In 2012 I started a journey of developing a low-cost, self-contained move-on accommodation model for residents moving on from YMCA hostels. Three years later, the first Y:Cube Housing scheme opened – a 100% affordable housing scheme using 36 off-site volumetric pods designed by RSH+P and built by SIG plc. At the time, there were very few other examples (apart from shipping container systems), even fewer manufacturers, and a whole load of scepticism about any low-cost housing scheme that could be designed and delivered using non-traditional methods. The Y:Cube prototype, built in 2014, though was inundated with visits from developers, funders, politicians and reporters all looking at how housing could be designed and constructed differently.
Looking back, I’d like to think that Y:Cube Housing made a crucial contribution to what is now a flourishing industry. It seems that hardly a week goes by without a new factory being announced or an even taller modular residential scheme is to be built. Mainstream house builders and developers are now utilising modern methods of construction (MMC) with major institutional investors close behind.
So what next for the sector? Well, the sector’s capacity is growing but needs further huge expansion; performance standards are being set but standardisation in design is still to be fully embedded. And we are yet to see which build systems will win the race, will light steel frame or timber/CLT be the preferred and most cost-effective system or will Structural Insulated Panels win the race. There also needs to be a shift in construction training strategy, moving away from focussing on tradition methods in order to equip a new generation of skilled labourers proficient in factory house-building.
With the significant shrinkage within the construction labour market, at a time when there’s the need to ratchet up output, factory-built housing will become the norm, no longer seen as a niche approach or a vanity initiative. More importantly I’m convinced MMC or ‘precision housing’ will be cheaper than using traditional construction methods, as the design and production process becomes more integrated along with further innovation in materials that will drive efficiencies and quicken the development process further.
As I write this blog I am supporting a couple of small housing providers develop their own affordable modular housing schemes. Since 2015 there has been a notable increase in the range of manufacturers and designers meaning these projects will benefit from further cost efficiencies which will ultimately benefit the tenants through lower rents. I’ll continue to share my experience and champion a sector which will only drive improvements for us all