Archive for projects

Lyng wins Housing Excellence Awards

Lyng Montage

We congratulate Wendy and all the Lyng Community Association Board on winning the Housing Excellence Award 2014  in the Regeneration Category.

Who would have imagined that all those meetings back in late 2000, those cold and wet evenings, busy weekends workshops and lengthy discussions about the finer points of housing design would be so successful.

Our continued best wishes to all of you and the Lyng residents for sticking with it.

The seeds of Lyng’s rebirth have flowered.

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Weston Heights Neighbourhood Regeneration

Weston-Heights-balancing-pond

In January 2004 Axis Design were interviewed by the Coalville Partnership to undertake an Estate Masterplan for the redevelopment of the Coalville Estate, Stoke on Trent. A decade later members of the Coalville Partnership, Stoke-on-Trent Council officers and members, Compendium Living, Coalville Residents Association, Riverside and residents of the redevelopment now named Weston Heights came together on 23rd January to bury a time capsule containing drawings, public consultation papers, school project work, digital records and a few packets of sweets, scheduled to opened, and maybe eaten, in 2064.

Resident chair Ernie Clarke with Mike Menzies of Axis Design

Resident chair Ernie Clarke with Mike Menzies of Axis Design

It was a fitting culmination to our decade long relationship with the project, as we gathered in the new Neighbourhood Park originally conceived by Tony Goodall as he sketched up the first Masterplan ideas over Christmas 2003. Tony, a local lad, was born in Meir about a mile down the River Blythe from the new park which now has a commemorative wall bearing his name and those of other local residents, officers, friends and relatives.

Robert Flello, local MP, gave the regeneration team a ringing endorsement when he said:

“Weston Heights is the most successful regeneration partnership project in Stoke-on-Trent”

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Custom Build Roundup 2013

2013 has been a busy year at Axis Design for self-build and custom build ideas and projects. Here’s a roundup of all the progress we’re making supporting people looking for alternative choices to the standard housing market.

Stoke-on-Trent Custom Build

Our involvement with one of the UK’s earliest custom build projects has continued this year and we’re delighted to report that the plots have now been sold at auction and 6 families will be embarking on their project in the New Year. The project also won ‘Best Custom Build Scheme’ at the 2013 Build It awards in November.

Collective Custom Build

We shared our experience on the Stoke project with the team at Sheffield Uni behind the Collective Custom Build research project earlier in the year and were proud to take part in the launch event of the final outcome. An extensive resource of information across numerous topics is presented in a very accessible web site accompanied by an explanatory video at collectivecustombuild.org. The site has been a useful tool to help explain the idea behind custom home build to both our clients and resident groups.

Self-Build on a Shoestring

As one of the shortlisted entries to the NaSBA competition to design a house costing less than £50k we also traveled to London to take part in a debate between designers about the different submissions. It was fascinating to compare the construction techniques proposed and the group has begun to discuss the possibility of a ‘shoestring design group’. A video of the event is available online thanks to hosts Ash Sakula.

Custom Build West Midlands Group

If you want to support more opportunities for custom build groups then where better place to start than in your own neighbourhood? We’ve launched a call for group members in the West Midlands and the first meeting will take place in Wolverhampton in January. Sign up at the following web page if you’d like to be added to the contact list: http://tinyurl.com/customhomebuild

Make:Shift 2013

An inspiring collection of community action ideas were presented at this year’s Make:Shift event in Wolverhampton and we were delighted to be able to take part and use it as a platform to launch our West Midlands group. A copy of the presentation used at the event to start a debate on housing is available on the Make:Shift web site.

isoquick-floor-insulationhome4self

Alongside the meetings, debates and drawings there has also been plenty of self-build construction activity with the start on site of a personal project for one of the Directors. The experiment in modern methods of construction using both pre-fabricated and on-site techniques is well under way and progress can be followed on the dedicated web site: home4self.tumblr.com. The full account of the project history can also be found on Rob’s own blog: no2self.net.

Using products and processes taken from numerous areas of research into natural materials, Passivhaus methodology and breathable construction we’ve been able to test ideas that we think are ideal for other self-builders.

We’re looking forward to sharing this experience with clients in 2014. Let us know if you’d like a site visit!

