Hold the House Porn

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Don’t get him started. Box™ Director | New Projects, Dan Heyworth has a new sermon for the soapbox. He calls it House Porn – and his barbs are aimed at the media: glossy magazines and glamour design websites that often only celebrate the superficial side of architecture. “They annoy me because they set artificially high expectations. They champion architects who take the easy route by throwing money at the design and letting the client pay. Most people know they can’t afford those types of houses.” Dan would much rather read a publication that explores the reality of trying to find a solution to quality, cheaper, more functional homes – the Idealog magazine of architecture, as he puts it.

Within the NZ landscape, that resolution still seems a long way off so Box™ is looking to Europe and related industries for clues. One company that has already achieved a similar coup is Ikea. Founder Ingvar Kamprad was born on a farm in Sweden and, from humble beginnings selling matches around his neighbourhood, grew up to become the most innovative furniture retailer in the world. His vision was for simple, affordable, ready-to-assemble pieces. The billionaire industrialist shook up the industry with his innovative methods. “We don’t tend to celebrate functional and accessible design – but it’s really hard to achieve. How many shops like Ikea are there in the world?” says Dan.

Getting to grips with the economics in the supply chain is just one factor of the house affordability puzzle. “A question to be answered is how do we get the materials into New Zealand more cheaply? Ikea searched the globe for suppliers at the best prices.” To that end Box™ is currently investigating the possibility of landing prefabricated parts from Europe and elsewhere.

If it pans out, it will be just one small step forward in the complex challenge to develop a less-expensive, standardised framework that is integral to all their houses. It’s similar to the Wikihouse strategy: bring down costs by developing a structural system that uses components cut out by a local CNC machiner that low-skilled labour can assemble.

If that is commoditisation of architecture, then so be it. “It’s exciting and the right direction. Too many architects are not really interested in making architecture more realistic for the average punter,” says Dan. And they’re fed by a seemingly insatiable desire for House Porn.

Recommended reading: Leading by Design: the Ikea Story by Bertil Torekull and Ingvar Kamprad.