Thursday, 9 October 2014

A solution to our housing problems: the WikiHouse 4.0: How to build your own sustainable house

In today's Independent, Andreas Whittam Smith looks at several examples and ideas which illustrate Jeremy Rifkin's notions of 'The Zero Marginal Cost Society' and “the convergence of new communications media with new energy regimes”:
Futures Forum: Jeremy Rifkin and the Collaborative Commons

Several examples are given, including the WikiHouse 4.0 - which was on show at the recent London Design Festival:
WikiHouse - Open Source Construction
Open source WikiHouse 4.0 on display at London Design Festival | Architecture And Design
WikiHouse 4.0 Now On Display - 3D Printing Industry

WikiHouse 4.0 is a sign that we have entered the Third Industrial Revolution

Thursday 9 October 2014

What might a build-your-own home movement eventually do to the building industry?

We have entered the Third Industrial Revolution and this is what it feels like. A prototype of a WikiHouse 4.0 was on show at the recent London Design Festival. Anyone can download, adapt, “print” and assemble it in a few days, with no construction skills and for under £50,000. It’s a bit like building your own flat-pack home. Visitors were invited to bring a mobile phone to control the lighting, sensors and ventilation in the house.




My second example is the city of Hull, which is about to enjoy a renaissance. It used to top the list of the 50 worst places to live in the United Kingdom. The poet Philip Larkin said: “I wish I could think of one nice thing I could tell you about Hull, oh yes… It’s very nice and flat for cycling”. But now? On 3 September, Hull City Council granted planning permission for a new wind turbine production facility at Alexandra Dock. The old dock of silt-filled water and concrete will be transformed into Green Port Hull. It will be a service hub for the giant wind farms being built in the North Sea.

Finally, something quite different again. There is peer-to-peer lending. By the end of June 2014, it had provided almost £1.5bn to UK consumers and businesses. P2P, as it is called, is an online facility that enables people with surplus funds to lend them to other individuals or to businesses for a good return.

What might a build-your-own home movement eventually do to the building industry? What might the development of wind farms in the North Sea, and similar projects, eventually do to our traditional power stations? What might peer-to-peer lending eventually do to high-street banks?

Industrial revolutions are very big events. The First Industrial Revolution began in 1769 when James Watt invented the steam engine powered by coal. Steam engines were soon used to drive machinery in factories and then, most dramatically of all, to transport people and goods by rail. The Second Industrial Revolution started in the final decades of the 19th century with the discovery of oil, the invention of the internal combustion engine and the development of electricity. Industrial revolutions change everything.

What are the common features of these economic transformations? In his new book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society, Jeremy Rifkin, the economic and social theorist who lectures at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, provides an illuminating analysis. He writes that the great economic revolutions in history are “infrastructure revolutions”, and what makes these revolutions transformational is “the convergence of new communications media with new energy regimes”.

Mr Rifkin looks at the mediaeval period and notes first the development of watermills and windmills in the 10th and 11th centuries, with a typical watermill replacing the labour of 10 to 20 people. That was the new energy regime. Then came the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1436. It was these two developments coming together, he argues, that facilitated the replacement of the feudal economy with the market economy.

In the 19th century, it was steam-powered printing and the telegraph that became the communications media for linking and managing a complex coal-powered rail and factory system. Likewise, Rifkin notes, in the 20th century it was the telephone, and later, radio and television, that served as the communications media for managing and marketing a more geographically dispersed oil, auto and suburban era and a mass consumer society.

Driving the Third Industrial Revolution will be the strangely named “Internet of Things”. We shall quickly get used to the notion. The Financial Times devoted two thirds of a page to the Internet of Things in last Monday’s edition. It will connect every machine, business, residence and vehicle in an intelligent network all embedded in a single operating system. This in turn will feed a continuous stream of Big Data to every business connected to the network. Rifkin sees it as being made up of three parts – a Communications Internet, an Energy Internet and a Logistics Internet.

We know what the Communications Internet is. We use it every day. I will shortly employ it to send this article by email to the editors of The Independent. But what, for instance, is or will be the Energy Internet? As an example, take a remote village in India. A bank of solar panels connected to a brick substation powers the local electricity micro grid. Inside the substation are batteries that allow the village to store power during the night or when there is cloud cover. A small computer transmits data back to the company’s offices in Jaipur. As local micro grids come on line, they connect with one another, creating regional networks that eventually link up to national grids, transforming the centralised power structure into what Rifkin calls “a distributed, collaborative, laterally scaled power network”.

And a Logistics Internet? This doesn’t yet exist anywhere. Transport of goods by road currently comprises competing firms of lorries, drivers and warehouses. But if the industry would accept an open supply web managed by sophisticated analytics and algorithms, companies could use the system to store items and route shipments in the most efficient manner possible.

The upshot of all this would be at once wonderful and disturbing. We should be developing a “sharing” economy as foretold by Facebook and Twitter, which allow people to share their lives, and by YouTube and Flickr, which allow people to share their creative content. Nowadays millions of people are also sharing cars and bicycles, homes, clothes, tools, toys and skills via the internet.

At the same time, however, Big Data, advanced analytics, algorithms, Artificial Intelligence and robotics are replacing human labour across the manufacturing industries, service industries and the knowledge and entertainment sectors, and rising up the skill ladder and affecting professional work itself.

So, finally, much of the productive economic activity of society is going to be placed in the hands of intelligent technology, supervised by small groups of highly skilled professional and technical workers. So what happens then, we must ask along with Rifkin, when so few people are gainfully employed that there are not enough buyers to purchase goods and services from sellers?

