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Marmalade Festival 2018: Alternative Housing Solutions for Oxford

This week we were at Marmalade engaging in all things housing, as the Festival explored this year’s theme on ‘place-based approaches to social change’.

Marmalade is a more informal, open-access, fringe event to the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Both Oxford based, they run parallel to each other every year. What is great about Marmalade is that it is powered by it’s participants and engaged with by members of the local community (and wider) who are focussed on tackling social and environmental challenges.

Speaking about Co-housing examples at Community Led Housing Event

Transition by Design invited our director, Clare Nash, to speak about co-housing at their event on community-led housing on Wednesday 11th April. A few of the team have attended Marmalade events in previous years so it was great for Clare Nash Architecture to get involved this time too! In order to explain co-housing, Clare spoke about some project examples in her book ‘Contemporary Vernacular Design- How British Housing can Rediscover it’s Soul’; Sieben Linden, Germany and Copper Lane, London. A couple of key elements were; sharing of resources, higher quality housing and reduced loneliness.

Clare Nash speaking about ‘co-housing’ at Marmalade

Alternative Housing Models in Oxford

The event was intended for housing providers on the delivery of alternative housing models in Oxford. The two-hour session started off by discussing and identifying current barriers and challenges that housing providers face when thinking outside the box for housing typology. Following this, the conversation developed in smaller groups under the guidance of experts in the fields of planning, land, construction and custom-splitting; to think about any opportunities and ways we can work together to overcome some of these barriers. The workshop was quite fast-paced but with such varied experience in the room, it really got us thinking about more aspects to community-led housing than just the design of it.

Tricky problems – finance and land…

It was clear that a major sticking point when it comes to delivery of community-led housing is finance- we need a profession mindset shift here to make required financing more accessible. Also, thinking about this in the urban context of Oxford, another tricky element is land. The majority of Clare Nash Architecture’s projects are rural, so we do not usually have problems with people actually finding land. However, we do experience the challenges surrounding the viability of land for development etc. and these can be frustrating and cause project delays- not something we or our clients want to go through!

Clare and I really enjoyed discussing topics we believe will support more sustainable, affordable housing that will respond to the current quality of housing and it was a great opportunity to do so with other people who are passionate about making a difference!

More Marmalade events – Co-living and Co-housing

On day three of Marmalade, I attended Art Earth Tech’s workshop on ‘co-living’ where I learnt more about the differences behind terms like ‘co-housing’, ‘co-living’ etc. In brief, they explained co-living to be sharing your main living spaces e.g. kitchen, living, washing with smaller private areas; while co-housing is more about having your own private home with private amenities whilst still having some shared resources and spaces. Co-living isn’t a crazy new idea…many of us do it/have done it at university or in shared housing such as Housing of Multiple Occupation (HMO). However, in Oxford, these can often be of poor quality with little attention paid to the environmental benefits of shared living or integrating the community/residents into the design, maintenance or general running of the dwelling(s).

Penny, Tom and Naima from Art Earth Tech shared interesting information on their project including statistics on household environmental impact- some of which were astounding. Did you know that the average household produces 26 tons of waste greenhouse gases per year? To offset that in CO2 equivalent terms, we would need to plant 150 trees with a lifespan of 100 years each…that is a lot of trees!

In teams we spent an hour developing our ideal urban co-living community with each of the four groups coming up with something different including; a transition community of 100 young professionals living on their own for the first time, retrofitting an existing building for multi-generational residents under the cooperative or community land trust model for rent and a highbred co-housing, co-living self-sustaining community. The fact that every table came up with a different project just goes to show the opportunity for more types of housing like this and the varied social groups it could benefit.

Co-living design workshop at Marmalade

This was another fun session to get our thinking caps on and think both creatively and strategically about what a co-living community is, could be and make actionable and sustainable in an urban environment. I particularly enjoyed engaging with the variety of experience in the room which varied from super clued up on this topic to a new and tentative interest; in addition to meeting people with a shared interest in more sustainable, community orientated housing.

