Alastair Parvin, co-founder of WikiHouse Foundation, wants to make it easier for people to build their own homes using digital technnology. (Images courtesy of BECCI, University of Wolverhampton.)
Is our housebuilding industry broken? We are in desperate need of more housing, but most new developments use outdated technology to create expensive and unsustainable homes with little choice over layout or size. New owners are typically saddled with massive debt, which in turn impacts on the wider economy. The WikiHouse concept turns this on its head. It is creating modular designs that can be digitally manufactured off site and assembled at much lower cost with relatively unskilled labour. The designs embody high energy efficiency and principles of sustainability, and can be easily adapted to customers' wishes or the constraints of the site, for example by adding extra storeys or rooms as required.
Housebuilding for the 'digital age'
Speaking at the Energy Saving Convention held in Birmingham in November 2016, Alastair Parvin, co-founder of the WikiHouse Foundation, described how the project was seeking to take housebuilding into the digital age: "We want to make it as simple as possible for anybody to design, manufacture and build a very high-performance, low-energy house." As proof of concept, a team from the Built Environment Climate Change Innovations (BECCI) project at the University of Wolverhampton took just a few hours to unload and assemble part of a single-storey WikiHouse module on site at the iCentrum venue, during the event.
WikiHouse provides a sort of 'digital Lego' by which small companies and individuals can build low-cost sustainable homes on whatever size of plot. Open source digital designs can be created for buildings ranging from a garden studio to a townhouse, all based on components that are interchangeable and easily replicable. These components are precision cut from timber sections using computer numerically controlled (CNC) cutting machines, which can be based in any large workshop or small factory.
Once the site has been prepared with suitable footing and services, the components are assembled without the need for bricklayers, carpenters, or other specialist workers. The timber frame can be clad with material and colour just to suit the customer. According to WikiHouse, the typical cost of a three-storey townhouse would be £130,000, excluding site.
Wikihouses are designed for rapid assembly by a relatively unskilled team, compared to conventional housebuilding, as demonstrated by students of the Built Environment Climate Change Innovations (BECCI) project of the University of Wolverhampton.
Decentralized local supply chains
The capital costs of manufacturing are much less than for a large centralized factory, allowing a supply chain to be established much closer to the actual development site. This has the potential to create a 'sustainable, resilient and scaleable' mass house building economy based on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and the 'citizen sector'.
WikiHouse is developing an OpenChain app that guides the client through all aspects of the process, from setting a budget, checking the location, and choosing a building type, to the manufacturing, assembly and maintenance of the building and its systems. The idea is to provide the client with overall control while giving access to market choice and professional support wherever needed.
The structural components slot together rather like a giant Lego set.
The non-profit UK-based WikiHouse Foundation is backed by a consortium of companies, organisations and other bodies, such as Arup Engineering, Suncorp Insurance and South Yorkshire Housing Association. It is supported by Climate-KIC, which is funded by the European Union. BECCI also is part funded by the EU.