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Open source initiative to make affordable eco-housing widely accessible.
We developed techniques to build a 700 square foot, expandable starter home – loaded with ecological features – in 5 days – for $25k in materials. Now we want to make the open source eco-building toolkit required to do this – available to the rest of the world.
This toolkit includes modular designs, plans for utilities and appliances, construction machine designs, materials recipes, and training programs—everything you need to design and build a house. The OBI toolkit is entirely open source and free to use. We’ve been developing and testing it for a few years and already have a lot of work in place, but there is much more to do. We are coming to you for help to make it accessible to everyone.
For several years now,Open Source Ecology (OSE) has been working on the Global Village Construction Set—a set of 50 industrial machines for building civilization from scratch. A lot has happened since OSE’s successful Kickstarter in 2011. More recently, OSE established a partnership with a new open source project—the Open Building Institute (OBI)—to apply its GVCS machines to modular housing. The goal of this partnership is to make ecological housing accessible to everyone.
The project began when we—Marcin and Catarina—got married and realized our Missouri farmhouse was too small for two people. We had a very specific idea of what we wanted our home to be: comfortable and affordable, rapidly built from local materials, expandable (so we can add new rooms as the need arises), off-grid, and capable of generating its own energy and food.
We realized that this house didn’t exist yet—so we set out to design and build it ourselves. The process began in late 2013 with a microhouse—a 144 sq ft tiny house. To this we then added a bedroom, a mud room, a porch, a library/work space, an office, another bathroom, a utility room, and an aquaponic greenhouse. Together, these structures form a 2000 sq ft living and working space at Factor e Farm (Missouri, USA).
Throughout this process, and after much trial and error, we arrived at formula that makes building a house easier, faster and cheaper. On our latest build—an aquaponic greenhouse—a team of 35 (mostly inexperienced) participants built an entire 800 sq ft greenhouse from raw materials—in 5 days—for $6,000 in materials. This build included not only the structure itself, but also two 1500 gallons fish ponds, 1 chicken coop, 85 aquaponic towers, 2 compost grow beds, 6 mushroom grow towers, 1 aquatic worm system, 1 BSF breeding system, and 3 hydronic radiators.
We realized that this approach—a combination of modular designs with rapid build techniques, social production, local materials, and open source machines—has the potential to make eco-house building widely accessible. But it was not easy. We have to make it easier. That’s what this campaign is about: turning our experiment into something everyone else can benefit from and participate in.
Here’s how it works:
1) A library of modules that can be put together like building blocks allows you to design a house, easily and for free. You can also choose from a variety of house designs contributed by designers around the world.
2) The modular system combined with a formula for rapid builds makes it possible for a large group of (mostly inexperienced) people to then build this house in as little as 5 days.
3) Builds can be executed by a contracted crew, a group of friends and relatives, or using a social production model. In this social production model, builds are structured as educational experiences and take place in the context of training workshops.
4) The library also includes designs and instructionals for a number of off-grid utilities and appliances—from solar power and water catchment to biogas and hydronic heating.
5) Since our focus is on regenerative construction, the project also includes a replicablematerials production facility—which allows you to produce brick, insulation, lumber, etc. from local raw materials.
6) Given that not everyone wants to design and build their own house, we’re also developing atraining program for builders. These trainees can then be contracted for builds using our system.
We started by creating an open source library of modules—which can be put together like building blocks—to allow you to design a building using open source software.
You can now download a collection of walls, roofs, doors and windows and design a complete, buildable structure, using open source software. To make this accessible to everyone, we’re also working on guides for design, build and development. Imagine having all the tools you need to design your own home easily and for free.
This library is entirely open source, which means that not only you can use it for free, but also that the designs themselves are contributed by volunteer designers. The larger the number of designers contributing to the library, the faster it will grow. And the more numerous the contributions, the more options we’ll all have to choose from. Contributions by designers around the world also mean that the library will be capable of addressing a variety of location-specific requirements (in terms of addressing climate conditions, availability of materials, and cultural specificities). That’s why we love open source!
