This summer’s proposed planning reforms by the UK Government focussed on accelerating housing development across the country are much needed. Simplifying the planning process is an excellent first step towards addressing the chronic shortage of affordable and decent housing that this country currently faces.
However, a question remains over whether these reforms go far enough, or if we need to also look at the process in which we build, procure and purchase our homes, too. The UK is going to need around 250,000-340,000 homes per year to be built by the mid-2020s to meet growing housing need. But right now, we’re managing nowhere near that figure – in 2018, only 165,090 new homes were completed. The result has been rising house prices, lower rates of home ownership and increasing homelessness. This is exacerbated by an ageing construction demographic where 30 per cent of the construction workforce is over the age of 50, meaning we will increasingly struggle to find enough skilled workers to deliver the rate of output required. Added to this, low productivity, poor predictability of completion date and cost of construction remain major challenges to the housebuilding sector.
To help fix this, the UK Government needs to stimulate and diversify the market, releasing land banked by housebuilders and enabling technology to disrupt traditional delivery models while at the same time creating more attractive jobs in the manufacturing industry. One quick solution would be the widespread adoption of digital solutions such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) and modern methods of construction (MMC), which are proven to increase quality of construction, the speed of build, and improve environmental impacts.
MMC homes would certainly enable quicker and more predictable delivery. In fact, construction time could be reduced by as much as 60 per cent, with obstacles such as inclement weather being mitigated or in some instances, removed entirely. Better quality workmanship through manufacture of homes in a factory setting would also reduce maintenance workload and consequently fewer costs for homeowners. Homes could be more air-tight, better insulated and constructed to higher environmental specifications to reducing running costs too.
MMC also has the benefit of more efficient use of materials. Half the total waste produced in UK comes from construction, but factories can minimise material waste to below 1 per cent. Fewer deliveries to the construction site would also mean reducing the number of lorries travelling on road networks, resulting in less noise, disruption and pollution. Worker’s health and safety would also be greatly improved in an indoor setting.
Finally, offsite construction could generate more choice for consumers. There is a greater possibility for customisation through managed interchangeability of parts, enabling customers to choose finishes from a specification menu, including facing material, floor coverings, and internal configurations. Further, faster construction times and custom building would help prevent ‘fund lock up’, enabling the buyer to personalise their property whilst in factory.
To help move this vision forward, HLM Architects entered the Home of 2030 Competition, which seeks to develop a home that will help tackle the key challenges facing our society. Our new ‘forever home’ concept, which is one of six shortlisted entries, is based on a universal modular platform and sees homes being built using interchangeable parts with other homes. House buyers are able to select varied components from multiple companies within the ‘platform ecosystem’ empowering them to build, maintain, reconfigure, upgrade or shrink their ‘forever home’. The universal approach facilitates an after-care market that can reuse, refresh and refurbish used components, providing not only increased choice and new revenue streams, but also enabling a zero carbon, circular economy.
Modular construction is on the brink of a breakthrough. We believe it is also the most viable solution for the UK Government to fulfil its pledge to rapidly increase housing production in a way that is sustainable, reliable, and cost-effective. Our forever home concept likewise would bring the consumer greater choice and flexibility, able to respond to demographic fluctuations and simultaneously driving up quality.
We’re not just rethinking the way that homes are designed and procured to help solve the housing shortage, we’re imagining ways in which homeowners can maximise the value of their asset over their lifetime too
Matt Thomas, Associate, HLM Architects, said: “The pandemic has underlined to us how important our home is in maintaining our health and wellbeing. It has sharpened the need to rethink how our homes are built, maintained, and designed. Homes have to be robust, affordable, adaptable, sustainable, intelligent, and beautiful – but more than ever, our homes should empower us to live our lives with dignity and in comfort, regardless of age or physical ability.”