Ken Isaac’s Living Structures and Digital Fabrication

I’ve read through Ken Isaacs’ Living Structure from the 1970s. It’s been really interesting because he believes that altering and building the space that you inhabit “makes you believe in your own reality.” The main reasons why Isaacs wanted people to build their own structures was to save money and take control of the world around you. And it wasn’t just that you built your own spaces for a fraction of the cost; he also wanted to improve the way that we inhabit space with new ideas at the time such as lofting beds and stacking rooms.

2.2.2015 ken isaacs living structure

2.2.2015 ken isaacs living structure 2

Here you can see his idea of a 48″ cube that has storage and two desks. The structure can be taken apart and reconfigured in a different arrangement. They can also be stacked next to each other or on top of one another to form beds and other configurations. The structures are made from 12-18 wood studs with drill holes every 3 inches. The plywood pieces can also be rearranged or added to make the structure more private.

Isaacs loved the idea of using super simple tools such as hand saws and drills for construction because it saved money and kept construction within the reach of a large group of people. I share this goal but with a modern twist: using digital fabrication as the only tool. This may sound like a contradiction, but with digital fabrication shops a person doesn’t need to buy any tools at all. For example, someone could have a membership at a hackerspace that owns a CNC router and cut everything they need without having to lift a tool. The only skill needed is assembling the correct pieces in order.

2.2.2015 ken isaacs plywood versionIn Ken Isaacs’ design, there are 270 holes to mark and drill for every unit. That would make anyone a little crazy after a while. If the whole design was cut and drilled out of plywood on a CNC machine instead, the only work required would be assembling the “stud” members, reducing the amount of steps involved from 270 to 18. Digital fabrication would also be much more precise, making things easier when it is time to assemble the structure.

I’m really interested in the idea of giving this old project new life by creating a cut sheet that can be CNC milled to have an instant lego set to construct a living structure in your home. I will work on translating his old plans into a new digital version and host it on which should only take a few hours of work. I want to work on this project as a way to get myself in the mindset of innovative design and digital fabrication, while also testing what it takes to create digital models in the CAD programs I am using. Stay tuned.

You can check out his book for free here:


One thought on “Ken Isaac’s Living Structures and Digital Fabrication

  1. Marcin Jakubowski, founder of Open Source Ecology, was inspired by this same work when he created his kit-of-parts for industrial machines. I think your idea of resurrecting the wooden set cut with a CNC machine is great! There is great flexibility in giving people a building set, rather than just a built object that has only one purpose. Who knows what people would come up! It seems it would also be possible to create larger pieces that could carry heavier loads for structural applications.


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