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Blurton Hub – official opening

One of the most enjoyable aspects of our work in community projects is getting to know the neighbourhood we’re working in over a long period of time and being able to see a project through from start to finish. Blurton in Stoke on Trent is one such project that we’ve had the privilege of being a part of and last week we attended the official opening event for the new Blurton Hub community building, alongside the new housing and retail which is now complete.

Blurton Hub opening

A project like this has involved many people and organisations over many years, not least of which is the Blurton Farm Resident Association we first met during our initial masterplanning consultation many years ago. Their dedication has been central to the success of the project and we’re looking forward to keeping in touch in the coming months to help them manage their new building and its green technology.

Here’s Christine Pratt, the resident group leader, quoted in the local press about the opening:

“This is a vision that we have had for over 15 years so it is fantastic to see it completed. The hub and new homes are already having a massive impact and making changes to people’s lives.”

Congratulations to Christine and her colleagues and best wishes for the future of the new facility at the heart of Blurton’s community.

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Self Build on a Shoestring

As part of our work to develop new cost effective self-build strategies we recently prepared a submission to the NaSBA Self Build on a Shoestring competition. Although we weren’t successful it was great to see that a number of submissions had proposed a similar concept to ours, exploring the possibilities of single storey housing. The construction proposal is based on what we’ve learnt on one of our current live projects; Rob’s own self-build project called home4self.

We’ll be sharing more about that in the coming weeks, in the meantime here’s our idea for a house costing less than £50k…

*update*: Delighted to find that our proposal was displayed at the Grand Designs Live show as part of the top 16 entries.

£50k house

the 50k house isn’t a design problem, it’s a procurement problem – building a house on a tight budget demands easy to organise packages of work, simple construction and a combination of the best of both on-site and off-site techniques to ensure fixed prices and predictable program – we believe the single storey house has an important role to play in the future of UK housing and is ideally suited to self-build skills…

Single storey, modern methods of construction and easy to manage packages of work.

Our proposal is designed to consider carefully the benefits of combining simple on-site construction processes that could be undertaken by an enthusiastic self-builder alongside the price and performance certainty delivered by off-site prefabrication. We have chosen to explore a single storey house typology. Although this decision brings greater challenges with both the energy performance and ground works, we believe that the benefits to living quality, adaptability and ease of construction make the bungalow a worthwhile investment.

One of the greatest challenges for a self-builder is the day to day management of material delivery, storage and plant and equipment required to control health and safety issues of working at height. Using modern methods of construction we aim to provide a large water tight space quickly that allows the self-builder to proceed in a more easily managed process internally. By overlapping ground floor construction and off-site manufacture the initial program of works can be completed quickly with certainty over fixed prices for the bulk of the superstructure. Items of joinery such as stairs and service walls are intended to be designed and manufactured following a pattern that can be repeated cost effectively using CNC routing technology. The prices stated for the pre-fabricated timber frame also assume a standardised panel size that can be called off by self-builders following a common house type plan. The layout of the design has been developed such that it can be mirrored or handed in various ways to suit orientation without changing the fundamental construction dimensions.

Once the superstructure is complete the interior can be fitted out easily thanks to the efficient arrangement of plumbing and heating layouts that will require minimum labour and material to commission and avoid potential for delays and unforeseen costs thanks to colliding orders of trade.

The central service zone contributes not only to the ease of construction but also the ability to extend easily in future at either end of the building or into the entrance porch, without major alterations to mechanical and electrical layouts. The installation of an MVHR unit in the centre of the plan also reduces complex duct runs and maximises efficiency of performance.

Open plan living places the kitchen at the heart of the house. Our courtyard entrance strategy provides daylight to the centre of the plan and creates a useful external storage area. By completing the roof in pre-insulated panels the higher levels of the pitched roof can be left open above living spaces and enclosed over bedroom areas to provide ample storage.

We believe this is a house that future self-build families could be encouraged to undertake and project manage their own construction when offered a design that is easy to imagine and plan the work required, both in scale and order of trades.

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Meon Grove completed

Our latest completed project for Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust is looking great in the sunshine. The final phase of flats has now been occupied alongside the houses that were handed over a few months ago and this morning we’ve been out in Garretts Green to take a few photos.

Meon_Grove-flats-entrance

Garretts Green, begun in 1939 and completed in 1960, was to developed to rehouse people from inner-city slum dwellings and many of its public buildings shared features of municipal modernism often dubbed ‘moderne’ because of its streamlined and Art Deco motifs.

