Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Open Source House Blog

Anna Chichinadze

Dear blog followers, readers and friends!

As we are moving forward to fulfill our goals and dreams, Open Source House came to an important decision concerning the blog.

We have started this blog at the very beginning of our project. It was a basis for our project and empowered our idea of sustainable building. Since the beginning it informed, inspired and motivated people, who then have become our subscribers, friends, participants, winners and supporters. We are grateful to our bloggers and all of our followers.

However, as we have already mentioned, Open Source House is moving forward and we are excited of the things accomplished so far. We have organized a design competition and motivated more than 3000 architects and designers to create not only a beautiful house, but also a sustainable, affordable and efficient design. Apart from announcing winners, we have published all competition entries on our temporary platform for everyone to see, use, adapt and built. Next to this (temporary) platform which now has turned into a meeting and discussion point for more than 3600 architects and designers, you can visit our website – loaded with all the news, videos, house models, new vacancies and opportunities and all the activities already done and still to be done.

Considering this, we want to provide all information more centralized through our website/platform, and yes, to say good bye to this blog. Open Source House Blog will stay online as an independent page, but as a part of our history.

We call for everyone, all our subscribers and followers to move to our website www.os-house.org and continue to build and develop sustainable housing together all around the world.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Open Source Architecture

Joost van Uden

On the 28th of April, the Open Source House team organized a workshop and a lecture at the Faculty of Architecture of the Delft University of Technology.

Within the field of architecture the concept of open source is a relatively new theme. During the workshop the participants worked on this by creating a coherent vision. It should clearly state what the advantages are of open source architecture, what motivates architects as well as other specialists to participate in the project. And how the ‘open source input’ reaches those who need it in Ghana. The time-span of the workshop was fairly limited so the result focused on the main issues to be tackled.

First of all the main stakeholders were identified; architects, constructors and suppliers, users of the building and the local community. In this respect the architects were conceived not as the ones who primarily contribute but actually the ones who are in need of information the most. Architects need information on; climate and weather conditions, local culture, legislation and regulations, local (building) materials and construction principles, in order to make a useful design.

Ownership was conceived as a problem. How can we get people/architects to contribute to an open-source system? Especially in architecture the pride of ownership of ideas and designs plays an important role. The found solution was based on a growth-model. OS-house should start with a small exclusive network of professionals. Information is only shared within a group of people with whom you really want to affiliate. In the second stage people can join by invitation; OS-house is still exclusive and invitees need to add information to become a member. In the third stage the amount and quality of information has reached a level that enables a true open character. Membership is open to all and they have access to information without the demand of sharing. Nevertheless users almost feel obliged to share due to the open character. It is a similar growth strategy as for instance used by the introduction of g-mail.

The next main issue was profitability; why would you share your insights with everyone? As the network grows the value of the information in the network is so much bigger than any individual input, that it is worth to share. The value of the individual work shall also increase due to the value of the whole network.

The team also tackled the problem of the communication barrier by introducing an OS-demo-house. Here the local community can physically see all the possibilities. A local ambassador should function as the local information manager of the OS-demo-house. He/She is able to communicate well with the local community so that they get the most out of the OS-house, as well as source the information needed by parties on the other side of the network.

All in all, the workshop as facilitated by LEAPS pinpointed some important barriers for OS-house. The workshop produced some valuable new insights on how OS could work in the field of architecture. We hope the workshop was as inspiring for the participants as it was for the facilitators.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sustainable Building Material Approach

Kevin Vervuurt

The Open Source House Project aims at providing better, affordable and sustainable housing for low-income households in developing countries. The outcome of the architectural competition intends to guarantee standards of sustainability and meet the challenge of flexibility, ensuring that all designs can be locally embedded with the ambition that +100.000 people will be living in sustainable OS-housing by 2020.

