With increasing access to information and communication technologies (ICT), the commons, and particularly the production of digital commons is blossoming [1
]. Commons-based peer production (CBPP) surfaced as a way of self-organizing communities towards value creation [1
]. By placing the users’ needs and values at the center of attention, globally networked communities use and modify the recorded information to produce customized solutions that best serve their needs. The communities then publicly share their products and offer feedback to enrich and strengthen the existing collective knowledge. The free encyclopedia Wikipedia and free/open-source software initiatives such as the GNU/Linux operating system and the Wikipedia encyclopedia exemplify this new mode of production.
The emerging open source hardware (OSH) phenomenon is transferring open source software principles into the physical realm [3
]. Open design and distributed manufacturing have been enabled through networked “makerspaces” [4
]. Such community-driven places are equipped with desktop manufacturing technologies including digital tools (e.g., three-dimensional (3D) printers, computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines, and low-tech tools) and utilize inclusive decision-making processes to manage common resources [6
]. Thus, collaboration and access to shared infrastructures are fostered, offering space for people to socialize and co-create [5
The Design Global, Manufacture Local (DGML) approach has emerged as a production model that focuses on localized production settings via a network of distributed makerspaces [8
]. It builds on the convergence of global digital commons (i.e., knowledge, software, and design) with local manufacturing technologies, by taking into account the surrounding biophysical conditions [9
]. The reduction of transportation costs and the expected low environmental impact of locally produced solutions are considered as significant benefits of this model [4
]. Furthermore, on-demand production, sharing physical and digital infrastructures as well as the production of solutions towards a common good rather than profit maximization are key components of the DGML model [9
Notwithstanding the positive dynamics of the DGML approach in the production of tangible artifacts, concerns have been raised with respect to: (i) the existence of a comprehensive shared documentation that renders a hardware product “open” [10
]; and (ii) the level of autonomy the user has while developing and maintaining that product. To explore such issues, we looked at the construction sector. Considering the low productivity rates and unsustainable practices unveiled through the bursting of the housing bubble [11
], the potential to produce more convivial houses through community-driven processes was explored.
By applying DGML principles in the construction sector, we refer to open construction systems as a potentially sustainable approach in housing provision. Through community-driven practices, pressing issues related to the lack of transparent and sustainable processes could be addressed [12
]. The embedded modularity of such systems, together with their momentum to provide affordable housing in a collaborative and convivial way, is gradually increasing their social impact, affecting large parts of the Western and non-Western world [13
In line with the DGML model, open construction systems attempt to provide affordable housing in a creative and convivial way. However, safety issues related to the construction of a DGML house have been identified [12
]. Overcoming such issues will potentially inaugurate a new paradigm in building houses where the users feel in control of constructing and maintaining their houses.
An instrumental case study was thoroughly examined to assess certain features of an open construction system, that of a WikiHouse [14
]. These features are associated with advantages that refer to the conviviality as well as the drawbacks that pertain to the openness degree of the WikiHouse technology. The latter has been claimed to inaugurate a model of open-source practice towards the democratization of the construction process [15
In this article, the comprehensiveness of the published data and the relevant practices will be discussed for a specific WikiHouse technology. Through evidence-based analysis of the relevant dynamics, we will shed light on the conviviality and the openness potential of a WikiHouse. The aim is to critically assess the conviviality potential of a DGML artefact and examine the role of openness in enhancing DGML features. An in-depth understanding of the relationship between openness and conviviality as well as their interrelation with the DGML approach for producing technological solutions will be explored.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2
describes the theoretical background associated with the DGML approach and the concepts of conviviality and openness. Section 3
provides information on the methods used and the selected case study, while Section 4
reflects on the previous sections by analyzing and summarizing the connection between the above-mentioned concepts, while Section 5
presents our conclusions and provides recommendations for future research.
In this section, the conviviality and openness potential of the WikiHouse Den Bosch are discussed. The analysis refers to the WikiHouse as a complete house to live in including building structure and utilities. We will first elaborate on the conviviality potential through the examination of the MCT’s responses and then critically discuss the openness aspect based on the open-O-meter tool.