The rest of the festival was packed full of other ways to approach social and environmental change including; food waste, local volunteering and one planet living. Overall Marmalade was great and we are excited to continue the conversation on alternative housing models in Oxford (and wider), so that housing can be more sustainable. Sustainable in terms of affordability, energy efficiency and shared values, while simultaneously more communal with the residents and local community integral to the design process and ongoing maintenance of the residence.

Check out our other blogs on co-housing here: http://clarenasharchitecture.co.uk/portfolio/inspiring-housing-design-blogs/

Should we Move or Extend?

To Move, Extend, Build, or Fix-up?

 

Move or extend?Sometimes, things just get a bit cramped at home. Mum, dad, two kids, one on the way, and a dog. Not to mention Barbie, Ken and all their mates. We have all been there, more people, animals and toys and less space to move around. There comes a time where most homeowners will think:

This house is just not big enough anymore

Or perhaps you have been there, done that, all your kids have grown up and moved out and you are ready to down size.

We need to downsize!

Perhaps you just want better quality, more usable spaces and more light.

We need to move abroad!

Maybe you are thinking of retirement and need spaces suitable for a less able bodied person

 We need a retirement bungalow!

Time to buy a new house?

But, you have looked at other houses available on Rightmove and found what you want is hard to find or significantly more expensive than you can afford. Also, you like the area where you are living, do you really want to leave?

Moving could be the answer; but, it does not have to be.

There are other options, such as:

  • Extending and adapting your own home to provide the space you need,
  • Building the dream home you have always wanted (to your budget)
  • Buying a fixer-upper and making it your own.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If so you will be thinking:

How do I know if I can afford it?

How do I ensure the value of my house goes up, not down?

What if buying a bigger house is actually cheaper in the end?

Won’t I struggle with planning regulations, building control, finding a builder?

How can I ensure costs don’t spiral out of control?

Would you like to know the answers to all of these questions and be able to move forward with your dream home plans?

If so, read more about our Home Appraisal service here.

 

February 27, 2018
Should we Move or Extend?

Should we buy a barn to convert into a dwelling?

barn to convertHere is a real story that might help you decide if you should buy a barn to convert….

Jake and Amy* had been dreaming of building their own home for a long time. One day, while walking their favourite route through a nearby village, they saw a for sale sign on a barn. A quick google revealed it was for sale at auction and an open day was coming up.

They were really excited about the possibility of living in a barn conversion

and even more so in a place they loved so much.

However, at the open day, there were lots of other interested parties scribbling notes and talking in hushed tones. Jake and Amy assumed the others were developers or builders and knew a lot more than they did about the potential opportunities and pitfalls of converting a barn like this one.

They felt out of their depth and unable to move forward.

If they were to go to the auction they feared spending too much. They feared not being able to afford to convert the barn. They feared that they wouldn’t be allowed to convert the barn due to planning restrictions.

What a disaster that would be!

Luckily for them they found an architecture firm when researching barn conversions online. They discovered an Appraisal service which put their fears at rest.

The Appraisal service gave them:

  • Ball park figures for the conversion cost – so they knew they could afford to convert the barn and it gave them a maximum figure to bid at the auction
  • Research into local planning policies – these showed a barn conversion would be seen favourably by planners in that area
  • It also highlighted potential build problems (such as drainage and underpinning) as well as solutions to overcome these

The Appraisal meant they could go to the barn auction with confidence.

Jake and Amy were delighted to win the barn with the highest bid and rang up the architecture firm in great excitement and almost disbelief

– now everything was in place for all their dreams to come true!

Since then they have been working with the same firm on designs for their dream home and will be submitting their planning application this month!

If their story resonates with you and you would like to speak to us about our Appraisal service, you can read more here or contact us here

*The names have been changed but the stories are real

February 13, 2018
Should we buy a barn to convert into a dwelling?

Pastiche Free Zone

Contemporary Vernacular Architecture should never be about ‘Pastiche’, here’s why…

Pastiche free zone - Mole Architects

Above: Broadland Housing by Mole Architects

What is Pastiche?