Here are a few tips for a sustainable, local and affordable approach to building materialization. Despite the fact that these ‘themes’ overlap, they do not necessarily imply each other, hence my reason for mentioning them separately. Initially the Open Source House Competition is focused on the Ghanaian context, but eventually the objective of the entire project lies in providing a solution for developing countries.

Trias Ecologica is an environmental strategy for sustainable development. According to Trias Ecologica the first step is to minimize the demand of sources [e.g. raw materials, water, energy, etc] as much as possible. This already starts in the early stages of the design process, as the form and materialization will for example define its energy usage. At this point it is also important to have a feeling of the amount of materials a design requires, including the construction techniques applied, as the latter might need a lot of extra building elements and or labor.

Secondly in the case of dependency of a source, go for endless, inexhaustible sources. The construction industry creates a lot of waste; certain waste materials can be re-used without needing to be processed and with little effort. For example reusing the wood or bricks of [old] buildings which are about to be demolished. It is also encouraged to use [domestic] materials not stemming from the building industry, in alternative ways for construction purposes.

Only if the first two steps are not enough to meet demand use exhaustible/finite sources as efficiently as possible. Limit your choice to sustainable and traditional building materials which can easily be grown and or manufactured within the local context. In the case of the competition the usage of materials which can be found in Ghana is important, but secondly it is also encouraged to think about building with materials from your local context, which might not be the same. This would allow your design to be applicable within a broader context, from a building material perspective. A Local context is a relative term as its scale depends on several factors e.g. habits, density, infrastructure, etc.

The publication “Small-Scale Production of Building Materials in the Context of Appropriate Technology” from the Centre for Human Settlements of the University of British Columbia emphasizes the importance of employing the local context as part of a development strategy. The document indicates the scale of locality being of central importance for increasing self-reliance and efficiency in housing construction, and aims to build on experiences relevant to solving local needs in locally appropriate ways.

“The UNCHS theme ‘The Small-Scale Production of Building Materials’ therefore is important technically, economically, socially, culturally, and forms part of a development strategy which emphasizes increased self-reliance, efficiency, and above all, builds on experiences which are relevant to solving local needs in locally appropriate fashions. Man’s principal aim in this regard is to enclose space for a variety of human and social needs; to do it as effectively and efficiently as possible, using resources that are readily available and appropriate. This concept is particularly vital in meeting the burgeoning shelter needs of the poor”*

Lastly, as the Open Source House Project is targeted at low-income households the buildings should be affordable. Local materials and technology minimizes production, transportation and construction costs of the building process. A quick, efficient and simple to manage building process can also keep the building costs low.

An economic design strategy can be part of the solution, in which the initial building costs are kept to a minimum by thinking of an expandable unit that is build up in phases; starting with a simple nucleus containing the primary necessities of basic adequate shelter [toilet, shower, living room, external kitchen], which can be extended overtime. The latter can happen with the ‘growth’ of income or after the initial structure has been paid off.

Maintenance costs should be kept to a minimum by the application of user-friendly and familiar construction techniques in combination with durable materials, which can be self-repaired and replaced. Not only does this keep the cost of maintenance low but also promotes self sufficiency.

In the end the proposal should be economically viable for the target group. Cheap materials do not imply of low quality, it is up to us, as designers, to come up with creative, environmentally sustainable and affordable solutions.

*University of British Columbia Centre for Human Settlements, Small-Scale Production of Building Materials in the Context of Appropriate Technology, [p.2], 1986, [http://www.chs.ubc.ca/archives/?q=node/989]

Useful websites:


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Living in Paper?

Douwe Wieberdink

Do you remember the story of the three little pigs and the wolf? The first pig built its house out of straw and the big bad wolf came along and blew it all away. The lesson learned was that we should build a strong and durable house to cope with all the dangers outside. And that was not the only thing I thought about when I heard that houses could be built of paper. I saw pieces of paper swirling in the wind or lying wet and sticky on the ground. I saw paper ripped apart and everything but a strong house. But, on the other hand, paper is principally wood, and wood is a good material to build with. Besides, there is plenty of paper and paper waste. In the United States there are about 1 billion (1,000,000,000) trees worth of paper thrown away per year, which is an equivalent of about 85,000,000 tons of paper or 680 pounds per person. (Recycling-Revolution) This does not even include the amount of water, oil, energy and space that is used to make this material.