That is the big puzzle that lies ahead as the Third Industrial Revolution gets under way. No doubt our ancestors felt similarly confused as they boarded their first train or watched the Queen’s coronation on their black-and-white television sets, which had become available just in time for the great event more than 60 years ago.

WikiHouse 4.0 is a sign that we have entered the Third Industrial Revolution - Comment - Voices - The Independent

From the Guardian recently:

How to build your own sustainable house

WikiHouse enables people to design and build their own flat-pack homes. Aimed at tackling challenges in both developed and developing markets, could this be the future of housing?

Alice Grahame Guardian Professional, Tuesday 23 September 2014 07.00 BST
Jump to comments (3)

A WikiHouse being built. The parts slot together like a jigsaw puzzle, without the need for glue and use only a few bolts and screws. Photograph: Margaux Carron

WikiHouse is an open source information system that enables people to design and build their own house.

First, the user must choose their design and download the free online plan. They then send the plans to a saw mill where the various shaped components are cut from sheet material, such as plywood, by a computer numerical control (CNC) machine. The pieces are delivered to the chosen site and where the user needs to gather a team of builders or friends, to put the house together. Similar to a piece of Ikea flat-pack furniture, the kit contains everything needed to build the house including make-your-own tools such as a mallet and ladder.

WikiHouse 4.0 is the latest prototype house of a project that began three years ago. It is on display as part of the London Design Festival 2014 until Friday 26 September and is a result of a partnership between WikiHouse co-designer Alastair Parvin of Zero Zero Architects, Arup engineers and The Building Centre.

WikiHouse 4.0 brings the concept much closer to a desirable home than previous versions. It is made of orientated strand board (OSB) and is two storeys high with double-glazed windows. The electrics, lighting and ventilation systems work off sensors that are controlled by a mobile phone and can be voice activated. The controls use freely available OpenHAB smart home technology that runs on a £40 Linux computer.

Sustainability credentials

One of the aims of WikiHouse is to make sustainable, energy efficient homes more accessible and this version includes a number of innovations that bring this goal closer. The digital plans can be downloaded anywhere and the building made from local materials appropriate to local resources and conditions, eliminating the need to transport supplies over long distances. As Parvin points out: “Only the design files need to be shipped.”

The parts slot together like a jigsaw puzzle, without the need for glue and use only a few bolts and screws. The structure is lightweight and can be disassembled and reused. The shape of the walls means there is a natural cavity that can be filled with insulation. The fabric could be designed to achieve Passivhaus standards with precise detailing and sealing.

WikiHouse 4.0 runs on extra low voltage DC power on standard ethernet cables, which is ideal for running laptops and phones and eliminates the need for wasteful adaptors. The DC also runs low energy LED lights. The house even has a ventilation unit that recovers heat with plates made from flattened out aluminium beer cans, which was specially designed and 3D printed by David Polson, a mechanical engineer at Arup.

Adrian Campbell, an associate director atArup, says: “The whole model is substantially different in giving individuals the chance to design and build houses by themselves or in communities. It enables people to overcome barriers to a more energy efficient home. It’s down to people’s innovation what they make of this now. It’s being put out there and you have a global population who can adapt it.”

Parvin adds: “The person who is most interested in energy efficiency is the homeowner. This project puts sustainable technologies into the hands of the end user. Open source makes it much easier to share ideas so people can build houses cheaper, more sustainably, more responsibly.
Serving a broad market

As an open source project the WikiHouse idea has spread around the world. There is a WikiHouse community in the Netherlands. WikiHouses have been built in Christchurch, New Zealand as a response to 2011 earthquakes. It is being tried in favelas in Brazil and in poor regions in China. Aid agencies are looking at using WikiHouse for disaster relief.

The UK team is planning to launch a version of WikiHouse commercially, which will be a garden structure that can be used as a shed, summerhouse or artists studio. They would like to see WikiHouse rolled out nationally to help with London’s housing crisis although there are still barriers to be overcome.
Thinking beyond just energy efficiency

The main challenge is the unavailability and very high cost of land. Planning restrictions and building regulations also need to be addressed. The lightweight structure makes the system unsuitable for buildings more than two floors high and going higher could be dangerous if done by amateurs. This could limit the project’s value in a city like London where housing is high density.

But there are ways around this, says Campbell: “As land is so scarce the space on top of buildings interests me. A WikiHouse could be assembled on roof space, adding an extra two storeys on the tops of existing buildings.”

John Stapleton, head of external affairs at Sustainable Homes, a not-for-profit consultancy that advises the housing industry on sustainability, is cautiously enthusiastic about the project: “Innovation is key to the sector and it’s always good to mix things up. Sustainability is about much more than energy efficiency, and the self-build element in itself could be a sustainability aspect.

“It’s very challenging to make flat-pack houses that are energy efficient, as anyone who lives in a post-war pre-fab can testify. The performance gap between the design and the finished product is something the industry itself is currently grappling with – so this will be even more challenging if it’s being built by non-professionals.”

The UK housing industry is under pressure to deliver ‘zero carbon homes’ from 2016 and it will be useful to monitor the performance of the WikiHouse against this standard. With the growing need for affordable sustainable homes it seems there is a lot that both self-builders and the housing industry can learn from the WikiHouse example.

Alice Grahame is an ex-BBC newsroom journalist, now a freelance feature writer. She has a special interest in self-build housing and sustainability. Follow her @alicesangle .

How to build your own sustainable house | Guardian Sustainable Business | Guardian Professional

See also:
Futures Forum: The 'sharing economy' in the news...

1 comment:

Grace Wilkinson said...

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