1:1 Making the Digital House

Since the early days of computer aided design, the holy grail has been to not simply draw the building, but to build it in the computer and then drive the machinery to build it for real. Archicad and Revit now commonly build electronic versions of buildings, and a lot of architectural cabinetry like kitchens are produced from CAD drawings using numerically controlled tools. Kieran Timberlake, with the Loblolly House got close, but now Bell Travers Willson have taken it to a whole new level with their demonstration project, 1:1 Making the Digital House. 1:1 is the architectural term for full scale; this isn't a model. They have set up an exhibition of it at The Architectural Foundation's Yard Gallery in London until 20 March.

The Digital House is produced using a detailed 3D computer model that contains all of the construction elements including every wall and screw hole which are pre-determined before the construction.

This information is transferred to a CNC Router (Computer Numerical Control) which rapidly cuts out elements in engineered timber. These are assembled into lightweight hollow cassettes like big bricks of Lego, which can be filled with recycled newspaper to achieve a high level of insulation and air tightness.

The technology behind the Digital House allows every part cut to be different than the next, so that houses can be customized to each individuals requirements. This moves away from the standardization that has previously been an economic driving force in prefabricated systems that are criticised for being inflexible in their designs and visually repetitive.

The Digital House is the accumulation of two and a half years of research and development by the architects Bell Travers Willson, with the aim of engaging with traditional house builders to develop ways to enhance new housing construction using digital technology.

The Digital House utilizes the advantages of high-tech production such as speed, (five times faster than ordinary build programs) and quality.

Nick Willson, Director at Bell Travers Willson Architects, said:

"The Digital House offers house builders a real solution to the continued problems of high labour and material costs, sustainability and getting design quality right. It is hard to believe, but Britain is still using house building methods that go back to the Elizabethan age. The Digital House takes a quantum leap in terms of adopting current technology to construct better designed and more efficient housing."

The architects have set up a new company, FACIT, to be a one stop shop providing the complete building service from design, planning, and digital production through to on site assembly.

TreeHugger Bonnie sent us some pictures of the installation:


floor framing


deck detail

Imagine ordering a custom house and having it delivered in a box, opening it and connecting lightweight, manageable pieces without a crane, living in a house where the framing is furniture quality and you don't even want to cover it with drywall. This is truly the future.

Tags: London

Best of TreeHugger