Meon Grove, a development of 18 flats and 13 family houses, takes its lead from this and in its prominent position, provides a significant new landmark in the area. The three storey flats are an unusual triangular arrangement around common staircases, embracing the two retained trees at each corner with parking/storage underneath.

Their style reinterprets 30’s moderne, a deliberate attempt to lighten the rather heavy post-war municipal housing by alluding to inter-war modernist flats in Europe and America’s west coast, particularly those by Schindler & Neutra.

Meon_Grove-flats-street-front

The composition of brick base with render panels, carefully composed windows and balconies serve to give the flats an urbane quality, as opposed to being enlarged versions of two storey houses. The new housing is closely related in material and window treatments with box bay windows used as visual markers on corners and threshold gables.

Meon_Grove-flats-corner Meon_Grove-flats-corner-balconies

Thanks to the whole team for their work on the project, we’ve enjoyed collaborating with Jessup Brothers, Capita, Stewart & Harris and BCC. The success of BMHT continues and this was also recognised again last night with an RTPI award for planning excellence.

(the design process was also featured in a past blog post about our use of BIM and BMHT)

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Greenbuild Awards 2013

Last week we attended the Greenbuild Expo in Manchester, exploring innovative products such as load bearing insulation for thermal bridge reduction and recycled plastics for external works. We also had the pleasure of being finalists in the Greenbuild Awards.

The Greenbuild Awards 2013 recognise true achievement looking for low-energy buildings that go the extra mile to reduce their environmental impact. The Blurton Community Hub in Stoke on Trent was a finalist within the Breakthrough Award for Innovation. The building features integrated low energy measures including a 33kw GSHP, 9kw PV roof mounted arrays, large scale heat recovery system solar thermal water heating, infra red lighting controls and rainwater storage and recycling. We are monitoring the buildings performance against its expected BREEAM Excellent rating and will use the info to assist the successful future management of the building.

The building is part of the Ingestre Square development, a phased mixed use project including housing, flats, commercial/retail units as well as the Hub and its community garden. The project, due to be completed this summer, is being developed by Aspire Housing Group and Stoke on Trent City Council.

Our thanks to our clients, our project team colleagues Poole Dick Associates, RED Landscape, and Sustain, and the contractor Kier Partnership Homes.

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Building Information Models – BIM and BMHT

Construction is well underway on Meon Grove, one of our projects for Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT). We’re working with Jessup Brothers Ltd who are building 12 houses and 18 flats to Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4 using a predominantly ‘fabric-first’ strategy. This is the first project we’ve developed as a full Building Information Model (BIM) at all stages since we took the decision to switch the whole office over to Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD last year and the benefits for all involved have been clear to see. From the simple improvements in coordination between storeys during planning and drawing work, through to the detailed discussions and testing of steel fabrication requirements or mechanical services, the project team has used the 3D model in numerous ways.

Team meetings often take place with the model projected on the wall running directly in ArchiCAD, allowing us to interrogate any part of the building and test ideas by making live adjustments. Using both BIMx and Tekla BIMsight we’ve also been able to issue the model to others in a format that allows them to view the information on their own machines without additional training of hardware requirements. We issue the files using our online project management tool – Basecamp, ensuring that file sizes and e-mail constraints don’t prevent access.

Whilst full integration and use of the model on screen is the obvious goal with BIM, the value of simply improving drawing output with more 3D information should not be overlooked. Being able to better understand the overall geometry of the buildings thanks to wireframes or cut-away sections has also been welcomed by the site management.

The construction sector has been debating the cost of BIM adoption exhaustively for several years and much discussion centres around the value of the return on investment, particularly for small practices like ours. Our experience in this first year of full adoption has proved to us on many occasions that moving to BIM tools was the right decision. Choosing to offer BIM output as a standard part of our service on all our projects in future is how we intend to continue improving our service and providing value to our clients. Next comes the challenge of working with other BIM ready clients and contractors to explore all the possibilities of a complete virtual building model, from concept to construction and on to hand over and facilities management… Who’s up for it?

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Custom Home Build Finance

Custom Home Build continues to get the support it deserves from numerous organisations, funders and commentators at the moment and financial support for self-build groups being provided by the government is helping to kickstart a number of projects. These early adopters will get to explore all the ways that building a home for your family can be so uniquely challenging from not only a construction and financial point of view but a personal and emotional one as well. We hope to be starting work shortly with the seven residents fortunate enough to take part in the first Custom Home Build site in Stoke on Trent, having recently achieved outline planning approval in Penkhull for the first of what the council hope will be several sites across the city.

