Digital Fabrication and the Modern Tiny House

20140413-134212.jpgBefore thinking about a shipping container, I considered a sort of caravan/boat hull hybrid. Last year, I watched Alistair Parvin in a TED video titled: “Architecture for the people by the people“, passionately sharing the WikiHouse project for its democratization of design and building, the social impacts of small, affordable housing and how a simple sheet of plywood could be transformed into an entire building system (even the hammer and ladder to assemble it).

Housing for the 99%, designed and fabricated by and for the 99% with local materials. All designs are added to the creative commons, for share and modify open source rights. The basis of WikiHouse is code (also open source) built on top of the commercially available design software formerly owned by Google, and now Trimble – SketchUp (who’s motto is ‘3D for everyone’). Anyone can use the free version, SketchUp Make, to design and build their own tiny, or not so tiny houses for personal, non-commercial use. The best way to get the WikiHouse plugin today is to go to the Extension Warehouse from the SketchUp application toolbar, and search for WikiHouse as shown below.


Once installed, you can browse throughout the library of open source models, like this structural join that I downloaded below. If you wish to manipulate the design, you can generate automatic layouts of the parts as they fit on a sheet stock of the size you specify. By default, the extension is set for metric plywood sizes of 2400mm x 1200mm. You can easily change the units to inches and adjust accordingly.


More complex models, like this entire tiny house below, take a little longer to generate the cut file preview. This house is many more pages, each representing a full-size sheet of plywood. Notice that each part is also labeled, to make it easier to assemble after cutting with a CNC machine.


This open-source project started me thinking how that concept could be ruggedized, made to withstand being pulled around on various terrain, pre-assembled. Images of upside-down boat hulls on a trailer came to mind as a possibility. It would consist of a grid of interlocking plywood parts, to form a shell. A sort of modern ‘Bucky’ Fuller machine for living. 3D printed parts or even an entire house could be exciting. Perhaps elements of those ideas will creep in to the current project, or I will save them for the next one.

Anyway, the co-founder of WikiHouse and now of, Nick Ierodiaconou, will be the Keynote presenter at the SketchUp 3D BaseCamp 2014 tomorrow. And I hope to have a chance to interview him as part of my assignment while here. More on that as the week progresses.

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