There is much stigma around the term, but what exactly does ‘Pastiche’ mean? To put it simply, pastiche in Architecture refers to the imitation of style or character of other buildings. The term is not negative however it often has negative connotations, with the belief that the use of ‘pastiche’ within architecture produces unauthentic reproductions of the past.

Why do housebuilders use ‘Pastiche’?

There is something comforting about old things, this goes with old buildings too – it is a common fact that people like historic buildings. They have some sort of warmth about them (even if they can be very cold!), a sense of mystery and unknown, provoking us to use our imagination to conceive what was, how it was used and how it was built. Form, details, and embellishment presented within the architecture convey care and skill, speaking of another time and telling stories which teach us about our history, cultivating pride in our past and heritage. The problem is that:

 

British volume housebuilders offer their own warped version, at scale, arguing that we all like the ‘traditional’. But this is wrong…. We all like vernacular architecture because it speaks to us of our home, of our place or our people. But the same brick box applied numerous times whether you are in Norfolk or Devon has nothing to do with ‘traditional’. (quote from Clare’s book)

 

Not only this, but architects in Holland (FARO architekten) initiated a taste test to establish what people want from housing design:

 

The ‘Smaaktest’ 6 (taste test) …. discovered that both architects and ordinary people agreed that this new third way [Contemporary Vernacular Architecture] was better than a pastiche of the past or the complete disassociation found in Modernist design. (quote from Clare’s book)

 

Why housing design should learn from but not imitate the past

We can’t recreate the past

All these wonderful things about historic buildings however, cannot be authentically reproduced. We cannot truly recreate or replicate what has already been done, and attempts to do so can often end up as untruthful and unconvincing imitations of the past leading to a superficial echoing of historic character.

 

Contemporary architecture can learn from vernacular principles without resorting to pastiche, creating high-quality buildings that ‘fit’ in the same way that vernacular architecture does but reflecting a very different time. (quote from Clare’s book)

 

HHbR Copper Lane cohousing terrace

Above: Copper Lane by HHbR

Originality does not mean outlandish

It is true that it is almost impossible to design something completely unique that has not been done before. However, architecture does not insist on absolute newness or creating a bold statement, it just needs to have a sense of originality. We should always be learning from vernacular and historic architecture, and they should undoubtedly influence our judgement but should not impend our innovation and inspiration for new ideas and design. It is important to consider that one day, the building which we design will be old too, and in the future will represent and speak of our time today.

Lessons from our past

It is quite incredible what our ancestors have accomplished architecturally and we can learn a great deal from them. For many architects, it is hard to imagine a world without CAD, emails or even without a tape measure. Some of our greatest and oldest buildings, were built without any of these.

Clare’s Book

In Clare’s new book, ‘Contemporary Vernacular Design – How British housing can rediscover it’s soul’, she discusses how architecture ‘should learn from the past’, emphasising that successful contemporary vernacular does not use vernacular architecture for aesthetic inspiration only (as these can end up as naïve attempts to replicate originals), but also from the traditions used, whilst keeping in mind that new designs should deal with the kind of homes we need today, which will continue to evolve as our needs and available resources change.

CNA

At CNA we aim to learn from our surroundings and context, from the traditions, history and cultures to the physical environment (important views, materials and building methods used, textures, massing and landscape etc.), preserving our heritage where possible, however adapting designs to evolving ways of life and technologies.

Co-housing series 3: Working Together

Co-housing doesn’t have to mean living in each other’s pockets – it’s about the spirit of co-operation

HHbR Copper Lane cohousing terrace

The communal terrace at HHbR’s Copper Lane co-housing scheme

This is the third part of the Co-housing blog series, based on Clare’s book.  Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

A Whole More than the Sum of its Parts

1-6 Copper Lane in London, designed by Henley Halebrown Rorrison, blurs the boundary between co-housing and non-co-housing a little more.  By allowing residents to be flexible about the extent to which they want to share, this scheme is well-adapted to a contemporary urban lifestyle.  Trying to create the feel of a traditional village in the heart of a metropolis like London would not make sense; a housing development that can be occupied in various different ways is a much more suitable solution.

