Prototype home with flexible walls allows for easy layout changes

A prototype home constructed with flexible wooden partition walls, which can be shifted to meet the changing needs of residents, has been developed by University of Cambridge architects.

The invention aims to reduce waste and carbon, whilst also improving living conditions for those who cannot afford expensive refurbishments.

Some 11 per cent of global energy-related carbon emissions are from construction materials and processes, (known as embodied carbon), according to the World Green Building Council.

Dubbed ‘Ephemeral’, the house allows for residents to change the very layout of the interior easily rather than being forced to engage in costly building works.

The flexible wooden partition walls are made using kerfing, which allows wood to bend without breaking, the same technique employed in the construction of acoustic guitars and other stringed instruments.

The resulting wooden walls are resilient, foldable and movable, meaning they can respond to the changing needs of residents; for instance, when babies are born or when children move out once they’ve reached adulthood.

wooden walls

Image credit: cambridge university

Lead researcher Ana Gatóo said: “Self-assembly and modular furniture have improved so many people’s lives. We’ve developed something similar but for walls, so people can take total control of their interior spaces.

“If you have lots of money, you can hire a designer and alter the interiors of your house, but if you don’t you’re stuck with very rigid systems that could be decades out of date. You might be stuck with more rooms than you need or too few. We want to empower people to make their spaces their own.”

The researchers said their ‘rooms of requirement’ are affordable and can either be built into the fabric of the building from its first design or retrofitted, which helps to avoid the high carbon emissions associated with demolition and reconstruction.

“We’re using engineered timber, which is affordable and sustainable. It’s a natural material which stores carbon and when you don’t need it anymore, you can make something else with it, so you are creating minimal waste,” Gatóo added.

The team said the system could be used anywhere in the world, in workplaces as well as in homes, and the researchers have already had conversations with industry, including with affordable housing developers in India.

“This is what our cities of the future need – caring for people and the environment at the same time,” Gatóo concluded.

Implemented at scale, Ephemeral could slash housing costs and overcome some of the hurdles which the construction industry must tackle to be part of a sustainable future.

Last year, another team unveiled a modular construction system that could slash CO2 emissions by up to 45 per cent by precision-manufacturing part of the structure offsite.

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