New year, new website.

New year, new website.

2016 has been a huge year for the WikiHouse project, and in particular for WikiHouse Foundation. The project is moving from a loose, experimental open R&D project to a stage where the first WikiHouse technologies are being piloted in pioneer projects across the world. Teams are working on design, engineering, testing to get the first technologies fully certified for full commercial use. It’s been a long road, but it is moving forwards with increasing momentum. The first thing we want to say is a huge thank-you to the thousands of supporters, contributors, donors, funders and partners who have shared our open vision for transforming the way we make homes and cities in the 21st century, and have used WikiHouse technology and contributed to developing and advancing it to get it to the point where it is today. There’ll be a time to tell some of those stories in more detail, but for now — you know who you are.

The first next step is to start to build better infrastructure to support that R&D. So far, sharing and collaboration have taken place in a fairly ad-hoc labour-intensive way, in various Github repos, Dropboxes, gDrives, inboxes and Skype conversations, with vary degrees of success. We hope the latest web pages will start to do a better job of bringing together basic files and resources, pointing people to where they want to be and, above all, pointing to standardised repos to facilitate better sharing and R&D on open solutions.

There really is no better way to structure open collaboration on files than git, even if it was originally conceived for software rather than hardware. For now, the preferred platform for hosting files is Github. We realise that many hardware designers and engineers find Github an unknown and a bit weird to use, but it’s worth the effort of getting to know it, and how to fork and document new solutions and to track contributions. Please do feel free to explore existing repos, help improve their documentation, point out issues. There’s lots of work to be done to make the library better.

The way we’ve structured the library also reflects our thinking on the three key areas of open solutions around the project:

Tools Open source tools for manufacturing or building homes. At the moment, these are basic things like Mallets and Stepups, but it would be great to include open source CNC manufacturing tool projects into this library too at some point.

Technologies For a long time, people have thought of the WikiHouse project as being synonymous with CNC-manufactured plywood structures. In our minds, these solutions have always just been the first WikiHouse technologies. After all, most of the open, digitally fabricated building solutions and methods that will shape our built environment in the next century haven’t been invented yet. We envision a future where many new ‘vernacular’ building technologies evolve to serve different economies, climates and cultures, like Darwin’s Finches.

The challenge was how to come up with a naming / taxonomy standard that could support this. Individual technologies (or ‘open products’) need to have names, but should ideally be instinctively non-proprietary. It was Alex Whitcroft who came up with a brilliant answer: to name technologies after animals. So the WikiHouse system developed in the UK is called ‘Wren’. Space Craft Systems in New Zealand have named their sister system ‘Tuatara’. We have mapped out empty sections of the WikiHouse library as a kind of open invitation to anyone developing open solutions to solutions across the whole building ecosystem. These might range from forks of Wren to whole new technologies, components and methods.

Types By far the most difficult category (for now) are individual house types. These are not specific project designs but generic house layouts which combine a number of technologies into a building layout which can be adapted to different sites and users. Until these solutions move from static to parametric, we’re being deliberately quite cautious about what we include here, but the Microhouse files have proven quite useful as a good set of starter files, including bill of materials and costings.

If, together, we can build and improve a library of simple, beautiful, low-cost, high-performance solutions as a global commons, we know it will be a hugely valuable resource for society and for a more sustainable, circular economy.

However, beyond a better library and better documentation, there is a bigger challenge: that is to develop better workflow tools and a working distributed supply chain. Can we build digital infrastructure to make the distributed, ‘micro’ sector a scaleable force for building homes and cities, and to bring housing industry into the 21st century? So far, in truth, the WikiHouse project has barely scratched the surface. We have been writing code with a pencil. It’s time to build an operating system for WikiHouse technologies — and perhaps for whole emerging digital building industry — to run on.

This year, we started work on a project to do exactly that. It’s still in early prototyping stage, and we’ll share more news about it into the New Year, but it’s a hugely exciting project, to try to build a truly useful piece of civic digital infrastructure, as the foundation for a more open, democratic, sustainable and digital housing economy. Watch this space.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone for your patience with us (we are only a small non-profit startup), for your support, and for the work you’re doing together.

We thought we could hardly let the season pass without sharing this small laser cut mini festive WikiHouse model by Akiko Kobayashi. Download the file here.

Please let us know if you find any issues with the website, and if you can, do contribute to documentation, R&D, donate, become a member of the consortium or partner with us. Industrial Revolutions don’t happen overnight but, as 2016 has illustrated — the world badly needs one, and it’s important that we get it right.

The WikiHouse Foundation Team