To make it even easier, we’re also crowdsourcing building designs: so you can have a wide variety of complete structures to choose from (if you don’t want to design your own). For example, you can build a 700 sq foot, expandable Starter Home, with an attached aquaponic greenhouse, loaded with ecological features, for $25k in materials.
The 700 sq ft starter home costs approximately US$25k in materials. An expandable 225 sq ft home (what we call a seed home), loaded with ecological features, costs approximately $12k in materials, and each 225 square foot addition—with an additional 600 Watt of photovoltaics—costs about $5k in materials. This assumes materials are bought readily from a big box store.
This cost assumes a DIY build, but our build model—for taking this to a much larger audience beyond the 10% of owner builders—involves hiring a trained OBI builder who can organize a build party for a 5 day build of a 700 square foot home. We are expecting to develop and deliver a price structure such that turnkey service will cost the owner $10k on top of the materials cost. The labor is included in the apprentice training of people participating in the build.
A house is not just made of walls, roof and floor. It also needs power, water, sanitation, etc. That’s why we’re developing a collection of off-grid, sustainable utilities and appliances.
Features included in the 2016 Starter Home build:
For a more complete description of these features, see Features Narrative.
Through our building experiences—and based on OSE’s extreme manufacturing methodology—we developed a formula for rapid builds. It’s deceptively simple: a large group of people builds a large number of modules, in parallel, and then assembles them rapidly into a building. Using these techniques, we were able to build—from raw materials—an entire 800 sq ft greenhouse in just 5 days.
This process can be replicated by a contracted crew or a group of family and friends. But, to date, our preferred method has been social production. In our particular application, this means that we use builds as training opportunities by combining them with workshops. During these workshops, participants become familiar with the building system and acquire hands-on experience—while building a structure.
Revenue from workshop tuition helps offset the cost of building materials for the hosts. In turn, all workshop participants are encouraged to host their own build-workshops. Like the library, all workshop organization materials are open source and freely available—so everyone can replicate this model if they want to.
We are Marcin Jakubowski (founder of Open Source Ecology), Catarina Mota (founder of the Open Building Institute), and an amazing group of advisors and contributors—from world-renowned architects and scientists to business and organizational experts—who have committed to providing expertise on all areas of the project.
Catarina Mota is an open source advocate. She founded the Open Building Institute, co-founded Open Materials (do-it-yourself smart materials) and AltLab (Lisbon’s hackerspace). Previously, she co-chaired the Open Hardware Summit 2012, served on the board of directors of the Open Source Hardware Association, taught as an adjunct faculty member at ITP-NYU, and was a fellow of the National Science and Technology Foundation of Portugal. Catarina holds a Ph.D. in communication sciences and her research work focuses on the social impact of open and collaborative practices for the development of technologies. She is a founding member the Open Source Hardware Association and a TED Fellow.
Marcin Jakubowski is a Polish-American who came to the U.S. from Poland as a child. He graduated with honors from Princeton and earned his Ph.D. in fusion physics from the University of Wisconsin. Frustrated with the lack of relevance to pressing world issues in his education, he founded Open Source Ecology in 2003 in order to make closed-loop manufacturing a reality. He began development of the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS)—an open source tool set of 50 industrial machines necessary to create a small civilization with modern comforts. His work has recently been recognized as a 2012 TED Senior Fellow, in Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2012, as a 2013 Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow, and a White House Champion of Change in 2013.
We recognize that not everybody wants to build their own house. To address that, we’re creating an intensive training program—so you have an option to hire an OBI builder, if you want.
This program will be a real deep dive into construction: from design and materials production to rapid-build organization and business—including building the construction machines themselves, which we can do in a single day.
Upon completion of the program, these trainees are expected to start their own building enterprises to provide building services to those who don’t want to build themselves.
