Open source housing the fantasy – part 3.

So my family and I arranged to meet with 3 builders who were all newly minted owners of a land release. The location was to the north and west of the states capital and about 5 hours drive from home.  These particular builders were also members of the 12 person group who were the instigators of the scheme and were obviously intent upon getting the homes up as quickly as possibly to prove the scheme was viable. They had apparently given themselves 4 months to get enough components together for 6 houses and another 2 months to construct these houses.

So we finally arrived at the first of the builders places. It turned out to be a rented property with a triple garage of which two spaces were totally given over to the various jigs that were used to produce the house parts. The third space was used as storage where a number of the house sections could be seen.  The main impression was of the lack of tools in the workshop. I learned later that the system was engineered so that one of the outcomes was the requirement for the least number of tools,  and part of the construction pipeline included the production of these tools so they need to be fairly simple. There was apparently a ladder of increasing complexity until the finished product was reached.  After a while we all went out to the back of the rented house and sat around a table talking.  One particular question I had was why there wasn’t any reliance on computer controlled tools at all, the answers to this question worried me a bit. Apparently after a fair bit of discussion it was decided that, even through a website was available for design and project management, the system was meant to be able to transition (if required) to situations where computers were not available. That is the system should be usable in the case of a general disintegration of society or more prosaically in areas where cost or lack of infrastructure necessitated simpler methods. At this point I realized that I had seen very few power tools lying about in the workshop.  The argument went something like this: ordinary hand tools could be stored carefully and could last unused for many years and would work without electricity.  And in the worst case once these tools ran out in a disintegrating society it was conceivable that they could be re-made with just the application of knowledge and hard work.  Electrical and further computer controlled electrical tools were at too greater remove from a primitive kind of society even with the knowledge available.  This was not to say that the tools were dumb. There was apparently a lot of clever design involved and a lot of high powered optimization of both material usage and characteristics but the overarching goal was always to make sure the implementation and use of the system could be restarted in lowly circumstances from the specifications and explanations.

So, there was the ‘book’ that described the system (which was freely downloadable) and meant to be transmitted in a similar way to the design of the clock of the long now .  This book was meant to be all that was necessary in order to start up a new house building scheme.   I found that I could purchase the book and download it to my kindle.

I did have a few reservations about the new sense I had of the project however I was pointed towards another online book and web site . Unfortunately I also came upon this stuff. However these people I was speaking with seemed to me to just be interested in providing a way for ordinary people to get housing they could construct themselves where the design and construction methods were informed by the best a technologically advanced society could provide. They were just concerned to make sure that the execution remained possible without a reliance on that society.  To list the main criteria for the system design as I now understood it we have:

1. The use of hand / wind or water powered tools only

2. The minimal set of common parts sufficient for interesting / functional / energy efficient housing

3. The minimal set of jigs and other tools

4. Accuracy of building dependant on the fewest variables possible (for instance advanced geometrical methods to get accurate jigs so that accurate parts can be repeatably made)

5. No reliance on complex materials requiring advanced technology to produce eg plastics.

6. Parts are to be 2 person lift maximum

There was a lot more including sophisticated siting and orientation instructions along with drainage, reclamation, sewage and other systems.   All listed for different climate types – and oddly these climate types and locations were listed for countries all around the world. Apparently these people whom I was speaking with were part of an extended internet based group who had all contributed to the designs from a massively rich fund of technical knowledge. For instance there were apparently experiments going in a university in Germany on a method of producing sheet wood from chips in vats with various chemicals easily obtainable in the countryside.  I had noted that there was a reliance on plywood in the constructed house parts which seemed to me to be a failing – although apparently plywood was invented in the 19th Century and so is not necessarily out of scope for home construction – the difficulty is probably the rotary lathe (which could conceivably be hand operated).

I came away that evening feeling conflicted. On the one hand I was disturbed by the dystopian character of some of the discussions I’d had but on the other hand I felt that a lot of their technical ideas were sound. I really believed they were serious about this project and I was very interested in monitoring the project. Whether my family and I would get involved was another thing. I really wanted to see the final outcome first and I wanted some help in analysing the writings of the group to make certain this endeavour really was based on sound scientific principles and not just the imaginings of a group of dreamers.



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