A house that adapts to seasons and opens like a flower. The nice idea of London architects became viral…7 years later. But still not real. Meeting with the creators of “D*Dynamic”.
London, from our correspondent
It’s one of the magic tricks the Web is capable of: pull out of its sleeve a video and make it viral. Again. With no apparent reason. This time, it was the turn of the architects David Ben Grünberg and Daniel Woolfson from D*Haus to benefit from the operation. A video edited by Hashem Al-Ghaili and its near 7 million Facebook subscribers for their “dynamic house”, that adapts to the different seasons by folding itself like an origami (project dating from 2009), posted on January 2, 2017, gathered 9 million views in a matter of days. We sought to learn more about it.
D*Dynamic, the modular house from D*Haus (D*Haus video, 2011):
In the London agency they founded, David Ben Grünberg and Daniel Woolfson, both 33, are delighted by this sudden renewed interest. But they are wondering: “We’ve got nothing to do with that. They didn’t ask permission, they just literally copied the thing, uploaded it and it just went crazy.”
The dynamic house was developed for the first time in 2009 by David Ben Grünberg for his final year project at the Manchester School of Architecture. “the house was created for extreme temperatures, he recounts. The original mission was to build a house flexible enough for Lapland, where it is very cold in winter and scorching hot in summer.” He finds inspiration from the tables created in 1987, by his father, an artist himself inspired by the designer of logic puzzles Henry Dudeney (1857-1930), and imagines a house capable of closing on itself to conserve energy or opening on the outside while avoiding too direct an exposure. “It can even chase energy, follow the sun,” explains David.
In architecture, who pays for research?
“How do you convert the idea into reality,” then wonder the architects. Answer: you need money. Not easy, all the more because we were in 2010, the financial crisis had just unfolded and the building presented a load of challenges: how to connect the moving parts to services (water pipes, electricity, etc.), what mechanism to use to move the different parts of the house and control its movements, how to obtain building permits… “The project is so new there is a lot of potential for mistakes and testing. We need some research and development to be done and that needs to be paid for. But by whom? the client? it is a big question.”
Development occurred step by step. First on a small scale, that was the furniture step. The associates created their first prototype with their own pennies, for £1,000 (approx. 1200 €), and ran from one trade fair to the other. In 2011, they found in Corian, the composite material brand that they used for their prototype, a sponsor to build a second prototype. Too expensive (£6,000) to be profitable, it allowed them to move on to the third step, which consisted in going to Denmark to build a wooden version, but still not at full scale.
In 2013, they launched a campaign on Kickstarter, a success (£30,000) they used to finance the transformation of the dynamic house into the D*Table, a reconfigurable table, according to the same principles. They sold around a hundred copies of it. Mission accomplished, thought Ben Grünberg. “We broke into the market with a high quality product”, he noted.
Second step: full scale prototype. In 2014, the architects reported to the Daily Mail that they were working on their first “D*House” in Cambridgeshire. The operation was finally abandoned: too much R&D for the client’s liking, say the architects.
Will 2017 be more conclusive? Last year, the agency started to build a house in Devon, in South West England. “We have been lucky to find clients who wanted a unique house.” If the land was too small to contemplate building a dynamic house—“You need a large radius around the building to allow for its full transformation”—they went for a rotating building. The project widely exceeded the allocated budget (£3.5 million instead of £2.5 million, detailed the architects), “but the clients liked the design so much that they will have a static version built,” they said positively.
Will the dynamic house come to life one day? “Oh yes, we’re going to build it, that’s for sure!” assured Ben Brünberg. “If we don’t believe in it, it won’t happen. And we have made so much progress, from student project to business.” Between two prototypes, the architects are established in London where they build town houses and extensions. “This has helped us develop our own ideas.”
The recent buzz from their video on Hashem Al-Gahaili’s page confirmed that there still is a public interest. “It’s as if the world did not want to let go.” At a time when architecture becomes more and more ecological, progressive, adaptive, responsive…, the house could have some bright days ahead. “We just need one person who is brave enough…” according to Ben Grünberg. And with full pockets: the architects estimate the first full scale prototype at around £5 million (approx. 5.77 million €). Each new house would then cost £2 million (2.3 million €).
Next step? “I don’t know, what would you do?” they reply. We suggest a more modest house, one that can be removed using arm strength, like the Tiny House 359, built in Oregon (United States) by Path Architecture. A modular miniature house might be the best way to transform this dreamed prototype into a tangible reality…