Each home has two front doors: one private entrance and one accessed through the communal hall.  This places control in the residents’ hands and allows them to be as private or public as they want to be in the moment.  If you are feeling sociable, or lonely, you can seek interaction, but if you are having a bad day it isn’t forced upon you.

Copper Lane is an example of neighbourliness, rather than community.  Through cooperation a group of people benefit from lower living costs and higher quality spaces – especially the garden space.  At the same time they are not tied to the site and have the freedom to leave London and settle somewhere else, as many people like to do later in life.  This is a clever and elegant way of reconciling the typical urban “bubble” with co-housing ideals and principles.

HHbR Copper Lane private entrance

A private entrance at Copper Lane

 

Embracing Individuality

Ashley Vale cohousing

Ashley Vale Co-housing

The Yard at Ashley Vale, Bristol, provides a sharp contrast to the Copper Lane scheme.  It ticks multiple boxes for rejecting the conventional developer model of providing housing by being not only co-housing but also self-build.  There is no unifying style of housing, as each self-builder came up with their own design, leading to a cheerful mish-mash of form, colour and materials throughout the site.  The houses are also in different stages of completion, so the overall feeling is organic and natural.  It is plainly evident that those who choose to live here, even those who are not the original self-builders, really care about their environment and where they live.  Having common beliefs, such as those concerning environmental sustainability and sharing economy, does not mean that these residents want to live in duplicates of the same house.  Each home at Ashley Vale is truly an expression of identity and aspiration, a clear antidote to “brick box” developer housing.

Ashley Vale cohousing

A variety of forms and materials at Ashley Vale

Ashley Vale cohousing

 

I take great inspiration from these housing schemes and the people who have realised them.  21st century living does not have to be the prescribed format it often seems to be, and feelings of “home” can be created even in the least conventional of circumstances (with a little help from your friends!).

Co-housing series 2: Sharing Resources

Sharing resources creates both financial and environmental benefits in co-housing

 

White Design LILAC cohousing

White Design’s LILAC scheme

This is the second part of the Co-housing blog series, based on Clare’s book.  Read Part 1 here.

Mutual Home Ownership

This model refers to sharing resources of the financial kind, in that you can afford a better quality home, space and lifestyle than you could as an individual. LILAC (Low Impact Living Affordable Community), designed by White Design, is, like Springhill, a co-housing scheme where many facilities are shared and a close-knit community has been created.  Residents set up a sophisticated Mutual Home Ownership Society (MHOS), into which they each pay a percentage of their net income to pay for a joint mortgage that covers the scheme as a whole.  The MHOS acts as a safety net for lower earners, meaning were their incomes to drop for some reason they would not have to leave the community.

Economic security is just as essential to a feeling of “home” as physical security, and this can be a greatly compelling reason for people to become involved in co-housing projects.

 

Saving Money with Reduced Space Requirements

Lancaster cohousing terraces

Eco Arc’s Lancaster Co-housing terrace arrangement

Co-housing means that residents’ requirements for their own homes are significantly reduced compared to conventional housing.  For example, in the Lancaster Co-housing scheme by Eco Arc shared facilities such as offices and guest bedrooms, and equipment such as washing machines and gardening tools, mean that the individual homes can be much smaller than average.  This is a great way of increasing density, improving thermal performance, and reducing costs.

The housing at Lancaster is arranged in terraces.  This is not only a typology that is popular locally, but also an energy- and space-efficient way of building.  The terraces also sit well within the levels of the landscape, meaning that many of the homes are “upside-down”, with kitchen and living areas upstairs, taking advantage of the spectacular views over the River Lune.  A side-effect of this arrangement is that you cannot tell who is at home as you walk along the level of the front entrances.  I imagine this affords the residents a little privacy and breathing space within such a close community where people are so involved in each other’s lives.

Sharing Equipment

By sharing tools, equipment, clothes, other not-very-often used items, residents not only reduce financial costs, but also their environmental impact (less waste).

