Wikihouse Adventures

Visit to Almera Wikihouse Project Near Amsterdam, June the 2nd 2022

Having been interested in the Wikihouse concept for a number of years my wife and I finally got the chance to visit a Wikhouse in the making. Almera is a new city about 30 km East of Amsterdam where the Dutch planning authorities have made the bold decision to allow a community of self builders to design and build 27 homes, some of which are for outright purchase and the rest will be for social housing rent with an option to buy in 5 years time at a cost fixed at the time of building.

We arranged to meet Bert, a founder member of the group of Almera builders who has just finished building his own house. It has taken him seven months to build his 90 sq meter, 2 story house from scratch. In the beginning he had a small team to help him to erect the structure, but once that was done he has been able to do most of the finishing it on his own. There is a strong community spirit on the site, everybody helps out as an when they can. Bert’s’ role has been as an advisor on construction, and organising the bulk purchasing of materials

Bert says there is no doubt he has saved money building his own house and has got a great sense of satisfaction from his efforts. Of the 28 houses, 5 are semi-detached and built as social housing, on a rent to buy basis, The first year is rent free, after that tenants are given 5 years at a social/affordable rent after that they are given the option to purchase their house at the price it was when first completed.

On a slightly different note. Bert was the only person we met in the Netherlands who wore clogs, which makes him a hero in my eyes.  See my open clog project here.

Bert outside his almost complete Wikihouse

What is a Wikihouse?

The WikiHouse Skylark is a new ‘open source’ building system, meaning that all the designs and construction information are freely available on the wikihouse website: https://www.wikihouse.cc The components are made from plywood blocks that are digitally fabricated using a CNC router to the nearest fraction of a millimetre. This stage of the manufacturing process can take place close to, or actually on the building site, by local companies or cooperatives, producing something similar to a Lego construction kit, but on a much larger scale. The result is a building you can assemble yourself, but with a high degree of accuracy.

The blocks are modular in design allowing many different configurations of buildings to be produced. These buildings can be disassembled instead of demolished, and the blocks re–used or recycled at the end of their life. The blocks have a U value of 0.14 W/m²K, so the building will be ultra-low energy by default.

As well as creating fewer emissions in production than other materials, wood actually captures and stores carbon from the atmosphere while it is in use. Spruce plywood has a certified life of 60 years, but if it is kept dry it will last for hundreds of years. Interlocked plywood is incredibly strong allowing buildings of up to 3 stories to be constructed. A typical wall block weighs just 39kg, making it easy to handle and install. A small team can assemble a chassis in days, without needing traditional construction skills

Designing with the Wikihouse system

In an attempt at understanding the intricacies of the Wikihouse system I decided to design, with my daughter, an affordable micro house, and build a 1/6 scale model of it using 3mm plywood. We used open sourced software to develop a computer model. Blender to model the individual blocks in 3dimensions, and Librecad to generate the cutting files for the parts making up the bespoke blocks. The blocks for the floor, walls and windows were taken directly from the wikihouse web site. Once the structure of the computer model was finished we added cladding, roofing, windows and doors, and gave them realistic looking materials, and even added a few items of furniture. It has to be said that some of the bespoke blocks were very difficult to get right!

The Miri Micro House

The Miri Micro house has been designed as a very small, inexpensive home that can be easily self built by almost anyone. It uses the Wikihouse system with a number of modified blocks. It has an internal area of roughly 20sq meters and a total footprint of around 25 sq meters. The bedroom is on a mezzanine floor over the kitchen and toilet, with sliding doors leading onto a verandah.

Section View

Elevations

Modeling the Wikihouse

In order to fully understand the system I felt it was necessary to build a physical 3D model to be confident that the components would fit together. Each block was made using a laser cutter to cut out the sides, and a CNC router used to machine the notches that allow the pieces to be assembled. Each block was then glued together using elastic bands as clamps. When the blocks are correct, and all the notches align it is a very satisfying structure to build, and the result is incredibly rigid and strong. I am hoping also that these models will help to persuade people that the system is a viable and cheap construction method.

Obviously, in real life these buildings will require finishing inside and out, plumbing and electrics, doors and windows, and a myriad of other things to make it a home, but if the bulk of the construction can be achieved by people with little or no building experience it will make access to good affordable homes considerably easier. Not only that, these homes are highly insulated, made from sustainable materials that can be recycled or reused, and generate very little material waste.

The Maker Homes Project

CNC Craft is actively looking for ways to see if the Wikihouse construction system can play a role in alleviating some of the problems faced by people who are unable to find suitable housing in Cornwall. We hope to gather a group of people, and get enough support and funding to build a small pilot home so we can evaluate how appropriate the system is for the builders, the community and the environment. If you would like to get involved, or just want more information please get in touch: aaron@cnccraft.co.uk

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