'Printable' WikiHouses could transform social housing

Imagine if social housing could be beautiful, sustainable and the design could be downloaded online.

Enter WikiHouse.

These two WikiHouses have been constructed in the north of England and overseen by Miranda Plowden.

The urban designer is on a mission to address what she says is an urgent need to re-think the way we build houses.

Miranda Plowden:

“We have to do this. We are now in a climate emergency. We don’t have any choices really. We have to jump to solutions that are going to sustain the human race on the planet."

The WikiHouse system is an open source design method.

It digitally designs your house with computer-aided cutting of the timber frame and parts off-site.

This means the building is faster and easier to build. It's also customizable, more environmentally friendly and has higher performance.

So while a WikiHouse won’t cost any less, construction time can come down from the 10-month mark to 10 weeks.

“The frame, the fabric of an off-site house will be more expensive than the fabric of a traditionally built house for the reasons I’ve said, because it’s less familiar and it just is different, but you are on site for less time with an off-site house. So all of your prelims, all of your site costs are reduced. So overall you shouldn’t necessarily be spending more money on that house.”

These two homes were the first semi-detached WikiHouses built anywhere, designed to fit into their surroundings.

As a landscape architect, Plowden is an ardent campaigner to make the most of the space outside their homes.

She says lockdown has proven how important green space is and that it should be part of social housing design.

“Those people who’ve had access to gardens, who’ve had local parks, who’ve been able to access flowers and green space and enjoy the everyday beauty that that brings. It’s been a real kind of different experience for people. So this stuff really matters around health and wellbeing as much as anything else.”

Plowden has been working with Pictorial Meadows, a social enterprise actively transforming vacant, derelict land in various city neighborhoods into colourful meadows designed for residents and local wildlife.

The meadows also flower all the way from spring to late summer.

“So you only have to go to site once a year instead of fifteen times a year because there’s one annual meadow cut like a meadow. So we’re doing much less driving around, much less using petrol in mowers and all of that and what comes with it is a really long flowering season of six to nine months, lots of seasonality, biodiversity. So less money for us, less money for us to maintain it, lower carbon footprint and lots of pleasure for people.”

Video Transcript

- Imagine if social housing could be beautiful, sustainable, and the design could be downloaded online. Enter WikiHouse. These two WikiHouses are being constructed in the North of England and overseen by Miranda Plowden. The urban designer is on a mission to address what she says is an urgent need to rethink the way we build houses.

MIRANDA PLOWDEN: We have to do this. We're now in a climate emergency. You know, we don't have any choices really. We have to jump to solutions that are going to sustain the human race on the planet.

- The WikiHouse system is an open source design method. It digitally designs your house with computer-aided cutting of the timber frame and parts off-site. This means the building is faster and easier to build. It's also customizable, more environmentally friendly, and has higher performance. So while a WikiHouse won't cost any less, construction time can come down from the 10-month mark to 10 weeks.

MIRANDA PLOWDEN: The frame, the fabric of an off-site house will be more expensive than the fabric of a traditionally built house, but for the reasons I've said, because it's less familiar and it just is different. But you're on site for less time with an off-site house. So all of your prelims, all of your site costs are reduced. So overall, you shouldn't necessarily be spending more money on that house.

- These two homes were the first semi-detached WikiHouses built anywhere, designed to fit into their surroundings. As a landscape architect, Plowden is an ardent campaigner to make the most of the space outside their homes. She says lockdown has proven how important green space is and that it should be part of social housing design.

MIRANDA PLOWDEN: Now those people who've had access to gardens, who've had local parks, who've been able to access sort of flowers and green space, and enjoy the kind of everyday beauty that that brings, you know, it's been a real kind of different experience for people. So this stuff really matters around sort of health and well-being as much as-- as much as anything else.

- Plowden has been working with Pictorial Meadows, a social enterprise actively transforming vacant, derelict land in various city neighborhoods into colorful meadows designed for residents and local wildlife. The meadows also flower all the way from spring to late summer.

MIRANDA PLOWDEN: So you only have to go to site once a year instead of 15 times a year, because there's one annual meadow cut like a meadow. And so we're doing much less driving around, much less using petrol in mowers, and all of that. And it's what comes with it is a sort of really long flowering season of about sort of six to nine months, lots of seasonality, biodiversity. So, yeah, less money for us, less money for us to maintain it, less car-- lower carbon footprint, and lots of pleasure for people.