Open Building Institute to offer free "eco-building toolkit"

Obi building
CC BY 2.0 Open Building Institute

Marcin Jakubowski has been described by Sami as awesome, and he is, going from studying fusion energy to designing incredible tools that you can build yourself. He’s back in the news with his new Kickstarter to raise $80K for an open-source eco-building tool kit.

This will, as best as I can understand, be used to develop a program to enable the construction of a 700 square foot starter home that can be built by anyone in about five days. It’s “loaded with ecological features”. The Kickstarter funds will not be used to build the prototype, but to “fund the necessary steps to make our building system widely replicable” Including:

Further development of all the system components, so that each is a fully engineered and documented module - usable in any model of a Starter Home. The goal by July 2018 is to develop all the modules necessary to build a Living Building Challenge compliant home, at a reasonable cost.

what is open sourceOpen Building Institute/CC BY 2.0

There are many things about this project and about the Open Building Institute that I do not understand, starting with the name. Open Building was a term first used by John Habraken decades ago to describe “the idea of distinct Levels of intervention in the built environment, such as those represented by 'support' and 'infill', or by urban design and architecture.” There is already an open building movement and open building org. Stewart Brand talked about it and Tedd Benson uses “open built” principles in his prefabs.

modulesOpen Building Institute/CC BY 2.0

I don’t understand the use of the term Modular; that has a very clear meaning in the architectural world, namely as a type of prefabricated modules that are complete elements including structure, services and finishes. I don’t understand why they talk about doors and windows and wall panels being modules when everyone else would call them components, panels, or for that matter, doors and windows.

seed houseOpen Building Institute/CC BY 2.0

I don’t understand the heating system in the Seed house. I can’t understand why in this day and age anyone would build a house with a pellet stove heating hot water that warms a radiant floor. Pellets used to be considered a green source of energy, when they were made from sawdust and waste wood. Now, because of silly bio-energy rules, they are made from virgin wood and shipped long distances. And we have written a number of times about the problems with radiant floors, which as Alex Wilson has noted, are terrific in really leaky, poorly insulated buildings, but overkill everywhere else. Surely a building that small could be insulated really well and not need so much technology and fuel.

And while we are talking about pellets, I don’t understand how they are going for Living Building Challenge certification, which clearly notes in their energy petal:

Burning wood, trash or pellets releases particulates and carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and often strains local supplies of sustainably harvested biomass while robbing the soil of much-needed nutrient recycling. The effects of these energy sources on regional and planetary health are becoming increasingly evident through climate change, the most worrisome major global trend attributed to human activity.

house cost comparisonOpen Building Institute/CC BY 2.0

I don’t understand why they compare the price of their house to an average builder house, saying it costs a tenth as much, when the builder house includes land. This distortion has been the bane of everyone promoting every new building idea ever, that and the fact that when you build yourself there is still an opportunity cost of labor, nothing is free.

making materialsOpen Building Institute/CC BY 2.0

I don’t understand “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.”

making blocksOpen Building Institute/CC BY 2.0

I get making the compressed earth blocks, these are brilliant and easy to imagine making locally. But are we really talking about making a continuous supply of wood pellets to keep warm? Casting our own glass? Cooking lime to make our own cement? I know that Marcin Jakubowski has designed machines that do much of this, but does it make any sense in the modern world? Does it scale?

thomas thwaites toaster© Thomas Thwaites

Does it not remind you of Thomas Thwaites’ attempt to build a toaster from scratch, where he concluded: “My attempt to make a toaster has shown me just how reliant we all are on everyone else in the world. Though there is a romance in that idea of self-sufficiency and living off the land, there's also absurdity. There is no turning back the clock to simpler times.”

teamOpen Building Institute/Screen capture

It must be me. Marcin Jakubowski killed at TED. He and Catarina Mota are brilliant people, and have a team of advisors that can’t be beat, including some known to TreeHugger like Bob Berkebile, Alastair Parvin and Mitchell Joachim. People come from miles around to learn from them.

But I look at this Kickstarter again and again and I still just don’t understand what they are trying to do and why.

Tags: Green Building | Kickstarter


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