Paper in itself is not strong enough to be used as a building material. Therefore it is mixed with Portland cement and sand to make a combination called Papercrete. Between 50 and 80 percent of its components are paper and about 80% of the blocks that come from this mix are air. The paper can come from a variety of sources: newspapers, magazines, books, junk mail, and so forth. The paper pulp and the cement are mixed with a little bit of water in a mixer and the result is a soggy substance that has to be dried like the clay based building material, adobe. The mixer that is used for this is a simple mixer that can be bought at any home improvement store.
When the Papercrete is dry it can be mortared, drilled, hammered and nailed. Just as adobe, it can serve as a filler between the poles or studs that form the frame, but it is about four times lighter than adobe. Paper is a fibrous material which means that when it’s dry there are little holes that contain air. This is what makes Papercrete such a pleasant building material; it is light, a very good insulator and it absorbs sound waves because of the open structure. So when this material is used in big noisy cities, little more has to be spent on insulation in order to keep the house quiet and warm/cold.

Papercrete is about a third of the weight of cinder blocks and it is flexible. Paintings, shelves or any other thing that we would like to hang on the wall is easily done because of the strength of papercrete and because it is so easy to drill. There won't be any problems using papercrete to build one or two story buildings, but papercrete does not have the strength of bricks or concrete; it is not made for big constructions.

Papercrete sounds like a perfect building material for residential living, which could lead you to believe there aren't any problems with it. But there are problems, and one is an obvious but very important one: it absorbs water like toilet paper. This can happen through condensation or through actual liquid. It would be relatively easy to avoid actual liquid on the surface of papercrete by not having any horizontal surfaces and by covering it. However, to avoid moisture, an entire protective coating will be necessary, which is a lot more difficult to create. Especially if you want to work with the material, such as drilling, the coating may be damaged and the papercrete loses its protection against water. When the protective coating is not done well, papercrete can wick moisture from the ground, which could lead to mold growth. The risk of this happening is constant, therefore papercrete has to be inspected frequently, especially in areas where rain or moisture are a constant factor.

Papercrete is mostly made out of recyclable materials which makes the production process cheap and will not put a lot of pressure on the environment. Portland cement, however does emit greenhouse gases and there are a lot of environmentally damaging waste materials used to make cement. These materials include: car and truck tires, hazardous waste, waste plastics, and pretty much anything that burns. But cement is used in almost any construction and it is hard to imagine it away from the construction site. However, using other components, such as clay, would be an option in some cases.

Papercrete is a new material. As it seems now, papercrete has a high life expectancy but there has little research been done and it has a limited track record. Time will teach us if this material will prove to be viable and safe. This research is very important for the success of papercrete because at this point, engineers and architects are hesitant to use it. They just don't know the (long-term) effects, and building something with a relatively unknown material is a high risk. Research is vital, especially if we want to make papercrete a success story for a high amount of constructions.

So far there are very few commercial companies active in making papercrete. The only one could find is in Mason, Texas. (Please let me know if you know others). Mason Greenstar is a U.S. Green Building Council Member (USGBC, http://www.usgbc.org) which indicates that it wants to build in an environmentally friendly manner, and that the Council recognized that. Having this membership is important for the success of papercrete because it proves that this material is environmentally friendly and it gives hope that the life expectancy is high, as well.

Because papercrete can mainly be made of recycled paper the costs are reduced significantly. On the Architecture Week website, Goldon Solberg says that the cost of materials for a house can be as low as $5 per square foot. This is $54 per square meter. In comparison, if we used bricks the cost could double. But papercrete is mainly made of material that is considered peoples’ waste. This means that if people want to make constructions of papercrete in small amounts, they can actually find most of the “ingredients” around their houses, which brings the cost even lower.

