The demand for affordable housing is a pressing issue for many cities today. And, according to the UN, by 2050, the world’s urban population will have increased by 2.5 billion.
The cost of housing will probably rise, homes will likely get smaller, and informal settlements such as favelas and townships could grow bigger.
Could open source architecture and digital fabrication help tackle the global housing crisis and make well-designed homes accessible and affordable for the many people?
One machine + one material = one space
Danish architecture students Johanne Holm-Jensen and Mia Behrens were invited do a six-month-long residency project at SPACE10.
Their task was to explore how to design low-cost, adaptable and sustainable homes that could be applicable globally and designed to be manufactured locally using a digital fabrication tool.
Johanne Holm-Jensen (left) and Mia Behrens (right).
Johanne and Mia designed and built a micro-house using just one machine and one material, and at a material cost of €163 ($192) per square meter.
The intention was that anyone, anywhere could download the open source design, customise the house to suit different landscapes, terrains and cultures, “print” the necessary parts locally, and assemble the house relatively quickly and easily.
However, as a solution for providing housing, the design is not final yet. We are still experimenting with the prototype, and we now hope that others can add to or improve our design over time.
The vision is that by leveraging the world’s collective creativity and expertise, we can make low-cost, sustainable and modular houses available to anyone and, as a result, democratise the homes of tomorrow.
Digital fabrication is still an emerging field and has yet to fulfil its enormous potential. It’s based on a simple idea—that you can design something on a computer and physically make it with the press of a button using a digital fabrication tool. Digital fabrication tools such as CNC milling machines, laser cutters, and 3D printers are gradually becoming smaller, more advanced, cheaper and much more user-friendly, which means that soon our factories could sit in our homes or on street corners.
Designs could travel as digital files to be downloaded and made anywhere—reliably, repeatedly and on-demand. This would cut out most of the middlemen and complicated logistics involved in traditional construction, as well as the time-consuming, polluting and expensive shipping of materials. Local production could be the new normal. Materials would instead be sourced or grown locally and sustainably.
Once an open source design is released, it is in the public domain and freely available for anyone to use, modify and share. This means a house can be downloaded, customised, build and constantly improved over time.
Open source architecture could thus make well-designed homes affordable for the many people.
Building Blocks is a project in process. We still have unanswered questions, and have decided to share the design files in order to get feedback and learn from other architects, builders, designers, so that together we can develop and improve the project.
If you wish to get access to the files, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The “footprint” of the prototype is 49 square meters, meaning we didn’t need approval from local building regulators. However, the system is modular, allowing builders to scale the dimensions according to their needs.
The prototype was made using just one machine—a CNC milling machine (and, in our case, the most affordable model currently on the market).
We made the prototype using one material—FSC-certified plywood. It is a cheap, abundant, standardised and sustainable material—and suitable for a CNC milling machine.
€163 ($192) per square meter—or €8,000 ($9,400) in total.
Building Blocks has a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which means the design can be shared, copied and modified without requiring permission—as long as people credit the original source and share their learnings. We don’t take responsibility for anyone’s safety—and cannot stress enough that our first prototype is not a definitive solution for a habitable space.
An introduction to Building BlocksFull article
We are Mia Behrens and Johanne Holm-Jensen, two young architects striving to create architecture that is honest, authentic and everlasting. Through our “playful research” project at SPACE10, we explored how to build an open source architectural structure that could fit the needs of future living. We did so by examining the tension between old-fashioned craftsmanship and new production technologies.
Digging deeper into the processFull article
Building Blocks is an open-source exploration of future spaces that is applicable globally and can be manufactured locally. Devising such a concept isn’t without its challenges. A very flexible structure is required to ensure the product can work in the global North as well as in the South. In this article we share some of the thinking that has gone into the design process.
Reflections on prototyping Building BlocksFull article
We set out to design a building that could be manufactured locally, while remaining relevant globally. To that end, it needed to be standardized and adaptable—in other words, suitable for many contexts and uses. We subsequently designed a structure that was flexible, simple and honest. And, in the last two months, we built the first prototype, in the Danish town of Stevns. In this article we share the key takeaways from the process.
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