Lancaster cohousing shared gardening tools

Shared gardening tools at Lancaster Co-housing

Co-housing series 1: Designing a Community

At Home but Not Alone

disconnected neighboursIn my previous blog, “5 Designs that Challenge our British Perceptions of Home”, I touched on the idea of home as an extension, or even more than that, a fundamental piece of our identity. “Home” is comprised of two main influential factors, one we control and one we do not: both where we come from and where we choose to live.  This is why perceptions of home are generated by lifestyle, which today is unrecognisable from 100, 50, or even 20 years ago.  The way we socialise, find our life partners, and interact in general has been completely revolutionised by a new, technology-driven, way of life.

In a world that grows more connected by the second, it is a cruel irony that loneliness is on the rise.  It has become normal to speak to somebody on the other side of the world at the touch of a button, but not to know your next-door neighbour’s name.  However, when researching her book, Clare found many people keen to buck this trend and live communally.  Whether as a reaction against this rise in real-world social isolation, or simply an economic necessity, lots of groups of people around the UK are turning (or returning) to co-housing as their preferred way of living.

Just as with the concept of “home”, the notion of “co-housing” has a multitude of meanings, and Clare investigated a range of housing schemes across the spectrum from those where some facilities are shared to those where residents’ lives are completely intertwined.  The main principle that all the schemes have in common is that shared space means more usable space for all the residents.

Clare Nash talking about the benefits of community in housing design

 

Springhill Co-housing

Springhill cohousing Architype

Architype’s Springhill Co-housing

Springhill Co-housing, designed by Architype, was the UK’s first new-build co-housing project.  High quality construction and landscaping make this an attractive place to live for a broad range of people, both young and old.  Cooking, childcare, gardening and administration are shared by everyone, and the general atmosphere is that of a traditional village.  A sustainable community has been created through both architectural and non-architectural methods.  For example, the housing terraces are deliberately connected and clustered around jointly maintained public land, forcing frequent neighbourly interaction.  Communal meals cooked by residents on a rota system 3 times a week is a very effective way of gluing a fairly diverse community together.  Architectural features such as a common house and open-plan kitchen space support and facilitate this important ritual.  At Springhill, Architype recognised that it is the community that is “home”, and they have rightly made this as durable and sustainable as possible.

Springhill communal kitchen

The communal kitchen at Springhill

This is the first part of the Co-housing blog series, based on Clare’s book.  Part 2 coming soon….

Clare Nash speaking about Contemporary Vernacular Design

Clare Nash talking about landscaping and place-making and their importance in contemporary vernacular design:

Clare Nash Talk on Vernacular Design

Clare Nash speaking about Contemporary Vernacular Design

“A manifesto for change!”

2017 has been very busy and exciting so far at Clare Nash Architecture Ltd., including two talks given by Clare about her book “Contemporary Vernacular Design: How British Architecture can Rediscover its Soul”.

Clare Nash book launch Oxford Brookes   Piers Taylor Clare Nash book launch contemporary vernacular

Book Launch at Oxford Brookes University

It was fantastic to see such a wide range of interest in the audience at the book launch hosted by Oxford Brookes – thank you to all the students, teachers, clients, friends and others who came along!

The launch began with an introductory talk by Piers Taylor (presenter of The House That £100k Built, The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, and founder of Invisible Studio).  Piers, like Clare, is determined to see a better standard of housing and placemaking in the UK, and wrote the foreword for Clare’s book.  The talks by Piers and Clare provoked some interesting discussions among the audience.  They debated the nature and popular perception of vernacular architecture and its relationship to place, and considered the role of government, regulation and planning in delivering the housing we desperately need.  The topics were far too in-depth for a short Q&A session, but there was plenty of food for thought!

Piers Taylor explaining Contemporary Vernacular Housing Design:

Matt Gaskin, Head of Architecture at Oxford Brookes, summed up the evening by describing the publication of Clare’s book as “timely and brave”, for addressing the issue of healthy, comfortable, affordable housing in the UK. Many other designers choose to shy away from asking the type of difficult questions that she does. Matt reiterated Piers Taylor’s description of Clare’s book: “A manifesto for change” – let’s make it one!

