Printing Houses

At Ourso Designs, we like to stay abreast of new trends in the design and construction communities. I recently heard of the WikiHouse project, a new attempt at customizable, affordable, portable housing. WikiHouse’s stated goal is to “allow anyone to design, download, and ‘print’ CNC-milled houses and components, which can be assembled with minimal formal skill or training.” The part of this that interests me is the “printed” part: they are taking computer generated designs for houses, and “printing” the pieces of the house, using a CNC machine (essentially a saw guided by a computer that cuts designs out of flat surfaces of wood) to cut the components (walls, frames, even the joining pieces – no nails/screws required) and then anyone can put the pieces together on their own. 


    So you could design your house yourself, limited only, presumably, by the size of the CNC machine and the size of  your plywood sheets, take your design and materials to someone who owns and operates a CNC mill, and put your house together by hand in true DIY fashion. I have been a longtime lurker of the Tiny House Blog, and this WikiHouse project reminded me of my long time urge to build a house that is DIY and affordable.

Will individually designed, fully modular, computer-cut houses become the norm? I don’t know, but the possibility is there. I could see students at colleges making their own dorms each year as an introductory class, learning computer skills, light construction skills, wood shop skills,and design skills all in one course. It could certainly help them appreciate their first home away from their parents. Custom computerized housing could also become a new niche for designers to fill – a designer could offer to design, customize, decorate and furnish a new addition to a house or backyard (a little man cave or personal office getaway comes to mind). I would be interested to learn exactly how much it would cost to get a house from computer to constructed. The possibility of a new career, a sort of fusion of designer/drafter/miller/decorator, is interesting: a designer could buy a CNC machine (maybe a portable one!) and take care of every step of construction for a client.

    We are coming into a new era of production; it is a very exciting time to be in the design field. There are CNC mills that cut wood, like what WikiHouse is using, but there are also plasma cutters that can cut through metal, and CNC lathes that can shape metal parts. There could come a time when 3d printers and CNC machines can print themselves, so other than the cost of materials, the day could come when everyone who wants these tools will have easy and affordable access to them.

    The WikiHouse project reminds me of 3d printing (printing machines that melt plastic and build a computer generated design out of thin air). Aida Avila, a friend of the company, recently purchased a 3d printer and is designing prototype lamps and purses. I will do a blog on her project, and on 3d printing in general, in the future. 

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