When someone says “prefabricated housing,” boxy single-story homes or trailers often come to mind. But Rizal Muslimin’s modular buildings aren’t manufactured in a factory, shipped out, and plopped down hundreds of miles away. Instead, he’s fused computational science with traditional Indonesian weaving and beading patterns to create buildings that can be customized on the ground.
Last month, Muslimin, an architecture PhD candidate at MIT, won second place in the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Prize for the Visual Arts with his “post-mortar” architecture project. Working with “woven” timber and polyhedral clay bricks strung into walls, Muslimin designed three separate structures and traveled to Indonesia to test them.
There, in the ancient mountain village Kete Kesu in Indonesia’s Tana Toraja region, Muslimin worked with local craftsmen over the course of one month trip last summer. In the absence of his usual machinery and with an abundance of wood, he collaborated with local carpenters to cut short pieces of timber that fit together in similar “woven” walls. It took two days to cut the wood, but less than a full day to assemble the structure without nails or mortar.
“In this industry, long beams are considered more expensive than shorter ones,” Muslimin said. “We didn’t use any additional binding materials. We didn’t use nails. In a remote area where they only have wood and [corrugated] steel, this reduces construction costs.”
Muslimin also built multifaceted clay “beads” that can be strung on thin wires and assembled into walls. A builder can use several different patterns of BeadBricks to allow in different amounts of light and heat.
These structures still need to be tested for resilience and longevity, but Muslimin says that he’s already gotten a lot of interest from locals and those interested in post-disaster architecture.
“That was not really my original intention,” Muslimin said. He just wanted to demonstrate the wealth of knowledge that can be derived from traditional craftsmanship and show that futuristic architecture needn’t be kept as a separate discipline. “But even when we built these structures, local people approaching this were asking us about it. It’s one of the projects I want to pursue, especially after the typhoon in the Philippines,” he added.