Clare Nash HTA Contemporary Vernacular

HTA Talk

Clare was also hosted by HTA Design, whose housing scheme in Portland features as a case study in her book.  The audience of architects and designers were interested in Clare’s research process, and what had attracted her to the case studies she had chosen.

The interest and engagement at Clare’s book talks has been hugely motivating and energising for the CNA team.  Improving the quality of housing we deliver is, and will continue to be, a challenge, but it is one we can take on, as individuals and as an industry.  As Clare says in her book:

“We can do better, we have done better; let’s use the examples in this book and just do better.”
August 30, 2017
Clare Nash speaking about Contemporary Vernacular Design

The benefits and drawbacks of pre-fabricating your dream home

Have you considered using pre-fabrication as a method for building your own home?

Germany has been at the forefront of pre-fabricating home design for over 50 years (https://www.weberhaus.co.uk/) and the benefits are very German; time efficient, quality guarantee, energy efficiency guarantees. These advantages are also useful to British self-builders. Anyone who has spent time on a UK building site in winter will testify to the stress caused by weather delays and the impractical nature of working knee deep in mud. With pre-fabrication there is no need to worry about weather conditions setting you back or indeed supplier delays, you can have your dream home within a few weeks.

If you are building on a site such as Gravenhill (self-build site in Bicester) then you might find pre-fabrication offers cost and time certainty in achieving the 24 month build deadline.

We are keen to work with self-builders looking at the pre-fabrication route. We are good at working closely with pre-fabricators to ensure that you get the design and the home that you really want and for the price that you can afford.

Pre-fabrication options

There are quite a few different pre-fabrication options now available in the UK. These can be quite confusing and hopefully the next few paragraphs will ease your understanding:

Hemp, lime and timber frame prefabricated panels

Greencore closed panel system using hemp, lime and timber frame to create a breathable construction

Complete pre-fabrication (or closed panel timber frame system)

Everything is manufactured off site and arrives on a lorry. It is a timber frame system, originally from Germany but now also found in the UK (Greencore Construction, Modcell), including; external cladding, doors and windows fitted, ducting and service voids. The heavy panels require a crane so this method not suitable for a poorly accessible site. Sometimes also these systems include foundations (e.g Danilith and Greencore Construction), other times this is contracted separately.

Super structure pre-fabrication (or open panel timber frame system)

Only the walls and roof structure are built off-site in a factory, external cladding is fitted on site, as are windows, doors, ducting, plumbing, electrics. These and the rest of the trades are managed by the self-builder.

SIPs (Structurally Insulated Panels)

An American idea that made its way over to the UK in the 50’s. These are panels that look like an insulation sandwich. Not really timber frame although the ‘bread’ is usually formed from OSB (made from waste timber) or plywood panels. Not so easily mortgageable (see below).

Oakframe construction

Large timber structure made off-site and then walls and roof are wrapped in SIPs or a more natural, breathable insulation and cladding layer. The oak frame is exposed internally creating a more traditional and characterful appearance. E.g Oakwrights and Carpenter Oak

Concrete insulated panel system

Heavy panels, requiring crane erection, with pre-fitted brick/render/timber/flint cladding. E.g Danilith

Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF)

Speeds up on site masonry construction. Not pre-fab but some companies think it saves up to 25% of time on site compared to traditional masonry construction (HB&R mag link reference).

Mortgageable straw home

Inside one of the first straw bale homes to be mortgageable in the UK (by Modcell and White Design).

Mortgageability

A timber frame pre-fabricated home will ensure that you have access to any high street lender, if you want to use SIPs you will need a specialist lender with less competitive rates. If you can buy your plot in cash you can get a mortgage based on the value of the land which gives you access to much cheaper loans.

Sustainability benefits

Off-site construction results in less construction waste, any left over materials can be re-used in the factory instead of going to land fill. But this needs to be offset with how many miles the wall and roof panels have travelled. Though there are now companies manufacturing in the UK (Scotframe, Dwelle, Boutique Modern, Modcell and Greencore). Modcell use ‘flying factories’ to literally factory build within a few miles of your site using local farm buildings and straw. Very high standards of energy efficiency and airtightness can be achieved, this, combined with a heat recovery ventilation system, will ensure a warm, healthy, fresh air environment. Only the ‘complete pre-fabrication system’ will come with the heat recovery system installed, this will need to be designed and installed by professionals if using one of the other systems.