4.1. The Conviviality Aspect
The assessment of the WikiHouse’s conviviality was facilitated through the use of a range of values attributed to the antagonistic terms of the matrix. To fit the specific characteristics of our case, the MCT was simplified by erasing certain pairs of antagonistic terms (see the original and the adapted MCT table in Appendix A
The MCT was filled in by 10 people who contributed to the construction of the WikiHouse Den Bosch. The selected group can be considered as a representative sample since it reflects the main characteristics of the overall community. More specifically, the age range was similar (25 to 65 years), the gender balance was equally distributed and most of the respondents had a non-engineering background (see Appendix B
The analysis followed the four life-cycle levels identified in the MCT (i.e., materials, production, use, infrastructure). To begin with, the respondents mentioned that the materials were easily accessible through various sources. Furthermore, it was possible to choose out of a variety of materials according to local needs and conditions. Regarding the cost of the materials, the responses were divergent due to the subjectivity of the question. Since the origins of the respondents varied, different answers were received; most of them deemed it to be of low-cost whereas others found it cost-intensive. Considering the Dutch context, the construction was deemed affordable. The tools needed for the processing of materials were characterized either as specialized (by non-engineers) or everyday tools (by engineers), based on the skills of each respondent. The presence of engineers among the contributors was important in overcoming obstacles during the construction. Additionally, all respondents highlighted the necessity of having access to a CNC machine. Finally, although the WikiHouse Den Bosch was built out of reused and easily recyclable materials, there were toxic emissions related to the processing of materials.
The production phase was seen as a collaborative and constructive process that allowed for joyful work. Contributing to the assembly of the Wikiparts was easy since no special tools were needed. The assembly could take place asynchronously and autonomously, thanks to the appropriate instructions and detailed designs provided by the architects of the project. Dismantling the parts of a house once finished is difficult, but life-time changes rarely demand it. However, the addition of new parts according to the users’ needs is possible. These characteristics designate the WikiHouse as a modular structure. Despite the some waste emissions, there was no significant environmental impact during the production phase.
Regarding the use level, the respondents described the WikiHouse Den Bosch as “usable by anyone”, since it fulfills the basic needs of the user and provides flexibility in selecting the infrastructure. Concerning its maintenance, the WikiHouse Den Bosch was characterized as “repairable by some”. Although it was argued that most of the parts could be repaired quickly, additional skills may be needed to maintain certain infrastructure such as plumbing. The need for experts within the community seems to be vital for maintaining both the WikiHouse structure as well as the community itself. The fixed costs are not significantly decreased due to the installed energy and water systems. No solar panels or water reuse systems are available at the WikiHouse Den Bosch due to time and cost limitations.
Furthermore, issues associated with safety checks and local regulations need to be addressed by the users. In the case of the WikiHouse Den Bosch, the structure was exempt from the need to conform to the local building codes due to its experimental and temporary character. In addition, the WikiHouse Den Bosch was understood as a locally operable construction that could be easily adapted to the local setting. Nevertheless, following the respondents’ feedback, the durability of the structure was not ensured.
Finally, a common element present throughout all phases was the increased community engagement that was enabled by the nature of the project. Collaboration and sharing were promoted, which allowed for the development of friendship and feelings of being useful.
4.2. The Openness Aspect
This assessment refers to information such as designs, CAD files, bill of materials, and assembly instructions. A web-based repository such as GitHub is used for file sharing in most WikiHouse projects. However, fragmentation issues arise since there is not a comprehensive online platform used by all communities that develop WikiHouses globally. Contrary to software components, sufficiently documenting a piece of hardware is challenging [3
]. Problems pertain to the documentation adequacy of the WikiHouse solutions, and the ease in tracking the relevant information [53
]. Consequently, concerns have been raised with regard to the openness degree of hardware solutions like the WikiHouse.
A first attempt in filling the open-O-meter for the WikiHouse concept was realized in the context of a French–German research project called OPEN! – Methods and tools for community-based product development [54
]. Following this assessment, the WikiHouse was rated five out of eight. The missing points were due to the provision of non-editable assembly instructions, a non-editable published bill of materials, and the lack of a published contribution guide.
