IMAGE ABOVE: WikiHouse: Democratizing Architecture – source : www.publicinterestdesign.org/tag/alastair-parvin
“We are moving to a future where the factory is everywhere and the design team is everyone.” Alastair Parvin
It’s been almost a month since the first OUI SHARE FEST took place in Paris. It was a really interesting 3 days festival entirely dedicated to collaborative economy aiming to spread the knowledge and grow the global community of citizens, designers, makers, economists, politicians etc.
Along with well-known speakers, institutions and organizations, there was a collective of designer (or better a community) that truly couldn’t miss the appointment. And to be honest, they were the main reason to me for being there. If you are readers of this blog, you probably already know them. I’m talking about the World’s biggest design team, the WikiHouse platform.
Let me just spend few words to introduce them. “WikiHouse is an open source construction set. Its aim is to allow anyone to design, download, and ‘print’ CNC-milled houses and components, which can be assembled with minimal formal skill or training”. It is a non-profit project that adopts an inclusive approach and grows through the collaborative efforts of a community in an open-source culture.
I saw them for the first time, Alastair Parvin and the guys, just one year ago during the Hacked event in Milan’s la Rinascente for the Design Week. They were involved in the demonstration of assembling a mini-module prototype of the WikiHouse. Seeing how easily everyone can built-up a house, or at least its main structure, was a more valuable and stunning performance than any words. Of course it only consisted of putting together some CNC-milled plywood panels, nothing too complicated. But perhaps it is just this apparent simplicity which is at the base of the WikiHouse power. Even if some people argue that is not so easy to find a CNC machine in a slum like a favela, in the internet and “commons” era it could be built in open source. It’s more about creating knowledge and consciousness, tools come later as a consequence. Anyway, one year after I went to meet them in Paris with great expectations. I unfortunately lost the assembly process that involved the Nouvelle Fabrique, a urban micro-factory inspired by the fablab model. But even if in Paris I saw much more of the WikiHouse being realized than the Milan mini-module, I felt a bit disappointed.
Not because I was expecting to see any sort of WikiNeighbourhood with any responsive low-cost facades prototyped in Arduino. I just felt sad because I had the feeling that the community was not supporting the cause in the manner I think this project deserves. Or at least because it hasn’t grown as big as I would have imagined.
The WikiHouse Process – Images via WikiHouse
“The modern architect is the maker of instructions.” Herbert Simon
“It’s easier to ship recipes than cakes and biscuits.” John Maynard Keynes
Alastair Parvin, the leading architect behind the project, has great communication skills and he perfectly symbolizes the XXI century designer. Moving away from a static environment like it was the modern architecture office, it is based in an intellectual enriched and hyper-stimulating place like The Hub Westminster, in the centre of London.
The WikiHouse project represents all of this and is built on these fundamentals. It stands as the right intersection of Simon and Keynes’ quotes above. With a plus: the community. They have understood that in order to reach as many people as possible it is necessary to patiently build a community that shares your belief and aims. A community that helps you in making the instructions and shipping the recipes. Or, in other words, it helps you in building the process and spreading the knowledge.
By now there have been many open source projects with a similar purpose and shared culture, but most focused only on digital technology or on too small scale physical products. WikiHouse works on an house scale that means it has to face more practical problems, and it seems they’re trying to set up process to overcome such challenges.
Here resides the immeasurable value of the support and efforts of the community. Particularly because the WikiHouse platform is moved by a very ambitious cause for which they need a huge number of followers: they aim to change the paradigm of a millenarian history of construction. As Parvin says, “for too long, cities have been made by the 1% and consumed by the 99%. We wanted to see what it would take to create something that would allow the 99% to make cities for the 99%”. And as his partner Indy Johar adds, the challenges of the WikiHouse project are really enormous since they are “prototyping the reality of socializing design while simultaneously democratizing production, and in the process provoking a serious challenge to the industrial and intellectual dogmas of a professional elite”.
This should be enough to explain my excitement and high expectations for the WikiHouse platform. I like to imagine that this project would not only be a pilot one. Even if it is in its early stages, I hope that a larger part of the open source community will join the WikiHouse dream by supporting the Open-Challenge they recently launched, sustaining the crowd-funded campaign and improving the construction systems. In this way, it could be adopted not only in disaster or emergency situation, but could rise just from inside the slums. Probably the only way to bring it to a real mass diffusion is by setting bottom-up processes to engage not only designers and developers, but above all citizens. Parvin knows that and he started a project in 2012 thanks to TED City2.0 prize in a Rio’s favela “to tap into a creative maker culture that exists in the favela and provide the community with the tools, ideas and capabilities baked into the WikiHouse ethos to take their skills to the next level”.
I hope to hear good news soon about this project in which I strongly believe. So, good luck WikiHouse!
- Wikihouse http://www.wikihouse.cc/
- Wikihouse general google group https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/wikihouse
- Wikihouse open challenge
- A house and home for the 99%, ted city 2.0 price
- Wikihouse open source housing, Domus, http://www.domusweb.it/en/architecture/2012/06/19/wikihouse-open-source-housing.html
- Opensource Architecture http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Source_Architecture
- Architecture for Humanity http://architectureforhumanity.org/