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All aboard the flat-pack express…
Michael Hammond
WAN Editor

Could architecture be consigned to ‘thinking inside the box’ ? As WAN launches its House of the Year Awards, designed to showcase excellence within our industry, the UK Government has announced big relaxations in planning requirements, along with encouragement for developers to utilize more flat pack housing - all part of a ‘speeding-up’ process to meet the unprecedented demand set out in the Barker Review on Housing Supply 2004 and more recently Land use planning, December 2006. The prospect of Ikea flat pack houses has met with derision in the UK press this week as plans were unveiled for an estate of BoKlok units in Gateshead. However serious concerns are being raised at the possibility of collapsing standards. Arguing their case, the UK Government has said that unless housebuilding accelerated, the proportion of 30 year old couples able to afford their own home would fall from 50% today to 30% in 10 years time.
Many are arguing that quality of homes cannot be maintained with this process and that this is an inevitable cost of


delivering the 1.4 million new homes to which the UK Government is committed. But does quality have to go down as volume goes up? WAN looks at what a few key players are doing and takes some soundings on both sides of the Atlantic.
Lord Rogers, this year’s Stirling Prize winner is involved in a UK Government backed scheme to build prefabricated homes. His first house design for 37 years will provide flexibility for growing families, allowing rooms to be re-configured to suit changing circumstances.
As in may areas, the US is leading the way in efficient building techniques, Manhattan based Resolution:4 Architecture won the 2006 National AIA housing award for concepts in innovative housing. Joseph Tanney co-founder said, "We utilize a 'systematic methodology' of design that attempts to leverage existing methods of prefabrication for residential construction. We attempt to offer 'Mass Customization' to the single family housing market, thereby aesthetically transforming the sub-urban fabric of the American domestic landscape."
However back in UK, Robert Adam, a classical architect favoured by the Prince of Wales said in the Times “People don’t like odd shapes and strange colours. If you build something in silly colours you can bet people won’t buy it. The BoKlok (Ikea for Smart Living) houses look really very horrid. Architects just can’t resist getting their sticky fingers all over housing and turning it into something radical.”
For many in the UK, ‘prefab’ is still a dirty word; inextricably linked with memories of the rows of post war Nissen huts that symbolised poor quality, with their corrugated steel semi circular roofs and bricked up ends and frozen inhabitants. Thousands of Nissen huts were provided as


temporary homes but were still in use decades after the war.
Paul Zara, director at international firm Conran and Partners isn’t convinced for different reasons, “My view is that there has been a huge wasted effort by many architects to be 'innovative' for the sake of it, when the thinking behind pre-fabs is over fifty years old. Hardly a week goes by without some 'new' scheme appearing in the journals. I think in reality the jury's out on pre-fabs. The perceived benefits at the outset often don't materialise. Quicker to put up, yes, but there's the planning to do first, and the skills needed to build them aren't necessarily there. And they are not cheap!”
Strong arguments from both sides but the thought of Ikea selling prefabricated homes from its warehouse-style outlets is enough to make the most progressive architect cringe…

Modular design - USA style
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