The goal is to not only help train a growing number of open source, regenerative builders, but also to encourage entrepreneurship and seed the replication of many similar facilities worldwide. Like everything else in this project, all training materials are open source. Everyone is free—in fact, encouraged—to use those materials to launch their own training program and enterprise.
The initial training program is set to launch in 2017 with 2 to 4 trainees. And then double this number annually until we reach an enrollment of 24 students—from which point we intend to scale operations to other locations.
And it gets even better. Imagine being able to source most of your building materials from 50 miles around your build site. This is exactly what we’re aiming for with a solar-powered Materials Production Facility capable of producing compressed earth blocks, lumber, insulation, paint, glazing, and lime concrete—from local soil, limestone, hay and trees—using open source machines.
This facility will be open to the public, so that anyone who is interested in using local building materials has an option to produce their own materials. In our usual fashion of re-skilling and educating, we will provide people with both theoretical training and practice. This allows people to provide sweat equity in producing their own building materials, while gaining an appreciation of nature through the stewardship of natural resources. We will also provide turnkey materials for those who do not have the time or interest in sweat equity.
The Materials Facility highlights include:
Our unique approach is that of ecology—combining as many features into a whole as possible—to arrive at harmonious existence of humans and nature.
The initial operation of this facility is scheduled for late 2017 with further expansion planned for 2018. The goal is to provide detailed open source documentation for all aspects of this facility (all the machines, building, layout and processes) so it can be replicated and adapted all over the world—make local building materials available everywhere.
By now, you’re probably thinking “These people are crazy! How are they going to do all this?” Well, we have a secret sauce: it’s called open source. It simply wouldn’t be possible for our little core team to undertake this project without any additional help. But we’re not alone. Just like Linux is developed by thousands of programmers around the world, we believe we can all get together to fix housing.
All the work we did in the past years—both on machinery and housing—has relied heavily on hundreds of contributions from advisors and volunteers who believe, like we do, that we should join efforts to make things better for everyone. And now we’re taking this collaborative approach to the next level. One of the core goals of this Kickstarter is to develop a common platform for submitting new designs and improvements to the system. We will host Design Challenges as well.
That’s why we’re inviting everyone to join this common platform by submitting new designs and improvements to the system. In addition to a standing-invitation to contribute to the library, we’re also hosting design contests—starting with a callout to design the 700 sq ft expandable home that we’ll build at our headquarters this November.
Given the scope of the project, we’re also gathering an amazing group of advisors—from world-renowned architects and high-tech engineers to business and organizational experts—who have committed to providing expertise on all areas of the project. Check out our Advisory Team.
Building Codes and Regulations
Compliance with regulations is one of the requirements of the project, just as it is for any standard house. That’s why we’re working with experienced architects to: 1) ensure that all our modules comply with the International Building Code; and 2) produce sufficient documentation (calculations, plans, construction details drawings, design rationale, etc.) to enable builders to apply for the necessary permits in their area of residence. We also intend to have each module design stamped by a licensed engineer, as well as provide several complete house models with all regulatory aspects worked out in detail. To get there, we are recruiting an army of advisors on all the technical details—one of them being compliance, and other being real estate law – to help people navigate legal hurdles surrounding land acquisition and tenure.
Further, since code compliance is a complicated and scary issue for most people, we are preparing a special webinar on Code Compliance. The key to successful code negotiation starts with a first-principles literacy of general concepts, and then moves to specific quantitative requirements. Codes are our friends if we understand them—and as such, our goal for this Webinar is to foster basic Building Code Literacy—so that seemingly inane regulations are converted into a human understandable form.
Given that regulations and procedures vary from region to region, we will also crowd-source a database of regulation-related documents that can support the construction of select OBI house models in many different areas around the world.
