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Newbie takes on WikiHouse Extension

Premdyl Shadan

September 2023



I often hear in my household that I’m rubbish at D-I-Y. “Fix the lamp”, “hang my pictures on the wall”, “get that pipe to stop leaking” are common phrases thrown around in the Shadan household. As a person with high-drive for accepting challenges, I recurrently accept these endeavours - attempted with the help of YouTube tutorials - but many a time I have been unsuccessful. Mum would repeatedly express that it was strange that someone in the construction industry, never mind someone who draws detail drawings on a weekly basis, could have such restricted ability with a screwdriver or hammer. Well, I’ve got news for them, I’ve recently assisted with the ultimate D-I-Y project - Charlie’s house extension (and yes, it’s still standing).

I’m sure that most of you reading this have been following Architecture Unknown for a while and may have deduced that we are big fans of the WikiHouse system. In simple terms, the system is like an IKEA-like flatpack which comes with a bunch of jigsaw pieces that you smash together with a mallet to form your very own building. This building method harnesses the very essence of D-I-Y, a bunch of mates over for the weekend, get fixing and end up with your very own designer space- in this case a rear extension that was built within 48 hours.

Having been part of the AU? team for a bit less than year now, I thought it was high time that I actually got my hands dirty and tested the WikiHouse system for myself, so I did the smart thing and volunteered my time to assist in any way I could. I’m not going to lie, as a general overthinker, I had many questions in the back of my head including “is it that easy?”, “how long is this going to take?” and “can someone unfit like myself actually do this?”. Little did I know, fast forward a couple of days, that we would achieve an actual rear extension. Let me break down the journey for you guys out there.

Smiling Man on Laptop

Rise and shine on day one - a very early start but time was of the essence as we wanted to construct this extension in good weather; lucky for us it was sunny throughout. Strategising was key for this build as we had to utilise Charlie’s drive and garden for several stations that had different purposes. Step One was to organise! We started by sorting out all the CNC cut pieces according to their respective labels and tags. It was important to correspond the number of pieces to the inventory sheet, just so that we knew if we had any missing or mislabelled pieces. Lucky for us, nothing significant was out of place (thank you Digital Woodoo for sorting us out!).

Although tiresome, this first process set us up for a quicker assembly, A.K.A. Step Two of the WikiHouse build. This is where the Instruction Manual came into play, as it describes how to put your ‘jigsaw puzzle’ together. including the beams, the floor cassettes, the walls and your roof essentially by hammering the pieces together with a mallet. In the closed box sections such as the beams, it was also vital for insulation to be placed inside to avoid thermal bridging (yes, insulation is itchy so wear gloves). Although it doesn’t sound like much, I did find day one super labour intensive as we aimed to have all the pieces ready for construction the following day. In the end we did most of them which was surprising to say the least. 35 cassettes in 7 hours - not bad I guess!

Then came day two, the actual construction of this extension. We had doubled the number of volunteers overnight and now included Josiah and Jane from RootedIn and Steve from Greater Manchester Community Led Homes alongside the whole AU team, which did make the construction of the extension much easier. Working our way from bottom to top, we starting with the floor joists that are connected to the columns. The structural pieces were quite heavy so it did require two to three people to place them onto the screw piles and foundation rails. For the lighter pieces, it was a very satisfying moment to be able to carry the pieces and slot them into the structure (mostly satisfying anyway, sometimes force was needed haha). What was tricky was avoiding minor shifts that misaligned the extension to the existing wall of Charlie’s house but a little pull here and there sorted itself out. Clamps did come in handy to ensure that the pieces were snuggly fitted to avoid airgaps.

After an additional 9 hours on day two, we had completed Charlie’s extension and it was standing on its own! The whole process was very heart-warming I must say, as it really did bring all of us together especially since we working towards a common goal. For someone with close-to-no physical build experience, the WikiHouse system came in super handy and was not as difficult a build as I thought it would be. If I were to summarise for anyone wanting to build a WikiHouse I would say “if I can do this, you can too!”.

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