WikiHouse project 'a social enterprise'

Possible interior of a WikiHouseNZ project called the BackYarder.
Tigran Haruyunyan, WikiHouse

Possible interior of a WikiHouseNZ project called the BackYarder.

A communal house-building network that started in the dark days after the Christchurch earthquake will be a reality this year.

WikiHouse is an open hardware project, where experts design houses, or parts of them, and share their creations online for any house builder who wants to use them.

WikiHouseNZ co-founders and directors Danny Squires and Martin Luff will build a 25-30 square metre prototype house by the end of the year, they said at a launch event.

The house will be fully enclosed, watertight, insulated, plumbed and wired for electricity and the internet. It would cost no more than a conventional house of the same size, Luff said.

The pair would seek consent for the building. It would initially be manufactured and assembled in WikiHouseNZ's lab in Addington, but could be disassembled in hours and moved anywhere.

WikiHouses are built from plywood shaped by a computer- controlled cutting machine. Components were fastened with plywood pegs rather than nails or screws.

The houses are more than "hobbyist prefab systems," said Alastair Parvin, the London- based architect credited with launching the WikiHouse idea in 2011. The New Zealanders came aboard almost immediately and were in effect co-founders, Parvin told the launch via Skype.

The New Zealand arm was a social enterprise. It generated profits but used them for a social good.

WikiHouseNZ recently got a $300,000 grant from the Canterbury Community Trust's social enterprise fund, set up after the quakes to support innovation and employment.

One dream is that WikiHouses could be sent into disaster areas such as Vanuatu.

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"I wouldn't send flat-pack houses," Squires said.

"I'd put a router, some plywood and a team of guys on the plane."

They would teach the homeless how to build their own WikiHouses, he said.

The new prototype, called the Backyarder, is the "nucleus of a much larger house", Squires said.

Owners build what they can initially afford - typically one room. They add another room when they can afford it. Luff and Squires have been showing their 10sqm prototype for some years.

 - Stuff

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