WikiHouse 4.0: A force for change in UK housebuilding?

The WikiHouse 4.0 demonstration project outside London’s Building Centre is described as disruptive innovation, intended to tackle big issues around housing undersupply, affordability and lack of space by opening up housebuilding to the public. It looks to what is being called ‘the third industrial revolution’, anticipating the widespread adoption of localised 3D printing.

The design of the WikiHouse is freely available as an open source download, for those wanting to build a home to live in for themselves. The cross laminated timber shell can be assembled in days with minimal skill or formal training. The cost of the demonstration house at the Building Centre is put at less than £50,000. Development of that house has been led by design studio 00, working with Arup and the Building Centre, with support from Future Cities Catapult, GeoVation and Momentum.

WikiHouse and a host of other projects have demonstrated that houses can be built rapidly and efficiently as a kit of parts, but self-build remains a rarity in the UK. The WikiHouse initiative recognises that other barriers, from land and planning to funding, need to be overcome in order to make self build as straightforward for the UK public as it is for their Dutch neighbours.

WikiHouse co-designer Alastair Parvin, of design studio 00, has called for changes including:

  • A legal definition of self build
  • A new land use class for self build – C5. This would create a parallel market for land, so that those wanting to build a home to live in are set apart from speculative developers
  • Design rules for planning, set by local neighbourhoods, so that self builders do not have to engage in lengthy planning applications
  • Open data platforms.

“We have used WikiHouse to unpack the issues,” said Parvin. “It’s an experiment in finding the barriers and asking whether you can design them down.”

Even for a government that says it wants to grow the self-build sector, the barriers remain challenging. There are also questions regarding the appetite and abilities of the UK public. There is now a firmly entrenched culture of buying new homes off the shelf, and basic DIY skills have not been widely taught in schools for decades.

But Parvin argues that change is needed for the universal good: “We need to find ways to upgrade homes for climate change, so it is incredibly important that we are able to put technology into the hands of citizens so that they can upgrade their homes for less.”

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