November 14, 2012
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
October 18, 2012
Working excerpt taken from: HOME-BUILT HOUSE: Shelter for an Uncertain World, ISBN 978 09762741 7 9 (See PrePub Pitch here)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ConstantState 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.
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.