Creatively learning about informal dwelling design and construction

As part of the Festival of Creative Learning at Edinburgh University, Dr David Rush of the IRIS-Fire project organised a hackathon from 19-23 February 2018 to design and construct an informal dwelling with limited resources. But rather than simply build a structure to provide protection from the elements, we were encouraged to come up with creative ideas that could enhance the day-to-day experience for dwellers of informal homes. Dr Arno Verhoeven challenged us to think about the difference between “dwelling” and “living” - in essence, “living” constitutes merely surviving, however “dwelling” allows you to “be” in a space.

Participants were divided into two groups to design on the first day, and through comparison and compromise, a dwelling with a mezzanine for a family of two adults and two children was selected to be constructed. The home was required to be built within 2 days and with a budget of £300. The structure focused on four 3-meter primary columns, on which the children’s bed (2.4×1.8 m2) and roof with cantilever were fixed. Inspired by the tutor Dr Arno Verhoeven, lamination of the standard wood lengths was used, increasing the strength and robustness of the dwelling and allowing the necessary height to be achieved. 

Dr David Rush led the activity and provided the consultancy and help during the construction.

On the third and fourth days, the step by step risk assessment to ensure safe practices were identified during the work such as drilling, carrying and installing materials. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and tools were borrowed from the fire or structures labs. To save money, the participants luckily and successfully collected the materials from structures lab dustbin and waste of construction market with help of lab technician and Dr Arno Verhoeven. Some materials were donated by the Shaun from Jewson which was sincerely appreciated. When all the materials were ready, the participants started to construct the columns, walls and a ceiling, with screws, glue and nails playing a key role in joining the different elements of the dwelling.

The steps in our 2 day construction process started with erecting the columns; the mezzanine was then successfully clamped to the laminated columns. Subsequently, the metal sheet walls were raised up and fixed and the roof panels were fixed one by one. Even a waste window without glass was installed on the wall. Ideas came from each member of the group and made the building much more robust, practical and dwellable.

The construction activity ended smoothly on Friday afternoon. Although all the students strived to complete it in time, some work still remained to be finished due to the complexity of the structure. In the summary meeting, David and other members thought the more specific division of work would have made for a more efficient use of time. However, everybody was satisfied with the final house as they could at least sit and sleep in the loft. The most important thing is that the participants learnt the difficulty of building a simple dwelling with very limited resources and started to realize how to make a house a home to dwell in.

by Yu Wang