HOMEBUILT HOUSE

June 16, 2014

HOMEBUILT HOUSE: A Vernacular of Uncertainty
Often thought of as squatters, our new book details the work of informal builders piecing together houses on land that others feel they have no right to occupy.

HOMEBUILT HOUSE: A Vernacular of Uncertainty

These houses are built in places where style and design have no meaning. Instead, construction begins with the hands-on challenge of piecing together a physical form using only immediately available materials as form givers.

HOMEBUILT HOUSE: A Vernacular of Uncertainty

This is an architecture sculpted without pretense or plan, governed by indeterminate events, endured in a marginal existence, and resolved according to basic human instincts for shelter and survival.

HOMEBUILT HOUSE: A Vernacular of Uncertainty

For these builders, construction is the focus of a casual process that gives life purpose in its making, sustaining not only an unregulated spirit and resilience, but a sense of pride in a visible expression of autonomy and self-determination.

In the end, there are only a few who share the instincts of an informal builder and have the courage to take on the challenge of building a home of their own.

See also.…

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Builders who chose to be “outsiders” use random objects as form-givers, apply them as immediate solutions, stockpile them for some future application, or recognize some latent potential that inspires an entirely new direction in a constantly evolving architectural form.

Insitebuilders -Outsider Architecture Example

Outsiders touch at the soul of a self-taught vision, human feelings, and an unmediated freedom of expression. Free from the constraints of stylistic trends and social expectations, these builders sculpt their constructions in real time.

Insitebuilders -Outsider Architecture Example

Guided by instinct and a hands-on feel for their material, these self-taught builders use intuition and their own internal logic to assemble buildings that stand outside the mainstream of our more common social constructions. What we see as a result appears disordered to the institutionalized eye because they stand outside the boundaries of a straight and level world.

Homebuilt builders
Homebuilt house builders are also outsiders. They too are self-taught, intuitive, and self-determined. They also work to assemble a house without a plan according to random opportunities, not knowing when the work will ever be completed, or what it might look like if it ever is eventually finished.

Insitebuilders - Homebuilt House

What we see in a homebuilt house is architecture in motion, constantly evolving, responding to opportunities, material finds, and the insecurities of their uncertain worlds. Because they work on the margins of a formal economy, the construction of their buildings extends deep into an informal economy, where self-determination and self-reliance are largely misunderstood because of the characteristic chaos of what is a materially impoverished architectural vernacular.

As the product of informal transactions, these buildings are interesting counterpoints to the formal practices of modern construction industries, opening a window into the constraints modern builders face, including diminished craft for contracts and limited creative contributions in the buildings that they build. Their exclusion comes from the abstract explanations used to represent real world construction.

Two-dimensional abstractions
What outsider architecture points to is how difficult it is to plan and capture its buildings in a 2D drawing or even a 3D model prior to their actual construction. By definition, outsider architecture, whether artistic or impoverished, defy preplanned abstractions.

Insitebuilders - Sagrada Familia

Two-dimensional abstractions came with social controls that introduced specializations. Beginning with commissioned oil paintings that vaguely suggested a direction for builders to follow, these illustrations came to separate craft from construction. With industrialization and modernity, paintings evolved into technical drawings, ink on linen, then 1000h, vellum, Mylar, and finally CAD — now hyped as BIM/3D (to 2D).

In the end, it’s these cut and paste, two-dimensional tools that have come to shape our sense of order. Along with the predictability of the processes they dictate, the builder has been long removed from the creative process, forced to follow contractual documents as a linear and unimaginative legal obligation.

“…process becomes a substitute for thinking.” Elon Musk

Of course, without a plan, there can be no permits, contracts, or predictable outcomes to their architecture. But there is also a freedom in the absence of a plan to build structures in ways that parallel the hands-on origins of architecture as an outsider, allowing builders to think creatively in the field.

Outsider documentation
At the same time, there’s value in capturing and understanding an outsider’s method, not in anticipation of an installation or to analyze alternate assemblies, but as a device to definitively track and deconstruct an erratic and unpredictable process in order to validate the logic of its construction.

Insitebuilders -Outsider Architecture Example

These are buildings that do not fit well in an abstract 2D world, instead they are piece-based and resource driven, and must be sequenced and animated in real-time to interactively identify each piece as part of an erratic assembly, exactly as it occurs in the real world.

Unlike the linear BIM to 2D translations used in the field today, the indeterminate nature of outsider architecture requires multidimensional construction models that draw on the full potential of computational tools just now becoming available.

Insitebuilders -Outsider Architecture Example

A good example of these new tools is the SimFonIA Animation Plug-in for SketchUp. Almost a complete rewrite of the SketchUp interface, the software allows outsiders to animate a piece-based construction model by directly controlling the graphical attributes of groups and components within the model. This includes the use of key frames as predefined transformations and relative motions between objects during an intermittent assembly process.