The autonomous and modular nature of the system also allows for a large level of flexibility towards meeting codes:
Simply put: the system modularity allows immediate substitution of different parts to address compliance, making the regulations issue no different than for any other type of more standard house. And, due to the flexibility of modular construction, you as the builder have a great amount of code negotiating power.
We have learned that while codes may be negotiated, there’s only a finite supply of land. In the USA, the situation is good as land is widely available —with farmland going for $2-8k per acre, and building lots as low as $10k in many cities. In Europe and elsewhere, farmland is $2-25k per acre. In India, prices are exploding. The question of land tenure, and the unequal access to land and resources is beyond the scope of this project. However, our work aims to increase individuals’ ability to convert abundant natural resources into lifestuff that frees people from material constraints—our fundamental formula for freedom. We believe that only by balancing human activity with regenerative resource use can prosperity happen for all—hence our quest for regenerative housing integrated with natural life support systems.
This Kickstarter will fund the necessary steps to make our building system widely replicable:
Note that $80k does not cover the various supporting machines for construction and materials production – nor does it cover numerous other structure builds that are in our timeline below but not in the funding scope above. These will be funded by proceeds from our immersion workshops – a funding model that we have used to fund various machine builds for the last 2 years.
We are offering a number of reward types, which are all related to further the design of eco-housing, and making it more replicable:
Builds at other Locations
Besides the formal Kickstarter rewards, we will be offering several builds at other locations in 2017. This is not offered in the reward structure because it requires due diligence for which there is no time during the Kickstarter campaign itself. This process involves identifying and vetting a suitable client who is interested in a house or greenhouse. We are developing a model by which such a process could become highly replicable. The build model revolves around OBI organizing a build crew in the form of an immersion workshop. OBI charges the client for a turnkey build service where a house is built in 5 days. The client provides the land, covers the cost of building materials, and secures necessary building permits. OBI generates revenue from the immersion workshop tuition, and from the build service fee. Our goal is to be able to offer such service at a small cost ($10k) above the bill of materials for a 700 square foot house, which would allow this model to be financially self-sustaining – and this would allow the work to scale broadly to other locations. If you’d like to see housing achieve breakthrough costs and speed of build – then please support this Kickstarter and pass this on to your friends.
While the development is high risk in general because of the level of innovation, the rewards have been selected first and foremost based on things that we can deliver.
Making things is hard. We realize that.
We’ve spent the past years developing the technology and process for building things rapidly and efficiently. We have established a network of advisors – where we have learned that subject matter experts are the strongest point of an open development process. Such expertise allows us to download information in hours – which would otherwise take months or years to develop. So while we have ambitious goals on the product level – none of the technology we are putting into practice is new. The challenge revolves around the rapid learning and integration that is required – which is a question of operations and management.
We understand the huge difference between vision and execution. We have world class business advisors on our team – as we know that the difference between an idea and global impact is that of enterprise development. All of our work relies on business innovation using inovative social production processes – so naturally, there is a tremendous amount of risk involved
At the same time, we have been building heavy machines on a day timescale, and building structures on 5 day time scales. We are well versed in Extreme Manufacturing – and the next challenge is whether we can teach others how to do the same. We know that we can build crazy things on rapid timescales – but the question of impact means (1) how effectively we can teach; and (2) how quickly we attain and exceed industry standard metrics of quality.
Our training program will be a crash course indeed. Curriculum development and a pilot training program are a way to learn what parts of our training program work. We will accept 2-4 students in 2017, and we aim to double our enrollment yearly until we reach 24 students. This means that access to a turnkey OBI building service – relies on the success of our teaching program – as otherwise the barriers to entry appear too high.
We have work to do on the quality aspect – which is the core of the technical development that we are seeking to fund. We have already shown that average people can participate in complex builds – without needing trade skills. We have also been developing quality control protocols – starting with design-for-manufacturing – and standards quality control checklists throughout the build process.