However, apart from the open-O-meter evaluation via simple binary criteria, the quality of the published documentation of each WikiHouse project should be examined. The comprehensiveness and clarity of the published information increase the replicability and diffusion of the product. Thus, our contribution was to critically examine and enrich the existing assessment of the WikiHouse’s openness based on the expertise of three main stakeholders of the WikiHouseNL Foundation (see Appendix B
First, concerning the publication of the design files, the interviewees agreed that many WikiHouse design files were shared on GitHub in different stages of construction. However, most of them were uncategorized and not engineered. The respondents mentioned that when private companies were involved, the publication of all designs was not assured. For instance, although most of the WikiHouse Den Bosch designs were published in an editable format, those related to its structural analysis were not shared. In addition, the modification of existing designs may be more time-consuming than drawing new ones.
Detailed manuals with the assembly instructions are available on Github. For the editability of the instructions, Tessa and Rolf mentioned that they decided to draw new manuals since the original model could not be easily modified for the needs of the WikiHouse Den Bosch. Vincent stressed the importance of being an experienced user in dedicated software to fork the assembly instructions.
Regarding the bill of materials, the publication of information for the whole building depends on the parties involved. For instance, the bill of materials can be obtained for the structural components of the WikiHouse, but not the cost-related data of the building. Acquiring a complete bill of materials for a WikiHouse is complicated, since it depends on the local needs and conditions. Although such a bill of materials for a WikiHouse does not exist, Open System Labs [55
] is currently working on a platform for sharing customizable designs with detailed descriptions of the materials (including economic data, energy, and environmental factors).
Furthermore, a contribution guide should be provided through transparent processes to enable the unconditional participation of individuals. Considering the uniqueness of a WikiHouse project, each one has guidelines that should fit the local needs and regulations. In the case of the WikiHouse Den Bosch, the instigator provided conditions for participation in the construction process that were readapted regularly to serve the changing needs of the project [56
The licensing guidelines [57
] of the first WikiHouse building type (i.e., the Microhouse [58
]) indicate that the published content can be shared and adapted, even for commercial use. The latest version of this license, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International: CC BY-SA 4.0, was used in the WikiHouse Den Bosch case [59
In all, it becomes evident that every WikiHouse initiative is unique and should be evaluated based on its distinctive characteristics and rules. Following the responses of the interviewees, the WikiHouse Den Bosch scored six out of eight since it lacked editable assembly instructions and an editable published bill of materials. Nevertheless, although some of the open-O-meter factors received a positive degree, critical issues should be addressed to enhance the diffusion and replication of the WikiHouse technology.
Both conviviality and openness are ambiguous terms. Whether an artifact is convivial or open is not a binary decision. Instead, there is a spectrum and degree of each of these aspects that characterizes a technological artifact. For instance, defining conviviality and openness may be easier when engaging with software or low-tech products than high-tech hardware.
The WikiHouse Den Bosch is a sophisticated construction that consists of different parts and requires certain skills for its construction and maintenance. The conviviality potential of such a complex artifact ends up being subjective. Based on our results, it is evident that the level of the respondent’s expertise is crucial when assessing conviviality. The potential lack of certain skills needed to manufacture or maintain an artifact could lower the artifact’s conviviality. However, the existence of a community around that artifact could possibly alleviate this issue via the diffusion of knowledge amongst its members.
Furthermore, the available expertise of the contributors allows for enhanced autonomy in both the construction and maintenance stages. In this sense, conviviality is stronger at the collective level than at the individual one. Additionally, openness adds to the conviviality potential of the project, thus boosting the autonomy on all levels by providing access to relevant information.
The aforementioned potential is arguably linked to the attributes observed in the DGML approach. In an attempt to generalize the conviviality of DGML artifacts, we proposed achieving “institutionalized conviviality” through more structured processes. For instance, modularity can be considered as a characteristic that could reduce the complexity of artifacts. In addition, standardization of the design parts as well as the existence of detailed open-source documentation could facilitate the replicability of open hardware solutions through comprehensive manuals.
Overall, however, DGML artifacts may be quite varied in their conception and development, so the community aspect is crucial. Once there is an engaged community with a strong supporting network, the level of conviviality may be high, despite potential complexities that would otherwise hinder it. Nevertheless, given that such projects are driven by specific local or regional socio-economic and political characteristics and goals, the generalizability of our conclusions is confined. Hence, further research should focus on different contexts, locations, and artifacts to provide a wider understanding of the understudy phenomenon. Finally, a comparison of an industrially produced house and an open construction system through technical evaluations such as the life cycle assessment would be valuable.