07958 414759  

Single Blog Title

This is a single blog caption

The Great British Shake Up

The philosophy towards the way we should build new homes needs to evolve quicker than we ever anticipated. On this basis we decided at Envelope Architects to have a shot at becoming a home manufacturer as the complimentary part to the Custom Build Developer or the enabler. The enabler’s role is to obtain a type of multiple-choice planning permission, install the road and services to the plots and can organise a self-build mortgage for the plot buyer. The enabler also selects half a dozen home manufacturers for the plot buyer to choose their dream home design from. The beauty of this is that there is a lot more choice for the home buyer, the enabler has less risk as they don’t build houses no one wants and finally Architects (as a major stakeholder) can provide interesting designs for the mass housing market. This Dutch method of development is on the up and lends itself very well to the off-site construction sector that is also growing due to the enormity of demand and lack of skilled labour to deliver housing targets. I am a big believer of mass production with mass personalisation and feel that the Fourth Industrial Revolution can deliver this with more effective Architectural results.

With this in mind I attended the Off-Site Construction Show 2016 at ExCeL in London and Construction Week at the NEC to find out who were the leaders in the world of manufacturing buildings in a factory. The seminars seemed to be a-buzz with the possibilities of building ‘off-site’ to deliver the huge housing demand. In addition, Scape Group’s research study showed that 2,000 new schools must be built with 24,000 extra classrooms over the next four years to accompany the additional housing. There is also a growing demand for space hungry dark box sheds for data centres and e-commerce giants as the internet continues to grow in scale.
The crisis goes much wider for the Government than building houses – it is about creating homes and great places for people to enjoy living in – we have produced high quality experiences for the collective to enable Britain to prosper. 
There is another concern, less people want to join the construction industry – it has an image problem. It is apparent to me that our buildings need to become more desirable, more playful and more sophisticated. We could start by making the designs of the 24,000 classrooms required places that ignite children’s imaginations. There is a real reluctance to produce something quirky in this sector due to a fear of appearing ‘frivolous’ with taxpayer’s money and Children’s Services worry about over-stimulating the pupils.

We recently produced a terraced house design to celebrate sculptural living we named ‘Bloom’. We have suggested applying various sculptural plates to essentially the typical terrace house box. We felt that this would promote individualism and add a premium feel to people’s homes. There is a feeling of live/work and potential pop-up retail about the street making a more 24 hour enlivened place compared to the lonely looking streets of Suburbia. The Great British public deserve imaginative house designs, they drive the latest gorgeous cars and use beautifully crafted electronic products. If we had our way we would swap Antiques Roadshow with Dyson’s Roadshow and get us looking forward rather than back. James Dyson now has a Dyson Foundation and Award programme. Wallowing in nostalgia for days gone by and recreating them for evermore tends to aid mostly the recycling of the same material and the companies who fall in this category but can stifle the take up of other aesthetics and new comers. The Pioneers of yesteryear might be flattered but would they also not think it odd to continue to reference the past and create pastiche? Faux Italian classical pillars on quaint village new build terraces? As a museum island alone would we inspire forthcoming generations to find their own footing and have a voice? There are geniuses and talents in every generation but we have to make sure we are being facilitators as well as story tellers.

I shared our house designs with some System Build companies and off-site Associations at the trade shows and was disappointed by their rather unambitious responses. They all seemed to think that the brilliance of off-site is that buildings that are built in a factory can look like buildings that are traditionally built but in a quicker time period. They didn’t think that they or anybody else in Britain could build such sculptural designs for the mass housing market – this is a very worryingly safe attitude to take. I believe that by building in clean, modern and automated factories we can produce the most extraordinary and joyful high quality buildings.

There are obviously pressures on land to receive all the buildings that are required. A lot of land has been deemed unsuitable to built on as it either labeled as too risky because of the concerns of flooding, or it is green field land and must be kept as countryside. Our Orbital Housing concept can be built on flood plains and has an elevated wilderness park and roof gardens running through it. This concept is therefore appropriate for thousands of acres of land not considered viable to build upon. Our view is that the ground floor could be produced with a 3d printed concrete methodology, with the upper parts produced off-site – hybrid systems do exist but are not geared to the inclusion of printing parts of buildings as yet.

Our Sunglasses House concept can be placed on steep sites with reduced land cost as it thought to be too difficult to build on. Again with a modern approach to construction this is more feasable, we are fans of the studies been generated around fabric shuttering for pouring concrete either in-situ or as components within factory conditions. This amazing approach can save significant amounts of concrete required, but has not been embraced by the construction giants.

At Envelope Architects we penned a number of sculptural cabins (we call the Pod and the Perch) that can go off-grid. Our submission entry for an ideas competition for Icelandic Trekking Lodges utilised the Aluminium Stressed Skin Monocoque Hulls, a technology used in the boat building industry. We have also been developing a series of dwellings that can float, with (Ductal) concrete lower parts and lightweight frames to upper parts above the water line. How can it be that my small Architectural Practice is investing so much resource into finding and promoting new ways to construct buildings and the giants are too scared to trial prototypes with what could be considered loose change to them. I also consider it the core duty of the large construction trade shows to have a Future’s Building Technology and/or Architectural stand. They should also deliver more radical seminars around the role that the fourth industrial revolution could play in the future.

I am sure that I am not alone with my views. The UK has a massive demand that is great for those involved in the industry – we just need to ensure that the supply products generated becomes the envy of the world.   

Leave a Reply