Tag Archives: Self Build

Open Source Architecture

Open Source Architecture is a growing approach for designing buildings, where the design tools, plans and other materials are freely available, so that anyone can use them, rather than protected as copyrighted intellectual property.

Generally viewed as the architectural version of open source computing, and as analogous to hardware and software designed to be openly accessible and can be used by anyone. Cooking is often used as an example of one of the earliest forms of open source activities, a menu which anyone can cook from, share and change ingredients with anyone across space and time.

Like open source computing anyone, can add, adapt and rework designs which, again, can be used by anyone else. Open Source Architecture is being driven by a current, younger generation of designers, who see it as a part of a wider technologically informed tool-kit, enabling customised designs to happen on or close to a site. The new generation of tools include CNC routers, FABlabs and the internet of things. Some believe it is a part of a new ‘emerging paradigm.’ Of course, the arrival of the computer didn’t inaugurate openly accessible architectural design. Vernacular architecture is cited as the original open source architecture, with menus for designing buildings passed on from generation to generation, adapted, improved and updated as types are tried and worked on.

A good example of an architect developing a design and detailing system and making it available to all is what’s called the Segal Self-Build Method, named after Walter Segal, the community architect. Here are a few examples of how Open Source architecture is growing through the Internet.


Abbreviated from Fabrication Laboratory, FabLabs have been popping up all over the place (see here for a world map) and are essentially digital fabrication resource centres for open source designers and makers to use of otherwise prohibitively expensive machinery and technological kit. Kit often available include CNC routers, laser and other cutters, and rapid prototyping machines such as 3D printers. Again very much part of the open source design revolution, FabLabs are seen as an essential piece in the suite of digitally empowering jigsaw, enabling what was hitherto only available at expensive mass production levels, to be customised and open the door to making ‘almost anything.’ A Fablab Charter can be found here.

FabFoundation, FabAcademy and Neil Gershenfeld

FabLabs are the accidental brainchild of Boston MIT’s Neil Gershenfeld. A tech-head in the classic MIT mould, Gershenfeld developed Fab-Labs out of a collaboration with the Grassroots Invention Group. Since the idea of these low cost, network based grassroots labs got rolling Gershenfeld has been at the centre of subsequent developments, such as the FabFoundation and the Fab Academy, A Fab-Lab Open University scenario (kind of!).

There’s a Gershenfeld TED talk here. Click through to a classic MIT techgeek speak presentation, framing FabLab in total tech-transformation terms.

FabHub – Another, this time, UK focused list of hubs.

FabLab City – Barcelona, Spain. This is an obvious next step; linking a network of geographically close Fablabs – cross-fertlising, sharing and supporting each others work, Barcelona, which also has aims to be a self-sufficient city has been developing its FabCity network, “an interconnected community of neighbourhood fab labs”

Eco FabLabs

If you’re thinking this is all very well, but what does it have to do with eco-stuff, stop in your tracks for a minute, because Barcelona’s FabLab network is also about food and agricultural production. Valldaura is Barcelona’s self sufficient eco-fablab which is carrying out all sorts of natty experiments mixing appropriate – 21st century style – tech with food production and growth, including – they claim! – the first ever ‘intelligent bee hive’! Ok it’s experimental, but its food for thought, imagine a Lewes based Eco-FabLab collaborating with local farms on a host (and hive) of experiments, and you get the point.

Open Greens

There’s the beginnings of a network linking up these convergent Eco-Fablab’s at Open Greens

Open Design

Open Design is a closely related, indeed overlapping open source field of sprawling activity, focused on the whole design world. Architecture, in a sense can be part of Open Design, but so too can software and hardware, desk and table design and 3D printers and CNC routers.

Again, much of the impetus for Open Design is coming from the digital world, but of course is not the origin of free, accessible design. This has been around for aeons, determined by anyone who wants to make their design work available. In the current moment however, open design is growing because of tools, information and capacity to share and discuss amongst the drivers propelling its growth across the planet.

For the curious here are some Open Design links to get juices going :

Open Collaborative Design 

Making Society Advice on open hardware startups including information on prototyping, manufacturing, selling, distributing, choosing a license, building a community.

Some Open Source Furniture and interior design:

Open Desk

Mozilla Factory Open Source Furniture

20 Open source furniture designs


The intriguingly named London-based Architecture00:/ are involved various open source projects. WikiHouse is the one most directly related to Open Source Architecture.

WikiHouse declares it is an open source construction set which provides all the parts (software, designs, details) to make – or print – your own CNC-milled house, which can then be put together and built into someone’s very own dwelling. WikiHouse has taken off across the internet so that a mushrooming of designs can be found on WikiHouse’s Open Library, with designs independently evolving in as far flung parts of the world as earthquake ravaged Christchurch, New Zealand, North America and the Netherlands.

So far no houses (or homes) have been completed, only test projects, but with each iterative development a genuine WikiHouse is getting rapidly nearer. To get a sense of the kinds and spread of projects look at the WikiHouse news page.

The June 2011 edition of the Italian Domus architecture and design magazine (in English) is a special edition on Open Source Architecture.


The Open Architecture Network

The Open Architecture Network is a web-portal run by Architecture for Humanity, facilitating anyone to share architectural and building design to the worldwide AfH network. With over 15,000 designs to be shared, discussed and improved by all those who are part of the Open Architecture Network, with particular emphasis on improving conditions on the ground and the built environment across the developing world. In AfH’s words the network “allow’s designers to work together in a whole new way, a way that enables 5 billion potential clients to access their skills and expertise. The network has a simple mission: to generate not one idea but the hundreds of thousands of design ideas needed to improve living conditions for all.