We’ve had two evening events (launch event in Stoke on Trent shown on the left) to meet the potential investors so far, along with the team from Buildstore who are offering financial and project management support. We couldn’t have been more delighted by turnout, the variety of people who came to see us and the breadth of ideas and aspirations they hoped to bring to their new home. Talking through the ways an architect might assist on a self-build project was very useful to us as well as the residents themselves, as we’re determined to ensure we can provide as much input as possible within the confines of the ordinary self-build budget. We kicked off with a virtual model of the street to help set the scene for the Penkhull project (left) and it’s clear to us that innovative use of BIM technology is going to be a crucial part of what we provide. The level of commitment from residents to energy saving measures as a fundamental principle of a project was also deeply encouraging in a market that so often struggles to ascribe any value to the ‘green £’.

The importance of the relationship between energy, building strategy and finance is also fundamentally linked to the success of Custom Home Build because the backbone of this market will be the lenders. Whilst there are several mortgage packages available for self-build already – tailored to staged release of funds as a building progresses – there is much still to be done with the relationship between estimated property value, the technical performance of the fabric and the resulting reduction in bills and monthly outgoings.

We had the pleasure of attending the Build It Magazine awards yesterday (right) and shared a table with one of the lenders who may be involved in our project. The common ground between architect and mortgage lender proved to lie in the field of building warranty and the predictable concerns over innovation. If a construction process or material choice proves to be unsupported by the necessary structural warranty provider then the lender is too exposed. The key issue here – and perhaps the one that is most easily forgotten – is the longer life of the building beyond the original self-builder. Even if they and the original lender agree between themselves that a particular approach represents no risk, what if a future lender during a later sale (or, dare we say it, following repossession) has no confidence in it?

Rob’s personal experience of a self-build valuation process, involving completing a form that contained questions that were twenty years out of date, has recently served as a timely reminder that those of us enthused by the prospect of helping more people build their own home must make sure we include the bank or building society in the design team.

It’s no exaggeration to say that we can’t wait to get the Penkhull project moving, and we look forward to taking the mortgage lender with us on the journey.

Read some of our other posts in the Self Build Category.

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BMHT and the Pype Hayes Estate

Axis Design joined the team of Architects for Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT) in 2009. Since then we’ve worked on a number of sites, 5 of which are now complete. This important work to deliver quality homes for Birmingham City Council continues and we’ve had a busy few months working on several new sites. As things stand, we currently have 2 sites which have been submitted for planning approval (image below right) and we have recently gained planning permission for a scheme in Bartley Green. Additionally, work is underway on a site in Sheldon and we recently attended the official opening event for 27 new homes we designed at Pype Hayes.

The homes at Pype Hayes have been a particularly interesting project for us. Back in 1989, Axis were appointed in an advisory capacity to the Pype Hayes Steering Group. Pype Hayes was an estate of over 1300 Boswell homes built in the 1930’s, but the buildings were designated defective and local residents formed a steering group in order to have control over the changes to the estate that were so desperately needed. Our involvement with the steering group led to our appointment as Masterplanners and Concept Architects for the wider masterplan of the entire estate.

Our involvement with the Pype Hayes resident group continued and the final phases of the development of the estate was to be delivered under BMHT. Serendipitously for us, we had already been appointed to the architect’s framework for BMHT and the design of 27 individual homes which would form the final phase of the development fell to us. We were able to call on 20 years experience of working on the estate – we know the area well, we know the residents, and we were able to apply our experience of social housing design to ensure high quality homes for the final group of new residents.

It was a pleasure for us to work with the residents group again – they saw us as old friends thanks to our one-to-one work with them previously. Working closely with them, assisted by Waterloo Housing Association and supported by Birmingham City Housing Department throughout the last couple of decades means we have helped deliver a successful transformation on the estate. Retaining an involvement for 23 years makes this our longest running project since Axis Design was formed 30 years ago.

A key handover event was held at the end of September 2012 to celebrate the success of the project, to recognise the hard work and dedication of the residents steering group, and to mark the completion of this last phase of works. The final 27 homes were delivered by Keepmoat Homes on behalf of BMHT in a process overseen by Capita Symonds. The photo (above left) shows representatives from the Pype Hayes residents group with Councillor Tahir Ali (3rd from left) at the key handover event last month.

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