If papercrete could be made in large quantities at factories, the components would have to be found somewhere else in greater quanities, but the cost would still be low. Besides, the weight is a lot lower than other building materials such as bricks and adobe, which keeps the transport cost low.

For OS-House
This brings us to the final question. Will papercrete be a good material for the OS-House design competition? As far as we can say now, papercrete is a 'green' building material. It uses mostly waste or recyclable products that can be found locally all over the world. The material can be made easily with just a mixer in anyone’s backyard. Even if you can't do that, the transportation costs would be low because it is such a light material. A problem is that one of papercrete’s main components, cement, is an environmentally hazardous material, but this can relatively easily be substituted by other components. Another problem can be the moisture in the building blocks. To find a good product that can coat papercrete can become a problem in some parts of the world, but this would have to be researched further. A major advantage is that papercrete can be very inexpensive. As long as the builder uses 'waste' materials, the cost can be kept very low. Cement would be the most expensive component, but when this is substituted by something more environmentally friendly, the cost could actually be lower.
OS-House wants designs for the lower-middle class income families from developing countries. These families usually do not start to build a five-story house immediately but, as the family increases, the size of the (modular) house may increase as well. It will be a challenge to adapt to that.
Alltogether I think that papercrete is a wonderful material and when it proves to be long-lasting, it may have a great future in the developing as well as the developed world.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Habitat builds energy efficient and affordable houses

For over 30 years now, Habitat for Humanity has focused on building homes for the underprivileged. Over these years they developed themselves into what they are now: ‘A World Leading Organization in addressing the issues of Poverty Housing.

Habitat has many principles that ENVIU’s OS-House project has as well, such as affordable housing and sustainable housing, and they are good at what they do. In 2002 Habitat and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed a house that would be both efficient and affordable. They actually did such a good job that they won the Energy Star New Millennium Builder Award in 2003 for designing, constructing and marketing the best high-performance homes.

Habitat is an international organization that builds quality houses at the lowest possible cost, but the standards are high. Although there is a social component to this organization, they do not give houses away for nothing. The home owners will have to be able to afford their mortgage and must be willing to partner with Habitat. Today Habitat has built over 300.000 houses worldwide and the number is rising quickly.

So how are the houses built?
Habitat works with volunteers that receive information and training about construction issues such as management and methods, building materials, energy efficiency, healthy indoor air quality, house design, and accessibility. When the training is complete, these volunteers work within local affiliates of Habitat that will eventually build the houses in their neighborhood.

Habitat uses various construction materials in order to adjust to the right climate, but it will always have an efficient use of materials in order to save money and to conserve natural resources. This efficient building already starts with the design by using the space of a house efficiently and by working with reusable and recyclable materials that can be found locally. In order to help this process Habitat has actually opened Restores where they sell reusable and surplus materials.
Although it might be common sense to many of us, Habitat stipulates in the first phase of building the importance of indoor air quality so problems such as moisture, mold, unintentional ventilation, radon and carbon monoxide won’t occur.

So how does this relate to the OS-House project?
The similarities between Habitat and the OS-House project are numerous. Both organizations are trying to develop on a non-profit base a sustainable affordable house. Many of its principles are the same, such as working with local materials, reusable materials, education and a larege of volunteers implementing the ideas are just a few of the many similarities. The good news is that Habitat has already shown that the concept can be successful. But if there is already a successful project that builds thousands of houses all around the world, why should Enviu be participating in a new project?
Well that is a point of discussion. First of all, OS-House works from the idea of great designs. It uses the knowledge and abilities of architects to design new houses. This might make the houses more attractive and therefore the buildings will not lose their value as fast. Secondly, OS-House is working open source and has experience to reach out to people which means that new ideas might develop faster than in a large organization as Habitat for Humanity.
Thirdly, Habitat works with volunteers in the building process. Although this process might work especially in developed countries, it undermines the market regulations. Especially in emerging markets, volunteer work is not always a sustainable working method.
Fourth, Habitat has a major organization backing up their finances from the developed work, OS-House does not. Therefore OS-House cannot rely on this method. It is vital to OS-House to design houses even better than Habitat is already doing. This is a great challenge!