Because the hierarchy of the groups is respected by SAT’s software, attributes and transformations respond to time, gravity, and conflicts, allowing builders to revisit and replay undocumented sequences in order to understand or further explain what was, at least at the time, an otherwise indeterminate process. A construction document that follows these kinds of object oriented data relationships opens the door to a real time, interactive, multidimensional construction document as a system of graphical information.

The value of such a document is obvious to a builder who works outside the bureaucratic constraints of our regulatory governments. But to mainstream practitioners, institutionalized methods and formalized practices mean such an open-ended approach to construction communication remains well beyond the margins of our now antiquated BIM/3D (to 2D) standards.

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Working excerpt taken from: HOME-BUILT HOUSE: Shelter for an Uncertain World, ISBN 978 09762741 7 9 (See PrePub Pitch here)

Insitebuilders-Homebuilt House
Abandoned Land: A homebuilt house is built on unwanted or otherwise unusable land, when ownership is unknown or confused. Neglected, abandoned, and unclaimed property occur on private and public land where the jurisdictions of local, regional, and federal authorities is loosely defined and unclear, especially along right of ways, reserves, or borders and boundaries between governing agencies, private parcels, and lands held in the public domain due to long abandoned titles.

Homebuilt House – Insitebuilders.com
Home as a Sense of Place
: A homebuilt house starts by occupying a site long enough to establish a visible presence and a sense of place on the land as a home. This begins with informal gestures, incidental interactions, and minor site improvements that vaguely signal intent to settle on the land. Initial improvements might include removing trash, clearing weeds, trimming branches, and trying different paths to test unobtrusive ways to access a possible house.

Homebuilt House – Insitebuilders.com
Materials Negotiate Tenure: Months may pass with only minor improvements to the home-land before deciding to proceed with the house’s construction. Expendable materials are then used as pawns to signal intent and test reaction. First placed on the land, then slowly pieced together as a shelter on land already used as a home. Each piece of the assembly further tests the site’s potential for long-term occupancy. The process is slow and cautious; continuing for years with each step slightly more visible than the last.

Homebuilt House – Insitebuilders.com
Form Giving Resources:
Where conventional housing begins with an engineered plan and permits, a homebuilt house starts without a plan and no preconceived idea of its eventual size or shape. The house emerges like sculpture, using whatever tools and materials that become available for its construction. The slow and methodical hands-on process means skills also evolve gradually as tools are accumulated and the house slowly morphs into a more ordered form.

Homebuilt House – Insitebuilders.com
Imperceptible Process: A homebuilt house evolves so slowly that no one knows when construction actually began or even if it continues. The key to its initial success is a patient strategy where no single action triggers a response from neighbors or regulators. The process requires a measured balance, incrementally taking on the beginnings of tenable housing, both recognized and ignored as it evolves over decades into its final form.

Homebuilt House – Insitebuilders.com
Three-dimensional storage:
Keenly aware of the variables, a homebuilt house is assembled to be reconstructible, ready to be moved or reconfigured whenever an unforeseen event or some newly found material comes along. The result is an architecture shaped by chance and marginality. This is architecture at the baseline of consumption, almost Zen-like simplicity, not much more than the essence of what a house really is, but physically transparent, revealing the disorder that is a unique characteristic of its vernacular of uncertainty.

Homebuilt House – Insitebuilders.com
Intuitively Engineered: Where a conventional house is engineered according to manufactured materials and a predictable process, a homebuilt house is built intuitively, following the logic of trial and error. Its random materials mean each piece of the construction must be carefully considered in the context of what has already been assembled. Failures are resolved by reinforcing weaknesses with temporary solutions while continually exploring alternatives.

Homebuilt House – Insitebuilders.com
Constant
State of Improvement: Where most houses are in a constant state of deterioration, a homebuilt house is in a constant state of improvement. This means the house is constantly changing, growing slowly as it is shaped by its random resources, financial reserves, and the socio-political environment in which it is assembled. What we see as a result is an incomplete house-form, whose shape is shifting, evolving slowly, changing in response to life in an uncertain world.

Homebuilt House – Insitebuilders.com
Debt-Free and Self-Sustainable:
To be sustainable, a homebuilt house must be debt-free. The primary motivation for the hardships and sacrifices necessary to build a homebuilt house is the reluctance of its builders to spend what little they might have on a mortgage, rent, taxes, fees, and unnecessary consumables. Already marginalized by an economic system that leaves them with just enough to survive, any payments to landlords and government agencies means a substantial portion of their income would be lost in mind numbing rituals that leave them with few opportunities.

