4. Wikihouse: Benefits of using open resources

What was the Fountainbridge project trying to achieve?

There was quite a large vacant piece of land quite central to the city that had previously been the site of a brewery, and came into the hands of the local council who wanted to build a new school. When local people discovered this they formed themselves into a group called the  “Fountainbridge Canalside Initiative” to try to engage with the council and ensure the site was developed in the way that they wanted.

One of the ways they wanted to be engaged was to use the land for ‘meanwhile use’, which means that they wanted to ensure the land was put to good use in the short-term. There were various community projects that came out of this including gardening activities, an open-access workshop area housed in containers, and the WikiHouse project. By occupying the land and creating activity that would mean people would use the site, as well as creating communal events around the site, they aimed to create a community legacy of engagement with the land.

What were the benefits of using WikiHouse resources for that community?

The main benefit and biggest strength of using the WikiHouse resources was the ease of assembly. Lowering the threshold for people to get involved was really important because they wanted to evoke some of the old fashioned sense of barn-raising where anyone anyone could find an aspect to get involved with.

The design of WikiHouse means that you do not need specialist tools beyond a hammer or a mallet for knocking pieces together and a drill-driver for screwing on the panels, and you do not need specialist skills either. If you have enough people you do not even have to be particularly strong, because by banding together you can lift the pieces and put the building together collectively.

What about sharing back to the WikiHouse community?

After the Fountainbridge project was complete, the group shared back various things to the community. Firstly, the modifications they made to the WikiHouse model to suit the site including changing the size, and some of the details of the joints, so an altered model was shared back into the community using the CCBY-SA licence. The second thing they shared back were photographs documenting the site preparation, the prefabrication of components, the build of the structure, and the usage as well. The third thing they shared was their documented learnings from the project in a “Top Tips” article that Akiko wrote for the WikiHouse Foundation newsetter. Fourthly, an ongoing way in which they shared back is through Akiko’s involvement in the Slack group online.  When the documents were first submitted to the group there were a lot of questions about the project online, which she answered on the open forum.

They did not share back the 2D drawings or the cutting files, as it was decided that as they were generated to suit the particular CNC machiner, they would not necessarily be suitable for general open fabrication.

What are the broader benefits of the WikiHouse project for society?

When the WikiHouse project was first launched one of the co-founders Alistair Parvin delivered a TED talk where he framed the project as an opportunity for architectural information and expertise, to impact parts of the world where architects do not typically work. These may be places where construction is done in an informal manner, and where this informality can cause problems such as poor build quality, poor sanitation and so on. So, WikiHouse was envisioned as a tool to empower poor communities to self-build, with input from the architectural community that would solve many of these problems.

More recently there has been an increasing emphasis on the potential for the project to help solve the housing crisis in the west. Because of the way in which land ownership is often held by absent landlords, and built on by the monopolies of volume house builders or large commercial entities (particularly in the UK), house prices are escalating rapidly. This is resulting in a shortage of new homes being built. WikiHouse is presented as an opportunity to empower self-builders in the UK and other western economies, and to revolutionise the way in which self-build can be carried out by a wider and more diverse community of people.


For community projects

Finding land and getting permission to use it is usually the most difficult thing to achieve for a community based self-build project. Even when a plot has been identified a community group will need to argue the case for permissions, and funding. To do this they must have a clear set of aims and objectives, and a well developed argument of the benefits the build will bring to the group and the larger community.

Brainstorm all the benefits the build would bring to the immediate group and the larger community. Remember to think short-term as well as long-term. Then write up your argument for the build in preparation for visiting your local planning office, where you should be able to obtain information about your next steps.

For a personal self-build project

When designing a personal self-build project the benefits will be entirely different. Perhaps you just want an extra guest bedroom in the garden, or a playroom for the children. You may be thinking of running a business out of a small studio or workshop, or perhaps you are thinking of letting the space out on AirBnB.

Whatever the planned use you have for the space you need to get a clear understanding of the budget you are willing to spend, and the benefits it will bring to your personal life or business. The cost of the project may not correlate directly with any added market value of your home, but this is not always a criteria for people who want to achieve more suitable living conditions for the long-term.

Spend time working out your exact needs and journal the benefits of developing the new space. When this is complete make an appointment to visit your local planning office to find out what planning constraints there will be on your project.  

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