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.…

.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.
.

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

A construction model is a good example of a tool that has changed the way we build buildings today. For most, these models are important because they increase productivity, efficiency, and profit, along with better documentation and the long dreamed of hope of eliminating conflicts before they get into the field. To capitalize on their potential, proponents of construction modeling have adopted industry wide euphemisms like “building information models” or “BIM” just to sell the idea.

Piece-based construction model - Insitebuilders

For SketchUp construction modelers, the ability to fabricate materials, preassemble them as pieces and think through a quick three-dimensional process, while intuitively inventing solutions, is a return to the traditions of the early builders. The ability to piece together a simple construction model signals a new age and self-determined approach for the hands-on builder.

The natural builder
As a consequence of our modernity, the work of builders has long been overshadowed by formal contracts, costs, and values that have made the instincts of a natural builder pretty much irrelevant in a formal economy. It now takes a great deal of education, training and experience to succeed in the construction industry

At the same time, informal builders work outside of a construction industry, untouched by money, profit or the satisfaction of a career. Impoverished, marginalized, and excluded by choice or chance, these builders build because there is no other option, no clear path to follow for their own personal security. To survive in an unregulated world, they must provide shelter for themselves and their families.

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

What is interesting is that many of these builders go far beyond what is absolutely necessary for basic shelter, some are clearly experimenting with new ideas, and almost all share an intuitive blend of self-confidence, optimism, instinct, and desperation that leads them to build what often appear to be outrageously dangerous structures.

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

Perched on steep hillsides or abandoned riverbeds, they put together buildings with a few hand tools, very little money, and an odd collection of materials hunted and gathered from whatever resources that surround them. The objects informal builders manage to find are indeterminate, which means they must constantly rethink their application, sorting and storing, waiting for some future inspiration — perhaps an idea that will be triggered by their next material discovery. All of this, with hunger and insecurity relentlessly at play, ready to discourage their carefully considered inventive strategies.

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

As a result, what we see in the informal sector are buildings shaped by luck, risk, and intuition. These are buildings assembled instinctively in a world where resources are unpredictable, random, and only available when found at little or no costs. Tools and experience influence quality, but constructions begin and end like sculptures. Without the luxury of a plan, design is not an option. Instead, pieces are assembled temporarily as a three-dimensional form of habitable storage, built to be deconstructed and reassembled as new materials are discovered and new configurations are created.

An instinct for construction
What’s interesting is that these are the same instinctive qualities shared by builders assembling pieces for a virtual construction model. Like informal builders, piece-based modelers share a tactile understanding of the three-dimensional potential of a material. This includes their willingness to visually test ideas by fitting a variety of objects into the details of an evolving physical form — assembling, deconstructing, and reassembling their buildings according to the self-determined “feel” of a natural builder.

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

This innate passion for construction can be seen in the assemblies of many of the buildings in an informal settlement, clearly reflecting the capacity of their owners to endure the unpredictable circumstances of their lives, the absence of any official support, and the impoverished nature of simply surviving in a net-zero economy. What remains is to wonder at the perceptive genius of their informal constructions, something that has long since been lost to the standards, rules, and regulations of a formal economy.

.