We at CNA are keen to work on pre-fabricated dwellings with strong sustainability credentials. We believe a breathable system is best (such as Modcell, Greencore, Oakwrights or Dwelle). Timber is a breathable material and it makes sense to use breathable insulations with it. There have been issues in America whereby poor airtightness detailing has caused SIPs panels to go mouldy in parts. Until everyone is really super hot on airtightness in the UK, we feel it is safer to use breathable materials (and it is better for the environment).

Modcell straw bale home

The thickness of walls inside a Modcell and White Design straw bale pre-fabricated home in Bristol

 

Benefits of pre-fabricating your dream home

Cost certainty and time saving on site (British weather is not an issue), guaranteed airtightness and energy efficiency, high quality design. If using a UK pre-fabricator, the embodied energy of producing your home will be very low and you will be creating a true eco-home. Costs are reducing as more pre-fabricators have factories in the UK and custom build sites such as igloo’s Trevenson Park in Cornwall are increasing the demand for pre-fabricated homes. Your finish date for a watertight shell will be a certainty and if you go for the full pre-fabrication method, your move in date will be certain as well. This is a great asset when paying rent or living in a caravan on site.

 

Downsides of pre-fabricating your dream home

It can cost more (but you have much more predictability about these costs, rather than waiting on site for problems to occur, or for bad weather or supplier delays). It is expensive to ship panels from the continent, but these days there are a few options for UK pre-fabricated homes (see above under sustainability).

Once the design is fixed, it is very difficult to change things on site, windows can’t be moved a bit to the left or right or sizes changed. Walls can’t be moved (unless the pre-fab element is just outer walls). Additionally some pre-fabrication types work best with certain external cladding such as timber, render, stone. This can be an issue where planning requirements dictate a certain material is used externally. This is why it is a good idea to have an architect involved to really understand what your dream home entails and how it is best realised. Pre-fabrication companies offer fantastic benefits, but sometimes their designs can restrict your aspirations, or they are a bit too ‘standardised’. An architect can push these boundaries with the pre-fabrication firm, ensuring you realise your dream home for a cost and timescale that works for you.

August 22, 2017
The benefits and drawbacks of pre-fabricating your dream home

The benefits of using an architect on a Gravenhill self-build or elsewhere

self build benefits of architect

Thinking of building a Gravenhill Self-Build? Here’s how to save money and reduce stress…

It’s finally happening!  You’ve found your plot, bought a hard hat, and watched every episode of Grand Designs twice over.  You’re ready to build your own house, the way that you want.  You have a clear vision of how it will be, so why appoint an architect?  Doesn’t self-build mean you do everything yourself, controlling every aspect of the project down to the doorknobs?

Well, that’s one way of approaching this task, but an architect can actually be an invaluable guide through the Gravenhill self-build process.  A professional architect will help you to get the best quality home for your budget. They will identify potential pitfalls, and be an important point of contact for your project team, co-ordinating designs from many consultants – structural engineers, ventilation design, window manufacturers, etc, etc.  Even those self-builders with lots of experience in the construction industry benefit greatly from employing an architect to work on their build – for example this client, an engineer who has been working with CNA to realise his dream of an eco-house for his family.  He has said:

Just a quick note to say that we have had the below positive response from SNC Planning with regards to our proposals. And without your valued input through the process we wouldn’t be in this position, so thank you very much….the models and proposals have been excellent and really changed the way we’d been looking at some of the aspects of our design.

An architect will help self-builders to make the most of something like a Graven Hill Golden Brick package, turning the bare bones of a project into a bespoke home within tight budget and time constraints.

