“Architecture does not change anything. It’s always on the side of the wealthy.” With these words, Oscar Niemeyer referred to architecture as being a privilege mostly destined to the upper class – a statement that has historically proven to be true, even as some would like to deny it. Today, only 2% of all houses around the world are designed by architects. This is largely due to the fact that, to the average consumer, architect-designed homes continue to be perceived as expensive and esoteric products available only to this select few; a luxury that many cannot fathom to afford, especially as housing prices rise. Ultimately, this makes good design inaccessible for certain segments, forcing them to settle for precarious living conditions in standardized spaces that fail to take their needs into account (that is, if they even have access to housing).
self-assembly: The Latest Architecture and News
The dream of universal affordable housing has been an idea tried and tested by architects throughout history. From the wacky Dymaxion House by Buckminster Fuller, an imagining of how we would live in the future, to mail-order houses able to be assembled like IKEA furniture, many proposals have tackled the challenge of creating affordable housing or dwellings which could be replicated no matter the time and place. However, although their use of techniques such as pre-fabrication and cheap materials seemed, in theory, to be able to solve pressing issues of homelessness and the global housing crisis, time and time again these proposals have simply failed to take off. But why?
IKEA’s research lab SPACE10 is attempting to find an answer to this question through open-source collaboration. By releasing their design of a micro-house that used only one material and one machine to make it and an accompanying website that catalogs the process and invites feedback, they are inviting architects, designers, and aspiring home-owners to work together in creating a solution which could improve the lives of millions. “The vision,” they say, “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, democratize the homes of tomorrow.”
An emerging sector of construction is developing new systems that manage to not only reduce construction times and costs, but also solve the housing problem in Mexico’s most disadvantaged areas. Originating from previously known construction techniques, national companies are venturing into international markets by proposing new models of construction that use fewer materials and have a greater structural strength and greater comfort. They’re also introducing smart materials adaptable to any construction need.
As part of this new industry breakthrough, Juan Manuel Reyes from Armados Omega and architect Jorge Capistrán have developed a new, low-cost construction system which also reduces construction time by 50%. It uses single module blocks and doesn’t require binders, mixtures, or skilled labor.
While most of us are grappling with the idea of 3D printing, Skylar Tibbits - computational architect and lecturer at MIT - is spearheading projects towards a fourth dimension. Transformation, Tibbit claims, is an uncharted capability that enables objects - straight off the printing bed - to assemble themselves, changing from one form to another. "Think: robots with no wires or motors." Tibbits exhibits how a single strand - embedded with predetermined properties - can fold from a line to a three dimensional structure. "I invite you to join us in reinventing how things come together."
In the second part of our popular series “How 3D Printing Will Change Our World,” we took a look at the work of Neri Oxman, an MIT professor 3D Printing fantastic, nature-inspired designs that actually respond to their environment.
But an MIT colleague and fellow architect, Skylar Tibbits, and his partner Arthur Olson of the Scripps Research Institute, are taking Oxman’s thesis one step further. Similarly inspired by natural properties that allow for interaction with the environment, these two are trying to figure out: ”Could buildings one day build themselves?”
The two recently exhibited the Autodesk-sponsored BioMolecular Self-Assembly at TED Global 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The project? Take the basic ingredients for molecular assembly, put them in individual flasks, and shake well. The result? The independent parts actually find each other and self-assemble various structures themselves.