[Housing Mass-customization]

By Fabio Schillaci

Web-Site/Web-House [Housing Mass Customization] is a conceptual work that focuses on integrating the principles of mass customization into housing by connecting a small group of people (stakeholders) in order to make the housing process more affordable and highly customizable.

Basically the idea was to create an algorithm that encouraged people to cluster and to self-organize in an online video game called “Web-Site/Web-House” which – in simple terms – offered a playful way to meet future neighbors and support the difficult task of doing something collectively.




Clustering people on the web was a means to raise the customer’s individual disposable budget through the sharing of overlapping costs with other customers. Moreover, with each house being built on the abstraction lines, the algorithm produced house shapes which revealed the relations and negotiation that went on between customers.


In an online platform, people who wanted to customize a house were encouraged to chat, meet personally and eventually cluster in order to form a group of future neighbors. Once a group was created, it entered the video game, where each of the customers could place his activities inside his own virtual plot. Moving activities immediately changed the shape of the house.

Beneath the virtual plot, a rendering showed the changing of other houses in the cluster in real time so that every customer could see what the others were doing and eventually react by chatting for clarification or otherwise moving their activities (thus changing the shape of their house). Some movements caused conflict; others resulted in collaboration.

The cluster resulted in a social organism in which customers acted and reacted reciprocally until a state of equilibrium was achieved, prior to industrial production. Provided customers were able to get through the difficulties and reach a consensus, the final shape was a physical manifestation of their negotiation.



The house was abstracted in two red “splines” whose control points were associated with home activities. The shape of the house grew out of these splines through a complex system of relations with other splines and surfaces. Moving a point of the red splines affected the whole shape of house.


Web-site/web-house is a research-work made during 2 semesters [2003-2004] at the Digital Design techniques Department of The Faculty of Architecture - University of Kassel [Germany] under the theoretical and practical guidance of Lars Spuybroek and Andreas Ruby, with the support of Manfred Grohmann (Structural analysis), Christian Troche [computing], Leonore Daum [milling] and Ludovica Tramontin [body-space]. Web-site/web-house has its fundaments in the research built at the same Department during the interlacing project [2002-03] together with Alessandra Raponi, Joachim Haas, Gergana Stavreva, Matthieu Götz e Florian Böttcher. The structural issues were matched together with Manfred Grohmann and the critics with Andreas Ruby. In October 2004, the results of the work were presented at the University of Palermo [Italy] as a Master Thesis with Prof. Nunzio Marsiglia of Dipartimento di Rappresentazione dell’Università di Palermo.The design of the web-site interface was developed together with Roberto Pelliccia.


“Web-site/web-house looks carefully at a very new issue in design which is called ‘mass-customization’: how can we make objects – in this case houses – that are designed as for an individual, but have the pricing of a mass-product? Generally the answers that are given to this question are purely of a technological nature. Web-site/web-house investigates new ways to use technology and mass-media. There is a strong political sense behind it: How can we deal with the forces of globalization (which are often forces of atomization and individualization) and re-organize them as positive and contributing to social fabric?” (Lars Spuybroek).



Translation of the article published on May 25, 2006 on >> Arch'it

The issue of the “customer” was addressed in the light of Fritjof Capra's “The Web of life”(0), Ulrich Beck’s essays about “Individualization, Globalization and Politic” (1), Bart Lootsma’s “Synopse: Jenseits des Standards” (2) and “New subjectivity: architecture between Communication and Information” from Antonino Saggio (3). After studying contemporary research that have treated the issue of Housing Mass Customization – like Nox, Greg Lynn, Oosterhuis, RAMTV (4) – as well as the most interesting brands who already customize products through the web - such as Nike, Acumins, Levis (5) - the focus of the research was set: the goal is to connect people and to make the housing-process more comfortable, affordable and highly customizable.

The www is the best place for such a design. An abstract world where customers can operate, build and destroy, cluster, share, and most important, see what their actions cause to other people. An endless space (6) in which the houses are thought of as a model, or clusters of a model, that the customers can personalize and transform like a living organism, until a state of equilibrium in the pattern before the industrial production.

Web-site is a virtual-atmospheric site to where people can cluster and create communities. The virtual site is intended as a tool that improves the communication between the designer and the customer.

Visiting the web-site, the customer selects the Web-house [house-model to personalize] from a catalogue referred to existing house-types. Then people can modify, playing the housing-machine interface, their own house-model based on a path [an organizational centre line that concentrates all activities along a spline and that builds the topological geometry and program above them].

Thus, the customers can connect to neighbor houses, making agencies and creating new typologies. Each house-model is thought as a whole living organism made of a web of relations between his parts.

Once a cluster of customers is done and the internal equilibrium [both programmatically and socially] is found-the models, and their relations, are frozen and the virtual whole is ready to transform in the real one.

The city Frankfurt (GE) is re-mapped selecting high identity areas where the cluster can look for the site to build between a range of free-sites proposed.

Once the site is individuated, the geometrical information is sent to the factory. Then, using C.A.M.- non-standard sandwich panels are manufactured. In order to reduce the milling cost, a re-modeling strategy [per repetitions in the forms] in each house and between different houses of the cluster is used. Thus optimizing the form without loosing information of its geometry.

All these strategies together [sharing site and space, co-manufacturing panels] decrease the cost, improve the relative budget of each customer and build the social relations between future neighbors.

In order to optimize the cost and stress the potential of the C.A.M. technology, we designed a special system of UHPC [Ultra High Performance Concrete] sandwich panels consisting in two structural skins [internal and external]. The shape of panel is structural and aesthetic at the same time.

Re-cycling. Finally, the design was put under stress checking the flexibility of each produced house. Since each house is unique [personalized and part of a social and topological cluster], the aim was to understand how the houses might be re-cycled. More precisely, how the houses and the clusters can transform if a crisis occurs [a dweller leaves or a house is transformed] and what happens to the cluster both geometrically and programmatically.

The results show some limits of the personalization process due to the extreme determinacy of the form. For instance, a “rapid” re-customization process is possible just if the old customer is similar to the new one, otherwise a geometrical transformation of the house [and of course the cluster] is needed.

(0) Capra Fritjof, The web of life, Doubleday-Anchor Book, New York 1996
(1) http://www.archplus.net/archiv_ausgaben.php?show=158
(2) http://www.archplus.net/archiv_ausgaben.php?show=158
(3) http://architettura.supereva.com/coffeebreak/20040718/index_en.htm
(4) Greg Lynn 1998-99, Embryological House, http://www.glform.com/ Nox 1999, Offtheroad_5speed, http://www.noxarch.com Kas Oosterhuis 2002, Variomatic, http://www.oosterhuis.nl RAMTV, 2002, Negotiate my boundary!, http://www.ramtv.org/
(5) NikeID, http://nikeid.nike.com/ Acumins spa, http://www.acumins.com Levi’s, www.levi.com/originalspin/
(6) Hatje Cantz 2001, Frederick J. Kiesler Endless Space, Dieter Bogner and Peter Noever editors.