication to cost up to £5 million to set up a factory which is purpose-built to produce a single product. Needless to say, that means scale and customization is out of the question, and demand gaps can be extremely damaging. It’s no surprise, then, that the founding team tend to point to the likes of AirBNB, Wikipedia and Linux as inspiration on their pursuit of disruption. “What the web has done to the distribution of knowledge, WikiHouse aims to do for physical objects and materials,” says Knight.