Because this work is an integration of features not found in any other single project – we live at the bleeding edge of integration – which has inherent risks. While it is commonly understood that you can have only two of the three product features: quality, cost, and speed – we are challenging this assumption. We are breaking through the quality barrier by tapping top subject matter expertise, incentivized as a contribution to the common good.
Modular Design: The challenge of any modular system is interface design – and we respect this point. We have had several years of experience in building modular machines, and are now applying the same principles to modular housing. The interface details in the current system need work, as they are difficult: we are breaking large builds into small parts – thereby introducing a number of interfaces that need to be sealed. Our insight on this point is careful navigation of Depth of Modularity. This means that if a certain interface does not work, we make specialized parts – or move the modularity either up or down in the design hierarchy. We have learned to be flexible with interfaces – or if an interface does not work well – we are comfortable getting rid of that interface or otherwise changing. Our result is a hybrid and flexible system – where we are not afraid to eliminate modularity when it simply does not work. At the same time, we have build modular electrical and plumbing sections – and we think that we have only scratched the surface of what is possible.
Development Time and Scope: We have promised ambitious products over an ambitious 2 year time scale, and a major risk is the mere scope of the technologies. While all of the technologies are proven, our innovation is the opensourcing or publishing of the technologies to make them accessible at cost – sidestepping the cost of expensive expertise. The Starter Home that we will build in November, 2016 – contains a large number of proven technological features – which we are promising at breakthrough cost – by publishing the technical expertise required to accomplish the build of – availing otherwise expensive expertise for free to the world. So far we have been quite successful in attracting the necessary subject matter experts to provide the supporting technical information. The key to success is finding several more experts who are willing to share cutting edge know-how. The time of 4 months from the start of the campaign to the first build – is short, though we have a large base of prior modular build experience that we are building upon. And 15 months to the more ambitious Living Building Challenge build – and the 1 year time scale to the Materials Production Facility -means that we are compressing the documentation of just about all human knowledge related to construction – into making it fully accessible in 2 years. That is extremely ambitious – but the idea is that a proper world-class expert can bring us up to speed to the most cutting edge practice in a matter of months. We will continue to ask our supporters and collaborators to feed us suggestions on who are the best people to ask – meaning people who are not only world-class experts – but who are willing to share their most precious knowledge openly. That is a rare combination – and while we have been successful at this to date – this is still a major risk.
Immersion Training: Our training program is essentially a 6 month crash course – and it is not for the light-hearted. We are seeking exceptional individuals. It is yet to be determined whether 6 months is sufficient time for people to learn the required organizational, design, build, and enterprise skills. Our pilot project will determine the feasibility.
Immersion Training Curriculum: The training curriculum requires the input from many diverse areas, and collecting all this knowledge will be done by inviting subject matter experts to contribute to the curriculum, focusing on open source product design and engineering. Managing this curriculum development is a large task, and will require significant organizational learning on OBI’s side. We have run short courses and summer programs before, and our background is in education – so we feel qualified to execute.
Business Development – We are still experimenting with an innovative and sound economic model. There isn’t a good precedent for the education/production hybrid model that we are developing. We are relying on top business growth advisors, such as Cameron Herold, to help us refine and solidify this approach.
Living Building Challenge (LBC) Certification – This is the world’s most stringent regenerative design certification, and it will no doubt be a challenge to deliver. Not in terms of features – but cost – for which our answer is developing the required technology (building materials and functional modules) in house. Further, Bob Berkebile, LBC co-founder, joined our team of advisors.
We’re in this for the long run. This means that we may not get immediate results – but also – that we will not give up trying. It is well known that success is attained in just about all cases where perseverance is present. The downside may be that it may take longer than expected. From our track record – we have in just about all cases attained results better than expected when it comes to new techniques and technologies – though the speed with which we get there was typically nonlinear (unpredictable). We commit to be forthright and very transparent – with ongoing reporting, vlogging and updates about results – both the things that work and which don’t.