Video: WikiHouse co-founder Alastair Parvin at TED@London

  • 06 Mar 2013
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, co-founder of WikiHouse gave his TED Talk last week (one of the many architecturally relevant talks at TED 2013). Although the video of his latest talk is not yet available, to whet your appetite we present you with his speech from last year at @London. In it he explains the conditions of architectural and material culture that led to the foundation of WikiHouse, an open source database of house designs that can be manufactured with a CNC cutter and assembled in a day.

Parvin says: “If design’s great project in the 20th century was actually the democratization of consumption… I believe design’s great project in the 21st century is the democratization of production.” Last year, the WikiHouse project was one winner of TED’s City 2.0 Awards.

Cite: Stott, Rory. "Video: WikiHouse co-founder Alastair Parvin at TED@London" 06 Mar 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 28 May 2015. <>
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  • Ann

    Parvin states that he wants to design for the 100% of the community, but doesn’t seem to realize all the challenges that comes with designing for “everyone”. He’s completely ignored the social aspect, the importance of materials, as well as cultural significance in architecture. Briefly, he mentions “social projects” and brushes them aside, when which, they really should be given more credit. Has he heard of “Design for the other 99%?” or all the hundreds of other organizations and projects, aiming to solve the same problem? I’ve studied this topic for 4 years now, post-undergraduate architecture education (finishing up my Masters now, also in architecture) and it appears that the WikiHouse project could benefit from studying previous case studies. The prefabricated pieces, first of all, require sophisticated equipment, access to computing, necessitates knowledge of software, and specific materials to construct. This already limits the users (read: not 100%). Additionally, countless projects have proven that prefabricated designs simply do not resonate with the thousands of micro-community cultures, and that when it doesn’t, it is almost doomed to failure. You can save this by including “self-built” principles, yes, though it’s not just about “fun”. I’m questioning who this audience Parvin is speaking to, because 100% just sounds incredibly alienating. He hasn’t given us the socio-economic bracket, nor the area they live in, but does mention their global scale. I’d ask then, why is this so much better than vernacular construction of houses? Ethiopians can build their traditional houses also in one day, as a family, and with local materials (read: free). So what does this solve?

    To better understand his argument, and applicability, he really needs to frame the problem better. It’s noble to try and come up with a solution to house everyone, but the problem isn’t that people don’t have homes. In fact, humans have been building shelters for thousands of years just fine. What ELSE, is the problem? And always use caution with blanket terminologies! It’s quite misleading… bracketing the other 99% as consumers who all want CNC milled, unit-based designs. Didn’t his architecture professors drill into him also, the question, “Who is your audience?” Those who can’t afford design? Because for one, there are many cultures in the said 99%, and also, has he asked Why they can’t get it? Is it perhaps, political? Government based? Zoning? Social? Currently, WikiHouse just sounds like a successfully fun experiment with technology and fabrication. I’m sure it has applicable uses in certain contexts (maybe the boltless house is good for quick construction in emergency relief), but I am very not convinced that it is the strategy to solve building for “100%”.

    • Detlef

      Dear Ann,
      You are right with your views, but you may have some misunderstandings on Alastair’s main point. I by my self got too much fixated on his CNC-stuff. Maybe you got too much fixated too? “His” high-tech CNC-stuff seams to mislead us probably to only a new “one fits all” approach by Alastair. I guess this is not Alastair’s main intention.
      In my opinion Alastair starts up with this very CNC-example only, to get others like you interested to bring in different views and house ideas too like e.g. sandbag-houses and many more in a kind of “wikihouse(s).cc”. I hope I understand Alastair’s intention some how right…
      All the Best Detlef