Interview 1191 - Catarina Mota and Marcin Jakubowski Introduce the Open Building Institute

07/13/201613 Comments

You wouldn't download a house, would you? Of course you would! And now with the Open Building Institute, you can! Join us today as we talk to Marcin Jakubowski of Open Source Ecology and Catarina Mota of the Open Building Institute about how they are bringing their vision of an affordable, open source, modular, ecological building toolkit to life. We discuss the free, open source library of modules that form the basis of the building's design, how the institute will train others to start designing and building their own homes, and how you can find out more information and help the collaborative effort.

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  1. Beau Boeye says:

    I absolutely love when you do Solution-Based videos like this. A buddy of mine worked with Jakubowski last year; he did a presentation on hydroponics for OSE. We’re currently looking to build a greenhouse/barn/apartment and you released this video at the perfect time! Thank you so much for this resource. I might have to look into going down to Missouri for that workshop in November.

    Keep up the fantastic work!

  2. I like the idea of do it yourself and open source, but we have to be careful about people seeking to capitalize on this trend just by uttering the right buzzwords. Some big red flags stuck out to me about this couple’s presentation:

    1. Free labor – a large part of construction cost is labor, yet they are getting it for free or even charging people for “immersion”. This doesn’t sound sustainable or scalable at all. It also strikes me as a bit like a cult, where a bunch of people put in free work to build up assets for the dear leader. At the very least, it is a misrepresentation to the consumers of the real costs of this process, since presumably the people paying for this “immersion” training expect to eventually be paid for their labor.

    2. Asking for funding for a large, ambitious, complex project with ill-defined scope. That is a recipe for misaligned expectations and failure to deliver. Every project faces risks, yet their approach multiplies the risk factors of a typical project by orders of magnitude. Better to start small and grow incrementally, before attempting a world-changing goal all at once.

    3. Unexplained failure of previous project. Failure is part of business and is a necessary component of learning about market demand, that ultimately can lead to success. However, they do not give an adequate explanation for why their previous project, the brick-making machine, did not get any adoption. The ostensible reason is that they need to build houses in order to make the machines useful. But, they also mentioed that the market price for these devices is $50k and they are producing them for $5k. If this is true, they should have been able to sell them like hotcakes. It doesn’t add up and is not a good sign for pursuing an even bigger project when the smaller project was not completed to expectations.

    I’m very, very wary about these people, their business model doesn’t make sense to me, there are too many unanswered questions, and not enough critical questions posed to them in this video at least. This modular home / eco home / tiny home fad is a magnet for hucksters spewing the right words, but I’ll hold on to my money until there’s some proof in the pudding.

  3. Corbett says:

    In case anyone is interested, here is the conversation this interview has generated over on reddit:

  4. nosoapradio says:

    Well it all sounds very exciting and inspiring and makes you want to go right out and immediately… download some open-source land!

    But, so, aside from the emancipating and potentially paradigm changing possiblities of this ideology, the required investment for producing these OSE tools is justified only if there’s a collective global village, civilisation, brick factory or modular housing business project in the works?

    Is that it?

    I think there’s something fundamental about this enterprise that eludes me…

    “…Upon completion of the program, these trainees are expected to start their own building enterprises to provide building services to those who don’t want to build themselves…” – Open Building Institute

    sort of reminds me of this concept:

    and finally, there’s a lot to be said for crowd-sourcing money and labor…

    • nosoapradio says:

      In fact, I’m somewhat of a Pavlov dog, so when I hear the phrase “Global village Construction Set” it rings rather “new age post-apocolyptic” to me and inherently connected as we must download this emancipated civilisation.

      The project seems based on a highly collective dynamic – I mean designed for throngs of people who want to set themselves up in hydroponic like-minded people togetherness communities.

      If I’ve understood correctly, the training program for “Open building” homes came into being as an effort to pay for the OSE project that had exhausted its grant money. Now a kickstarter for the new Open Building Project…

      I’d echo what I seem to recall a previous poster saying: If they themselves cannot render their own revolutionary “cost saving” project financially viable with grants and free and paid-for labor how can anyone else? Maybe I’m being overly simplistic and uncharitable…?

  5. NES says:

    I was particularly interested in the open source building project for mechanical tools when it was posted originally. With the right participants it is a good idea. However, after listening to the last video, going to the website and reviewing the information I must say that the excitement went right out of me. The modules idea is not new but it’s nice to see it laid out for the homeowner in bite-able portions. Nevertheless, if I were to build such a home I’d have to have the free labor of 30+ people to accomplish the task in the time and with the material costs noted. I don’t even know 30+ people. I would have to agree with the earlier poster. Yes, there is something fundamental about this project that eludes me.

  6. VoltaicDude says:

    Thanks for presenting Marcin’s work and a forum for all the interesting and diverse perspectives here.

    I worked in the construction industry on mass-produced, suburban track-housing sites in NJ a little over thirty years ago. The quality of the product I witnessed being built was appalling and it was pretty disgusting.

