Bite the hand that bores you

Wikihouse and the Tragedy of Rome

Books on timber framing breathlessly extoll the virtues of huge timbers, while modern timber framing books gloss over the mounting shortage of real timbers and simply lament ‘stick’ building with 2x4s as though it had happened in a vacuum.

But while it may be the case that, once upon a time, when you cleared land for a barn, the trees you took down were all old-growth and ready to support thousands of pounds for a century, that’s simply not the world we live in any more. Stick building is not a choice but an expedient; we build with sticks because the giants are nearly gone.

We’re like the barbarians using marble pediments as foundation or the rubble of statues as infill.

As such, Wikihouse is a logical progression. A clever idea on the face of it - use modern physics and CNC routers to cut ‘timbers’ from plywood in a modular pattern. Houses are even composed of repeated ‘bents’, just like timber framed halls. They can be shipped as a pallet of standard sheets and cut and assembled in place from downloadable instructions.

Still, there’s something sad in the progression. A whiff of the grave. We’ve gone from building homes from the timbers that had to be cleared from the site to building homes from chips of cast-off wood held together with glue.