Design Principles

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Share global, manufacture local

‘It is easier to ship recipes than cakes and biscuits’ – John Maynard Keynes

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Be lazy like a fox

Don’t keep reinventing the wheel. Take something that already works, copy, adapt, give credit and re-share. (Thanks Linus Torvalds via Eric S Raymond)

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Design to lower thresholds

Design to lower barriers of time, cost, skill, energy and resources at every stage. Elvis Costello wrote all his songs to be played on the cheapest transistor radio.

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Share and make shareable

Publish your work under an open source sharealike licence, documented and codified so as to make it as easy as possible for others to understand, modify, improve, distribute and use it, including commercially.

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Open standards

Where possible, work to existing standards or seek to establish intuitive new ones.

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Open materials

Design for cheap, abundant, standardised, sustainable, and, ideally, circular materials.

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Human friendly

Seek to preserve and maximise the safety, security, health and wellbeing (physical and mental) of all participants at every stage of a product’s life.

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Start somewhere

No one can solve everyone’s problems. Design something that works where you are, then share so others can adapt it for their own economy, climate and culture. Let solutions adapt like Darwin’s finches.

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Design hardware and software that is robust, interoperable, product-agnostic and flexible, so elements can be independently altered, substituted or upgraded.

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Include, keep including

Look for ways in which age, race, gender or disability might be barriers, and try to design them out. Try to design products, processes and documents that are accessible, intuitive and non-discriminatory.

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The new ‘normal’

Avoid design which would be considered ‘alternative’, ‘boutique’ or only for the rich or poor. Instead, design for the new normal: products most people would consider desirable and affordable. As beautiful as Apple, as open as Linux.

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Mistake proof

Make it impossible to get wrong, or not matter if you do. (The Japanese call this 'Poka-Yoke')

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Whole life design

‘A home is not something you finish’ – Stewart Brand Design for the entire life-cycle of the product, from manufacturing to assembly, use, maintenance, adaptation, disassembly and re-use.

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Superpower the users

‘Give power to the fine tuners’ – Cedric Price. Afford as much power as possible to the end users, from procurement to privacy to electricity. Democracy is a design diagram.

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If you can’t mend it, you don’t own it.

Try to avoid ‘black box’ products. Try to make it easy for the user to learn how it works.

Our mission

  1. To put the design solutions for building low-cost, low-energy, high-performance homes into the hands of every citizen and business on earth.
  2. To use digitisation to make it easier for existing industries to design, invest-in, manufacture and assemble better, more sustainable, more affordable homes for more people.
  3. To grow a new, distributed housing industry, comprising many citizens, communities and small businesses developing homes and neighbourhoods for themselves, reducing our dependence on top-down, debt-heavy mass housing systems.

Can I buy or commission a project using WikiHouse?

Yes. We are developing a supply chain of designers, manufacturers and builders ready to help you realise your project. In the meantime, if you would like to use WikiHouse as an early adopter, tell us about your project, and we’ll try to connect you with a team who might be be able to do your project as a pilot.

Can I become a WikiHouse provider?

Yes. Over the next years we are aiming to grow a register of architects, CNC manufacturers, contractors and other kinds of provider using WikiHouse technologies. If you would like to be part of this network supply chain, you can start exploring the technologies in the library, and register your interest in becoming a listed provider.

Can I contribute to research and development?

Yes, WikiHouse technologies are being developed by an open, collaborative community of designers, technologists and researchers, developing common solutions and standards. You can help test, document and develop existing WikiHouse technologies or submit new technologies which share the same core WikiHouse principles. If you’re working on something you think could be valuable, get in touch.

Do I need to sign up to github to contribute?

Like most open source project, WikiHouse current uses github for file sharing and version control. However, if you have developed

How robust is the ‘Wren’ timber chassis system?

Very. The WREN chassis system uses interlocked structural plywood to make a robust, lightweight timber chassis that is more robust than most brick structures.

What is the lifetime of the structure?

