An Old Tradition Meets Open Source House Design

The Amish and Mennonite societies are synonymous with being “behind the times” – a people reluctant to adopt modern technology. They do things their way, without many conveniences most of us take for granted.

One tradition of the Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities is Barn Raising. Members of the community gather together and assist, without payment, in the building of a neighbors’ barn.

Barn Raising

A group of family, friends and neighbours can usually construct or “raise” a barn in a single day, pausing for meals and refreshment along the way.

Barn raising may seem like a quaint tradition of the past, but if Architect Alstair Parvin has his way, it’s the cutting-edge future of urban development.

Alstair Parvin is the voice and co-founder of WikiHouse, an open-source and non-profit project. It’s goal is to allow anyone to download, design, and ‘print’ CNC-milled pieces that can be assembled into a house quickly, and with minimal tools.

Architecture for the people by the people, as he says in his 2013 TED talk.


Building a livable WikiHouse is surprisingly simple. Download your plans from the WikiHouse Open library and customize your dream home using Google SketchUp, a free 3D-modelling program.

A CNC mill or local machine shop then cuts the pieces from plywood or other sheet material.

design wikihouse

Once the jigsaw-like panels, beams, and other pieces are ready to assemble, invite your friends and family to a ‘barn raising’. Raise the lightweight frames by hand and connect into the house structure.

by Future of Cities

Screw the panels into place. A small crew can assemble a single story house in about a day.

diagram by Future of Cities

The WikiHouse chassis is then ready to receive other parts such as cladding to weatherproof it, insulation, windows and electrical services.

Diagram by Future of Cities


Parvin hopes that WikiHouse democratises urban development and changes architecture forever. Let the people design and build houses. Architects should focus on problem solving and strategic thinking – what today’s urban landscape needs more of.

Barn raising could be back in a big way. Who knew the Amish were ahead of our time?

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