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Working excerpt taken from: HOME-BUILT HOUSE: Shelter for an Uncertain World, ISBN 978 09762741 7 9 (See PrePub Pitch here)

A homebuilt house is the product of a self-determined hands-on process, assembled from a unique collection of accidental materials, installed intuitively with inventive details that accommodate uncommon combinations of salvaged scrap. The house evolves slowly on otherwise unusable land with no preconceived plan, little if any money, and no political or stylistic obligations. What we see as a result is an innate human determination to create shelter, stripped of the restrictions of codes, standards, and commonly held practices.

Informal Architecture as an Impoverished Vernacular

This is a piece-based construction model built in real time, a uniquely human structure, unplanned and unregulated, the antithesis of the pretense and excess of consumptive practices. Fundamentally sustainable because of the absence of superfluous ideals, its lessons suggest an instinctive approach to construction without stylistic constraints.

Informal Architecture as an Impoverished Vernacular

As such, homebuilt houses share a richly impoverished vernacular, one that holds lessons for builders who practice in a more privileged but equally uncertain world. Obviously, this begins with the random and unpredictable nature of its materials. In this construction, available resources dictate both design and process. As accidental discoveries, materials and tools are form-givers, repurposed according to an instinctive logic, tentatively applied to resolve an immediate need, leaving the outcome unfinished and constantly evolving.

Most important, this is architecture in motion, emerging from its uncertain context like reconstructible sculpture, morphing according to new needs and opportunities, conforming to the essentials of each moment in a constant struggle for relevance and survival.
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Beyond Fashion and Style

April 18, 2012

Working excerpt taken from: HOME-BUILT HOUSE: Shelter for an Uncertain World, ISBN 978 09762741 7 9 (See PrePub Pitch here)

Most would agree that the cultural context of a building influences the characteristics of its physical form. These are usually seen as decorative features, part of a temporal and evolving style, with no universal truth or purpose other than to entertain the aspirations of their clients. When they work, the resulting buildings fulfill the expectations of their time and place with no lasting influence on society or construction technology.

Insitebuilders: Surviving @ Net Zero: Shelter for an Uncertain World

Even classic building styles are self-defined by the historic, religious, or political discourse that surrounds them, icons of certain cultural values and not the result of some deeper social significance or aesthetic. As a result, we live with buildings that reproduce contemporary ideals only to be oddly antiquated with the passing of time.

The Vernacular of Net Zero
By contrast, a vernacular architecture describes the physical characteristic of a building that reflects a common method of construction that uses local labor and materials to satisfy the shared needs of a community without adding superfluous stylistic decorations. There is no feature in a vernacular that goes beyond the functional requirements of its existence as a building. As such a vernacular is not influenced by changing trends or fashionable statements that find themselves dated and worn in time.

Insitebuilders: Surviving @ Net Zero: Shelter for an Uncertain World

Vernacular buildings are purposeful, reflecting a human response to their environmental, economic, and social context as a collection of inherent qualities that are often dismissed as crude and unsophisticated by proponents of more self-conscious building styles.

Insitebuilders: Surviving @ Net Zero: Shelter for an Uncertain World
The buildings seen in the informal sector reflect many of the values of a vernacular architecture. While some include personal expressions, they all use the same locally salvaged resources, built with simple hand tools and an intuitive, almost primitive approach to their construction. The result is an immediately recognizable sense of disorder that reflects the essence of their function as pure shelter.

Insitebuilders: Surviving @ Net Zero: Shelter for an Uncertain World

This absence of order is of course shaped by impoverished technical limitations, economic exclusion, and a subsequent social marginality that has reduced these buildings to their primal purpose. As such they are a natural response to a basic need for self-preservation as a derivative of a net zero economy with no governing social mandate or regulatory authority to care for them.

Intuitive Construction Methods
What’s interesting is that these informal buildings are slowly reinforced by the security that comes with tenure on land occupied with varying levels of economic success. As such, they are not simply the result of a community of people desperately and haphazardly assembling buildings. Instead there is a method to their construction that includes a carefully considered assumption of the potential of materials and methods, with clear evidence of varying levels of construction quality. The distinct features of an informal vernacular are driven by the limitations of the materials, tools, and skills available to their builders.

Insitebuilders: Surviving @ Net Zero: Shelter for an Uncertain World

Though it’s easy to discount the resulting structures as completely inadequate, look closer and you see details that require solutions that would be difficult to duplicate with formal construction methods.

Insitebuilders: Surviving @ Net Zero: Shelter for an Uncertain World

As a result, what we see in these informal buildings is an architecture stripped of the systemic support of an industry of processed materials and practices, leaving the informal builder to invent and implement solutions that are fundamental to their personal needs. Design exists as physical form of three-dimensional problem solving, depending solely on available resources and reduced to the essence of self-determination, imagination, and inventive thought.

The 3D modeling methods of these unique builders follow a survival strategy that holds clear lessons for construction in an uncertain world.

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