Habitat for Humanity and OS-House have some major similarities. Since Habitat has been in de business for so many years, OS-House can learn a lot from this organization. At the end, however, OS-House should work out its own way because it wants the free market mechanism to do its work. And if it works it can enter a whole new way of building for the developing world! Keep your fingers crossed!

For more information about Habitat for Humanity, look at www.habitat.org.
For more information about this project look at http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/publications/pdfs/building_america/36102.pdf for a truly interesting and detailed explanation of building methods.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Finnish Answer to Environmentally affordable housing

Can wood bonded with plastic be an environmentally sustainable long lasting construction material?

The Finnish Construction company UPM says it can. According to their website ' UPM leads the integration of bio and forest industries into a new, sustainable and innovation-driven biofore industry.' The Finnish company has developed a new type of composite material called UPM Profi. UPM uses a mixture of surplus paper and plastic leftovers from production. These leftovers can be found anywhere in the world, which means that the production process can be started anywhere with no high transportation costs. According to the company the material is a perfect combination of wood fibers and plastic. After use the material can be put back into the production process which means that there will hardly be waste materials. All residues are used as raw material for new products. So we know there is hardly any environmental damage in the production process or even after because the building material can be recycled. But it gets even better because ' there is no need for annual staining, varnishing or other labor intensive maintenance.' In other words, the maintenance cost is almost nothing because it does not need any work or materials in order to maintain the product. The material has all the positive characteristics of wood and will not need all the maintenance that wood often needs. The material can be held together by 'cladding'. Cladding is making a connection between the components by pressing the UPM Profi to the carrying material. The advantage is that you do not need any nails, screws or any other connection material.How flexible is the building material?What can you build with wood plastic composite? The original idea to use the building material was for outdoor use in garden decks, patios, terrace areas, marinas and boardwalks. But the company has shown some examples of other things that you can do with it, for example building homes. So far the company has only shown possibilities of what you can do with this composite but the ideas are remarkable. The Japanese architect Shigeru Ban used his architectural abilities on the Milano Salone Internazionale del Mobile exhibition by using UPM Profi, as well as at other expositions. Currently his design is being used as a mobile exhibition room.

So the possibilities seem to be endless. From etiquettes to exhibition rooms to futuristic designs.But how suitable is this material for Enviu's OS-House?We do not know the building costs of a house yet because there has not been any standardization but the material is made of waste material which means that there are not high costs associated with construction. However we do not know how expensive it is to locally build a factory that can make UPM Profi.UPM Profi is flexible and since it has the structure of wood, it will be adjustable to the local design styles. Of course we are only talking about the 'basic construction' but the amazing thing about this material is that furniture and floors can be made of it as well!Another interesting part is that UPM is trying to put as little pressure on the environment as possible. UPM puts high priority on recycled very durable material and low transportation costs.The concept is definitely interesting for Enviu and we will follow this company's developments.
Douwe Wieberdink

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Affordable and sustainable housing for urban, low-income areas is much needed all around the world. In order to improve the overall quality of life in these places, architect Vincent van der Meulen together with Enviu, the Dutch organisation behind the Sustainable Dance Club and the Hybrid Tuk Tuk project, have just launched the Open Source House project, a platform where designers, architects and entrepreneurs can share and work together on ideas for people in need. First initiative: an international design competition for young architects and entrepreneurs worldwide to get involved and share ideas. The challenge: design a sustainable house in an expandable way. The winning design will be tested in a pilot project in Ghana.

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