Design TED Conferences

The DIY house of the future: Alastair Parvin at TED2013

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Designer Alastair Parvin begins this Session 4 of TED2013 with the theme “Disrupt!”

When we use the word architect or designer, Parvin suggests, we mean a professional, a person paid to design. And we believe it’s only these people who can solve the world’s biggest design problems. But he says firmly: That’s wrong.

When Parvin was about to graduate from architecture school, he immediately slammed into the 2008 crash and was met with insanely high unemployment rates for architects. Indeed, “As a society we have never needed design thinking more, and yet architecture was literally becoming unemployed,” he says. Faced with bleak prospects, new questions started arising in Parvin’s mind. It’s one thing that his peers couldn’t get jobs, but just who were they trying to get these jobs for? Why were they all scrambling to design for the top 1 percent? Why was architecture only about making buildings?

Parvin offers some solutions:
1. Don’t build. Building is about the most expensive solution you can think of to any problem. Very simply, if a building has lost its use, don’t tear it down and start again. Transform the building, don’t destroy it.
2. Go small. Everyone says we have to build to scale, but why is bigger better? Increase the number of people working on a building, and make it small. As Parvin says, “It’s possible to build cities not just by the few with a lot but the many with a bit.”
3. Go amateur. Why are only corporations building our buildings? It’s clear that everyday citizens will have to be part of developing their cities. This may be Parvin’s most innovative idea yet, and forms the basis of his talk.

We have open-source software — why not open-source hardware? Parvin introduces WikiHouse, an open-source constructive system where anyone can go online and access a free shared library of 3D models of houses. It’s simple: You can download plans to Sketchup, and print out parts for a house using a CNC machine, with standard material like plywood. The parts are numbered. No bolts are required. Essentially it’s a really, really big IKEA set … to build a house. Without traditional construction skills, an amateur can build a small house in one day.

This is a true industrial revolution.

As Linus Torvalds said, “Be lazy like a fox. Don’t reinvent the wheel every time.” Copying is fine, what’s more important is to take what already works and adapt it to your own needs. The world’s fastest-growing cities aren’t skyscraper cities, Parvin says, it’s self-made cities. If design’s great project in the twentieth century was the democratization of consumption, with companies like Coca Cola and IKEA, in the twenty-first century it’s the democratization of production.

Welcome to the world’s biggest design team.

Alastair Parvin’s talk is now available for viewing. Watch it on TED.com»