BIY – Build It Yourself


Tiny house movement, which is a theme of DS10 second brief, is closely linked to the idea of self-build. It is commonly thought that both emerged simply as a response to housing crisis. However, compelled limitations can also encourage other unexpected movements. Here, I want to talk about how the self-build practice allowed discovering new possibilities that go beyond economy.

In 1980s, Berlin-born modernist architect Walter Segal proposed a solution to shorten the housing waiting list by allowing people to build their own homes. With the bold step of London borough of Lewisham, an ‘awkward’ piece of sloping land, that was found unsuitable for council’s programme, was donated for the experiment. People that got randomly chosen from the waiting list were allocated a site and given a basic induction in how to saw a straight line and drill a hole. Segal believed that a house should adapt to its occupants. Each household was invited to participate in the design stage, while the construction principles included lightweight timber frames and stilt foundations, meaning the layout could always be adjusted. New residents of Walter’s Way all worked collaboratively from the project commencement and as a result formed a tight community. At the end of the project, new occupants were given a chance to buy their homes. Walter’s Way became UK’s first self-built council housing project.



In spring 2016 I visited the site to interview residents for my undergraduate dissertation project. I was keen to understand how design principles of community influenced the level of happiness of it’s residents and therefore affected sustainable behaviour. Walter’s Way was a unique case study. Walking onto the street felt nothing like the rest of London and more like an eco-village in a countryside. You could sense a spirit of community that seemed to work great almost naturally. The road slopes down and main entrances to houses are oriented in such way, that you always see your neighbours as soon as they walk out their private spaces. The central core is used for weekly community activities and as a kids playground. All residents were happy to talk and during the conversation it was common to hear “I’m not as sustainable as my neighbour, but I learn from them”, which is almost like a good eco-competition. That is without saying that certain homes achieve carbon savings of 73% (according to SuperHomes).

Today, all houses are private with many owners occupying their homes for over 20 years. Everyone remembers the history of Walter’s Way and feels proud to be a part of it. Many continued the legacy of self-build by attaching extensions or upgrading buildings. The fact that all houses were designed by those in need and built with their own hands allowed for an activist community to be born. It not only challenges the traditional approach to solving housing issue, but creates new opportunities in the city by building on ‘abandoned’ sites, creating a new model for urban life and teaching others sustainable lifestyles.


The beauty of error


As our studio dipped into the complexity of fractals, it became easy to get lost. Suddenly, these geometries were everywhere. Trees, clouds, coastlines, our own bodies – all examples of fractals. Systems, that are made up of smaller self-simular parts until they reach infinity. Systems, that travel between dimension (more about it here Wanting to understand these geometries better, I found a Fractal plugin for Grasshopper by albertovalis on Food4Rhino. Playing around with various parameters and GH components gave me interesting shapes, but which seemed far away from an architectural object. I then decided to give it a try and allow the program to randomly select elements by assigning different true/false patterns. Finally, an error happened and it was beautiful.


Error 101


Error 101 is a visual representation of relationships between machines and humans. It illustrates what we can learn from each other (what does this mean?). The geometry was generated through a combination of fractal mathematics properties, parametric design tools and finally a computer error, which were all guided by human decisions.

Physical description

The artwork will be made out of ‘chaotically’ arranged ribbons that, together, form a tetrahedron. From far, the geometry will look well defined – a triangle or pyramid. As you get closer you notice the complexity. When you experience is physically, you find logic in the chaos. Inside the tetrahedron is a void.

Error 101 will be constructed using bent cross-laminated timber modules that are interlocked together with flitch plates. Their arrangement will allow the object to be self-supporting. The whole piece is 18’x18’x18’ (5.5 metres). Timber strips create the outer shell and are 25 inches wide (635 mm). Their surface will be treated to achieve a smooth finish to protect both the piece and visitors. Light strips will be fixed to edges of timber curves and turned on at night. Assembly will be completed on site.

Interactivity and Mission

Error 101 is left open to interpretation – everyone can have their personal take on the piece. Visual and emotional perception of Error 101 may change depending on how close you get to it. It may encourage visitors to think of it, as something that travels between dimensions, which is a liberating allegory of how one thing can become another and how the whole is just a collection of its parts. Just like water can be liquid, ice or vapor, Error 101 can be a triangle, pyramid or chaotic curves.

The structure is climbable and each of many unique curves can be treated as a nest. Occupying empty spaces on different levels may make burners feel like a part of the ‘chaos’, that has a space for everyone. Different curvature can suggest different positioning of a body that may influence visual as well as physical experience. Entering the structure’s core shifts the visitor’s focus away from the idea of a pyramid and allows them to focus on what’s within. Such study erases preconceptions and allows new ideas to be born. This notion is also enhanced with the use of lights at night.


Error 101 is a product of human ability to perceive beauty, and computer’s power to process complex mathematics. Its development started with an attempt to try to understand fractal geometries that only became possible to study in the recent years due to the development of computer processing power. A continuous human-computer-human processes that involved both logic and error allowed for the piece to be born.

Error 101 is a common error in Internet browsing. A simple solution to it is clearing browsing history and cache. It may also appear in other spheres of digital world when software or a device is out of date. Burning Man participants are invited to clear their mind, update the ‘software’ and reset their system to become a new advanced version of themselves. The final steps of error 101 creation involved chance and error. The chaos led to something beautiful. We, as humans, can learn from this – learn to let go, to acknowledge and even appreciate mistakes, complexity of the world and our own selves. The geometry of an artwork is essentially a continuous strip that can be unrolled into one flat curve on the ground. This idea of continuity and interdependence is an allegory of a world’s structure.

The closer you get to Error 101, the more you can learn from it. A 2D triangle turns into 3D pyramid and then into a collection of overlaying shapes that are not truly from our dimension. With the speed of the modern world we tend to simplify things, which leads to inability to see details. Visitors are invited to come take time to study and appreciate the complexity of the Error, and to realize the beauty of a whole. From this, they may find that, in fact, all processes in our lives have a similar structure. Chaos generates order and order generates chaos.