 

self build benefits of architect

Cost

Budget is the defining element of any project, and getting the most out of it can be the difference between a dream home and just an expensive pile of bricks.  An architect can find you the best value for money in terms of materials and labour, and also reduce the running costs of your building in the future through good design.  A product such as a Graven Hill Golden Brick is a good starting point for estimating the cost of a self-build, but, as anyone who has flown with a budget airline knows, what starts out as a clear and transparent set of costs can all too easily become a quagmire of optional extras and hidden fees and charges.  An architect can help you anticipate, reduce and avoid these potential costs, and help you to decide what is worth spending money on and what is not. One self-build interviewee stated that without an architect, she could not have afforded her dream home.

 

self build benefits of architect

Time

In the grand list of self-building headaches, time comes a close second to cost, and there is of course a huge overlap between the two.  In the case of a package such as a Golden Brick at Gravenhill (self-build site in Bicester), the issue of time is brought sharply to the fore with the looming 32 month deadline to get a home built.  An architect can speed up the process of design itself, as well as streamlining the planning and construction stages.  It is our job to always be thinking one step ahead and making sure that the design will cause minimal problems in getting through planning and building control, and also on-site.  Our industry knowledge can also speed up decision making for you, reducing or eliminating the need for you to spend days (or weeks!) researching products or legal requirements for the project.

 

Quality

Quality is something self-builders have a large amount of control over.  This can be both a blessing, as you do not have to compromise on things that are important to you, and a curse, as the responsibility for making the correct decisions can result in a great amount of pressure and stress.  An architect, especially one based locally, is your gateway to an established network of reliable and recommended tradespeople.  Over their years in the industry, we at CNA have done the groundwork of building invaluable relationships with tradespeople, suppliers, planners and building inspectors, that you can then take advantage of.

Getting the design right

Another major influencing factor in the quality of a build is the design itself.  This is undoubtedly where architects come into their own, and where their years (and years and years!) of training are most evident.  Your architect can interpret your individual needs and come up with solutions that suit your lifestyle that you may not have even considered yourself.  They can also work out ways of fitting your requirements into restrictions such as a strict Design Code that may apply to your plot.  A predefined material or formal palette does not mean your home cannot be a bespoke expression of you.  Good design means that your home will be comfortable, safe and secure, meaning you are less likely to need to spend money on changes in years to come.  Once your house is built you will truly be able to settle in and relax.  It may be a cliché, but happiness and wellbeing are priceless, and your home is a crucial part of building a healthy personal environment.

 

self build benefits of architect

Eco-design

A house that has a minimal impact on the environment is something we should all be striving for.  Eco-houses run more efficiently, more cheaply, are healthier for their inhabitants, and create less problems such as damp and poor air quality.  Good design ensures that an eco-house need not cost more than a conventional one, and environmentally friendly features can be tailored to your lifestyle and the way you will use the house.  In fact, an energy-efficient house should eventually free up spare cash in the long term (perhaps for more home improvements!), so getting this right at the beginning can mean you reap the benefits in terms of savings for years to come.  An architect who specialises in eco-design like Clare Nash can help you to meet and surpass minimum energy requirements, such as the Fabric Energy Efficiency standards Graven Hill self-builders must adhere to.

 

Decision making

Decision making can be a daunting and energy-sapping aspect of the design process.  An architect can guide and inform you, as well as providing specialist services such as visualisations of your design options.  These can help you to decide what you really want, and persuade planners and investors of the merits of your proposal.  You can discuss all aspects of the project with your architect before you embark on it.  This will give you the time, foreplanning, information and expert insight to put your mind more at rest than if you had to make important decisions alone.  Even just an hour discussing your your plans with a professional can make a marked difference to your approach and peace of mind.

 

self build benefits of architect

Project management

Housebuilding is a risky business.  With so many things to think about, juggle, and schedule, having an architect to manage the process for you can greatly reduce your risk of going over budget and over time, and hopefully preserve some of your sanity during what will be an incredibly busy time!  When it comes to your home you are considerably emotionally invested, and having somebody who can take an objective overview can help to keep the project balanced and in perspective.

 

An architect such as Clare Nash can work with self-builders to bring out the best of their ideas, enthusiasm and motivation, as well as streamlining a complex and tiring process.  If you are an interested self-builder, or a potential one, please do get in touch with Clare Nash Architecture Ltd for a friendly chat and to see what we can do for you.