After winning the NaCSBA ‘Starter Home on a Shoestring’ competition and viewing all the shortlisted entries, most of which are modular, it seems to me, that it now even more pressing for us as a country, to consider embracing new methods of delivering homes. Of course this is not a new conversation (MMC, £60k home competition, etc, etc), but unlike many other countries, we still do not seem to have a clear strategy on how we can deliver the self- and custom-build homes that people want.
The ‘SNUG’ home which we have designed in collaboration with Ecomotive (a self-build & custom build social enterprise) is an ideal example of what modular self-build housing could offer to the market, and it’s realistic.
The ‘SNUG’ is based upon a part self-build, part pre-fabricated process. The pre-fabricated structural core ensures greater control over cost, materials and speed, while the finishing can be undertaken by the occupants, giving people the opportunity to benefit from the flexibility, new skills and creativity of self-build.
The SNUG concept evolved from a desire to enable people to achieve affordable, compact, well designed, quality homes and is aimed primarily at those finding themselves priced out of the market. By combining pre-fabrication with self-build, the concept makes it easier for people to 'do it themselves', rather than rely on builders, developers or manufacturers for a new home. Those less keen to get ‘hands-on’ can also have their new home finished by the in-house team.
Community integration has always been at the heart of the ‘Snug’ and our flexible design and stacking method extends beyond the usual detached ‘Grand Design’ self-build home to provide more communal configurations: semi-detached, terraces and apartments or even more collective ways of living such as co-housing. The entirely flexible design further enables a broad use and appeal to different markets; from young to old, individuals to groups, urban in-fill to rural ‘cottages’.
The process of construction is also used to promote the sense of community; the production of the homes takes places in a community housing 'factory', where self-builders can learn the necessary skills and construct their homes in a controlled environment. By bringing people together to be involved in the make-up and build of their homes, we foster buy-in, a sense of place and commitment to the overall community.
If you look at all of the above, aren't these the ingredients we are striving to create in new communities? Homes like ‘Snug’ could be an important part of larger more traditional developments. Its offsite construction enable it to be smoothly integrated amongst the typical mainstream house builder product, smartly avoiding many of the concerns about self-build areas on larger developments. They could provide the affordable, diverse, creative and adaptive new places that we strive to create, whilst importantly offering a quick and eco-friendly way of building.
Given the speed and ability for these bespoke new homes to be easily slotted into sites and their community role, we could also look to integrate them into say vacant high street plots; filling the gaps with a residential offer that can rejuvenate the high street, bringing activity and life.
In his speech at the ‘Planning for Housing’ conference in September, Gavin Barwell recognised there is no ‘silver bullet’ to solve the UK’s housing problems and today has said modular housing could be a ‘huge opportunity’ with an ‘announcement’ to help build 100,000 prefabs over this parliament.
Self and custom-build can work alongside the main housebuilders. By using this modular approach, homes like ‘Snug’, can help alleviate our acute housing crisis and they could do it quickly with clear benefits for the community.
I believe these types of homes could be our affordable homes of the (near) future, but this will only happen if there is a shift in thinking and greater support for this way of building. Richard Bacon’s ‘Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill’ was a boost to the industry, but this needs to be followed by some productive action.
The Government support revealed today is of course welcomed and we eagerly await further details in the Housing White Paper to be launched next month. Meanwhile I challenge planners, mortgage providers, house builders – to all think about and back this more varied approach to building affordable, attractive and low-energy homes, as many of our European neighbours do.
Maybe if we all keep talking about it, and more importantly exploring the possibilities, as we are with SNUG Homes, it will happen.
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Self-build, Prefab, modular