    Malicious may be a more accurate word. The entire industry, from the financing (surprise) to the development corporations (and the development schemes they were committed to), revolved around two basic principles: 1) designed obsolescence, and 2) maximal home fuel consumption.

    That is not hyperbole, it’s literally true, and also not something that even the average industry worker (or even the bosses at the development corporations), was generally aware of! Everybody just went along with the flow. Nobody questioned the logic.

    My work was hard labor (which at the time, as a young man, I enjoyed well enough), but my greater passions were architecture, design and the social and environmental impacts of modern living, but not at the expense of time-tested traditional values and knowledge about…well, about everything, life and living in general, including practical knowledge about efficiency and frugality – values I had learned to in fact value.

    That was a good balancing act for a science and technology enthusiast and Young Turk revolutionary like me.

    Truly foundational traditions that helped us retain a sense of balance and fairness and expansive humanity were not expendable. “Bad,” myopic and oppressive traditions were to be discarded. Reliable, level-headed scientific inquiry and discovery and developments were to be embraced. Scientism and the religion of science were not to be trusted as any sort of guide. Always there was the need to discern between the two; the need to separate the grain from the chaff.

    We live in a centralized-command economy, immersed in propaganda that has us believing we are benefiting from competitive markets – what a joke. There has been virtually no choice for the average prospective home-buyer in America for the last seventy years. The housing market has been rigged in sync with the other control systems: the highway system at the expense of mass-transit; the petro-dollar as part of the wealth-skimming financial apparatus of the elite; the centralization of agribusiness in preparation for the final GMO transformation of the food market. Etc.

    I’ve come to the conclusion – I don’t think in ultimate contradiction to my admiration of voluntarism – that since there’ nothing worth saving regarding real freedoms in our system, I’d rather see mandated (I guess that means centralized) development of a decentralized power grid. In other words a coordinated dissemination of the means of sustainable energy production to the average home-owner – that is revolutionary, and ultimately represents the destruction of the centralized command economy!

    Maybe it’s twisted, but I think it would work! What we have now is simply a mostly hidden and misunderstood self-reproducing oligarchical syndrome, but this one centralized policy would inject a self-limiting quality over time to the enslaving properties of our current system.

  7. VoltaicDude says:

    Once the average person is free from having to go to ExxonMobil or the likes, the game is over for the oligarchs. The logic of America’s national interests extending to the natural resources of the Middle East (a great excuse for pumping-up the military-industrial complex), simply evaporates.

    Previous to my construction job, while still in school, the local library had performed its annual clean-out, purging its stacks of books nobody had checked-out even once over the past five years – making room for newer, more often requested titles. A bonanza for me!

    I found about ten titles (costing one quarter each) on houses utilizing alternative energy. These books documented successful projects from decades earlier. All this information was being trashed! Some of it involved the rediscovery of lost knowledge about, for instance, how to orient a house on a lot to maximize solar gain – a simple and ancient tradition that had been totally discarded.

    So all this suggests a slightly different probability on where this revolution is likely to take hold.

    If one can procure bricks, even from an unsavory corporate source, that are inexpensive, environmentally sound, undergone valid testing, and produced in a controlled environment that guarantees they will last hundreds of years (modern bricks should last thousands of years, just as some thousand-year old bricks already have – we have the technology to make such standards…standard), then it may be more cost effective for the average home-builder to buy these prosaic, good quality materials ready-made, and save their greater efforts for some other area.

    True, in general bricks aren’t a cheap material; the trick is to accurately assess their long-term value to the home-owner. As a building material they last a long time, which is a crucial quality for materials used in the production of sound, economical housing.

    Almost since inception, most solar panels have surpassed their estimated life span – twenty to fifty years is a long time not to have to pay for energy. It’s “freeing” even when the upfront costs are a little high.

    This is a different sort of revolution than trying to extricate ourselves completely and immaculately from the current real-world market, rigged as it certainly is.

    If thirty years ago Pres. Carter’s declaration of the moral equivalent to war against the energy crisis had actually been implemented, right now America could be running on renewable energy 100%. All the necessary technology has been in place all along, and the propaganda that said otherwise was a lie.

    Those lies and the ones that said the “unregulated market” (as that might be allowed) would bring us innovation (ha!) allowed people like Edwin Meese to rewrite energy policy so that the oil companies and their bankster owners could continue to rape the world and deliver us to the present – a world in which we continue to be enslaved to the by the imperial oligarchs.

    Kachadorian’s building innovations illustrate a subtle-tech! repurposing of common construction materials to an ingenious end:
    Passive Solar House: The Complete Guide to Heating and Cooling Your Home

  8. opensourceecology says:

    Great news! We’re 107% funded, and have a few days left. Support modular open source eco-housing and follow progress updates at

  9. Jesse Cable says:

    I will look further into this. Devil in the details.

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