Birmingham City Council were concerned about the number of housing clearance sites which lay within the floodplain of local rivers and asked us to propose generic housetypes which could be resistant to flooding using low cost, robust and maintainable technologies within the cost/construction parameters of social housing.
The result was a range of 2 to 5 bedroom terraced and semi-detached types designed with carefully developed external and internal levels to resist flooding to depth of up to 1.2m without significant damage to the fabric.
Extensive hydrological modeling was undertaken in collaboration with Hydroland Consultancy and two demonstration project sites are due to commence construction in 2020.
SHAP (Sustainable Housing Action Partnership) needed expert advice to assist in the development of a housing design performance standard document.
This short piece of research resulted in a matrix of recommended measures demonstrating how the existing history of best practice guidance, policy documents and regulations can be called upon to provide a simple strategy for stepped improvement.
In addition to the matrix of recommendations and links, a diagram was created to both explain the proposal and provide a tool for future critical analysis of schemes. Envisioned as the first step in possible future recommendations, it is hoped that future interest around the West Midlands will allow testing, development and adoption.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
Together with our project partners at Brooks Devlin, Capita Symonds and EH Smith, along with specialist product suppliers, we gathered together 17 housing associations and representatives from the HCA to share Passivhaus construction principles at a dedicated event in Birmingham City Centre on 21st February.
Our affordable PassivHaus project was initially created in response to a call for solutions by the BRE in 2011. The event was an opportunity share our knowledge with developers interested in how to design and build Passivhaus standard housing. We began with presentations from the design team to explain the technicalities and design based on passivHaus principles, followed by an exhibition from specialist product suppliers.
Responses to the presentations from our audience addressed important questions about lifecycle costings, ongoing maintenance, simplification of mechanical and electrical engineering in early design stages and alternative systems.
Over the last few months we have been carrying out a detailed R&D project into making Passivhaus design principles a financially viable option for social housing. Working alongside environmental designers, and certified European Passivhaus consultants Brooks Devlin, our proposals for an affordable Passivhaus were created initially in response to a call for solutions by the BRE Passivhaus competition in 2011.
We took up the challenge to develop our proposals further because we think that construction standards in the UK will require a significant move towards Passivhaus principles. We are launching the project at an event in February aimed at local authorities and housing associations in order to disprove the myths surrounding Passivhaus build costs and share our research.
If you’d like to talk to us about our work and find out more about projects such as Queens Road or ecoterrace.co.uk, please come and visit us at the Climate Change Festival next week. We’ll be taking part in ‘Green Technology Day’ on Wednesday 4th June.
The event was a great success and we thoroughly enjoyed talking to everyone who visited the event. Here’s the video we prepared to show on the screens placed around the city’s square:
Axis Design Director, Rob Annable, will be attending Think 08 next week and taking part in the session at 4:30pm on the 7th, thanks to an invite to present from Phil Clark.
Here’s the summary of the session:
Embracing the existing estate and communities
What’s already built is a much greater part of our built environment than new development. How do we tackle the existing estate to deliver greater sustainability in social, economic and environmental terms? A panel will discuss the issues generated and solutions required by outdated workplaces, ageing housing stock and the sustainability problems they cause. This will include a consideration or legislative hurdles in tackling the built stock as well as a live example of green refurbishment work being carried out on Victorian properties in Newcastle-Under-Lyme.
Chair: Denise Chevin, Editor, Building
Kate Symons, Associate Director, Building Research Establishment
David Strong, Chief Executive, Inbuilt Consulting,
Rob Annable, Director, Axis Design Architects
Dr Douglas Robertson, Head of Applied Social Sciences, Stirling University
and Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Roger Hawkins, Director, Hawkins Brown
Notes from a recent trip to the Ecobuild conference:
It goes like this: DETR figures state that for a neighbourhood to be served by a viable transport network you need 5000 dwellings. To design a ‘walkable’ neighbourhood we should provide all key facilities within a 10 minute walk. This defines an area contained within a circle of 600m radius. Take away the space recognised as necessary for communal facilities and roads and you’re left with a dwelling density of 50 per hectare.
Cue a series of images showing potential layouts at 50 per hectare, which MacCormac admitted himself was barely the beginning of any qualitative judgement of the resulting spaces. His key point, touched on throughout the presentation, was how this qualitative judgement is dependent on an improved understanding of the net vs. gross density – or, crudely put, the houses vs. the spaces.
He’s absolutely right and there’s a thread across this entry that moves from the CABE audit I mentioned earlier (which has much to say about better highways integration), to the car free environment of Trystan Edward’s terraces (whose high density probably land back at about 50 when you introduced parking), through the Span story of quality landscape better mediating the Radburn car/pedestrian divorce, to the shifting tessellations of MacCormac’s houses and gardens.
Full notes on all the speakers can be found on Rob’s weblog: no2self.net