Indefinite, providing that it is properly protected and maintained. WikiHouse WREN is simply a more advanced version of a timber frame; a construction technique established over centuries. Also, because WikiHouses are modular, they are easier to mend, maintain and adapt than most houses.

What foundations does it use?

The Wren system can use any kind of foundation. The structure sits onto timber ‘rails’ which must be level and parallel +/- 5mm. These rails can be supported by concrete strip foundations, screw piles, or sometimes simple pad foundations. This will depend on your site and the size of your structure. Get an engineer to check this.

Can I just download a design from the WikiHouse website and build it?

Yes. All WikiHouse design information is open source, which means anyone can access, use or improve it. However, you are entirely responsible for its use and for your own project. You must always comply with local regulation and professional safety checks. It is hoped that WikiHouse information will make that process easier, but it comes with no guarantee, and no liability for its use can be passed back to WikiHouse Foundation or contributors to the WikiHouse project. Please note also that the technologies shared are still in development, You can read our full terms of use here.

Can I build it myself?

Yes, but you don’t have to. Bringing together your friends or your community for a few days to help you ‘barn raise’ the chassis is a wonderful, sociable experience that none of you will ever forget. You don’t need to be strong or experienced in construction, just able-bodied and enthusiastic. However, very few people can do all of the work themselves, most hire professionals to do some or all of the building stages - for example a local builder to prepare foundations, or an electrician.

How do you professionals make money if it’s open source?

Most building technologies (bricks for example) have historically been open source anyway. WikiHouse simply uses digital technology and the web to make it faster and easier to design and build more sustainable homes. This allows professionals to sell their services to a wider portion of society.

Can WikiHouse system be used for dense development?

Yes. Wren can currently be used for any detached homes, row houses, larger buildings or rooftop / infill development up to two storeys high. In future we expect this to increase to three storeys. Other WikiHouse digital building technologies will, in future, rise even higher.

Does WikiHouse comply with Building Regulations / Codes?

The Wren chassis system was developed can comply with– or exceed – building regulations in many jurisdictions. However, as always, you will need to get an inspector or a professional to certify that your project complies. You will need a certified engineer who understands the structure to sign it off.

Do I need planning permission?

Yes. All the usual rules apply, and it is always a good idea to research this in advance. You can always hire an architect to help you submit a planning application. It is a good idea to engage with local planners in advance of putting in an application, so your design can anticipate to any concerns they may have. In some areas, small structures associated with existing homes can be built within your ‘Permitted Development’ rights, and no planning permission is needed.

Will I be able to get a mortgage for my project?

Probably not, yet. The WikiHouse R&D community is working through the process of testing and proving the WREN building technology, to make it easier for mortgage companies to lend against it. Individual lenders may be happy to finance your project using WREN, but at present you should not commit to building a pilot project using the WikiHouse system if you intend to finance your build with mortgage. We expect this to change soon.

How much does a WikiHouse cost?

How much a WikiHouse costs depends on a number of factors; such as the size of your project, how much of the work you choose to do yourself, the cost of materials where you are, and – of course – the design and specification of your home. As a general rule of thumb, in the UK, £1000/m² is a reasonable start point.

How long does it take to build a house using WREN?

Depending on the size of the house, the chassis can usually be assembled by a team of 6-8 people in 1-5 days. Other building elements can vary from project to project depending on the size of the team, the specification and delays caused by external factors.

Can WREN be disassembled?

Yes, however over months and years some of the parts may tighten, meaning that some components may not be reusable.

Where can I find a CNC fabricator?

There is already a wide network of workshops providing CNC cutting services around the UK, Europe and USA. You can find one using directories such as FabHub or 100K Garages, or get in touch with us about your project, and we’ll see if we can help you find one.

How can I support the WikiHouse project and accelerate development?

There are a number of ways you can support the project. You can partner with us to develop and deploy a particular aspect of R&D. You can take on one of the open challenges, or you can simply donate to support progress, helping to build common solutions from which everyone will benefit.