Open Source House Building

In the past I bookmarked several “open source hardware” project, including Obrary (machines!), AKER (gardening), Opendesk (furniture), and Precious Plastic (plastic recycling).

I’ll round out the picture with the Open Building Institute, which offers an open source suite of plans for modular buildings. Houses! Greenhouses!

The OBI system is open source, collaborative and distributed.
Our focus is on low cost and rapidly-built structures that are modular, ecological, and energy efficient.

Assembled by an international crew, the web site is basically a repository of plans and instructions that are free for anyone to use. The plans are quite ambitious. If the slides are an indication, they aspire to not only have plans for modular houses, but also for operating a building company and for processing and supplying building materials.

To date, the collection is limited, containing only some initial contributions. It is still a pretty impressive resource, as far as it goes.

I’m not sure exactly where you can use these designs (you have to have land and, in many places, planning permission), but if I wanted to whip together a DIY greenhouse I might well look to OBI for plans.

As with the rest of the “Open Source Hardware” universe, it is increasingly the case that the basic knowhow for taking care of humans is easily available via the Internet. That was actually the low hanging fruit, and most of the technology has been around for half a century or more. (Compressed Earth Blocks are not exactly new technology.) Furthermore, the highly touted “Open Source” License is a bit of a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. It simply is not the case that this knowledge was out there but locked up by proprietary licenses.

Of course, the OBI folks know this. They also sponsor training and “Workshops”, which they characterize as twenty first century “barn raisings”—“social production”. From the distributed everywhere-and-nowhere of the Internet, these affairs happen in a real physical place, and people have to actually go there and spend a few days actually doing it.

There is obviously plenty of room to expand this facet of the offering. Their roadmap for 2017 includes the launch of intriguing sociotechnical elements such as “Training Program”, “Enterprise Manual”, and “Materials Production Facility”. I look forward to see these, and to see how they are put into practice. If the quality remains consistent, this will be a very interesting collection.

(You can find a pointer to their Kickstarter campaign on their website.)

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