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Self-build and the maker movement

AIARG 2014, University Ulster, Belfast

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AIARG14 Conference, Belfast January 2014

Architectural profession has generally not paid much attention to self-build despite it has always been very popular with the general public all over the world. Societies and economies as distant as Austria and India have very similar high percentages of self-build housing and some studies have determined that one third of the world’s dwellings are constructed by their future occupants with no architect intervention.

A recent chapter in the history of self-build happened in Europe and United States during the 60’s. It became part of the counterculture movement and notable self-build systems were developed such as the Segal Method in England or the geodesic structures from the Whole Earth Catalog in California. In both cases, self-build was presented as a carefully though social and political attitude rather than just a necessity. Not casually, the articles published in the Whole Earth Catalog were also inspiring the first generation of computer hackers who originated the Information technology revolution in Silicon Valley.

The maker culture, a technology-based extension of the do-it-yourself hobbyist tradition, is one of the most notable phenomenons derived from this hacker culture in the 70’s. The maker movement proposes a bottom-up and collective alternative for designing and producing all sort of physical objects, from affordable medical prothesis to sophisticated drone aircrafts. Many experts believe that the future of physical manufacturing will shift from current failing structures of mass production to the decentralised and highly customisable maker’s approach.

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