Virtually built

Niki May Young
Monday 19 May 2008

Computer program created which could help house-hunters design their own home

Slider Studio is an architects firm bringing something new to the table in the UK. With highly-tuned computer skills the proprietor, Michael Kohn has set about converging the virtual-world with the architecture-world to create Youcanplan, computer software which will allow house-hunters to choose their own design for their new home. His master-plan is to create homes built in specific plots creating new communities based on a predetermined set of designs which individuals can choose from.

Youcanplan is being produced in conjunction with the University of East London, (UEL) and with backing from Urban Buzz, an organisation dedicated to building sustainable communities. Urban Buzz have even put £55,000 into the project.

The process began as the development of a solution to speculative building: “We were working on an idea to deliver self-procurement for probably two years before we started with the Urban Buzz proposal,” said Kohn, “I created Slider Studio to bridge the gap between architects and computers – it’s a big gap. I just really want to show that computing isn’t just for the sake of computing, it can really affect building in an architectural way.”

Youcanplan allows the individual to choose from what is currently a set of ten designs and to put their own mark on them. The individual would first sign a contract to buy a plot of land (part of a larger plot where a community will be built) and then work out the design. The system works much the same as it would to plan your new kitchen, picking elements from the design to modify to your needs until your proposed design is complete. This process would allow for an open forum within the new communities bringing them closer together and allowing for more integration in the design of the neighbourhood.

Architects were challenged to submit pattern book designs to be used in the Urban Buzz project. 38 architects submitted plans and ten were chosen after the public were invited to vote online, but there are possibilities for many more designs to be chosen after this initial project. Kohn thinks that Youcanplan could be the start of a new way to work and live in the UK. He mentions that this type of system is already in place in Germany but in the UK there is snobbery against the pattern books which make this idea a possibility.

“Pattern books have been around for centuries, most of London was built this way but not everyone likes them...they are misunderstood,” he continues, “The question is how do I package up our ideas and make them accessible to the wider public?...You have to accept that pattern books need to be designed by good designers.”

So what is Youcanplan really trying to achieve and why are Urban Buzz, an organisation focused on sustainability, prepared to dish out £55,000 for the idea? Kohn said: “We are focusing on social sustainability built into the community where people that are living there will be able to make decisions. Not like speculative developments some of which are literally ghettos. Also from an economic sustainability perspective architects will be able to make pattern books again.

“The self-build sector is proven to invest more in sustainable design features. And that is because it is your choice how much you put in above the regulations.”

But convincing the rest of the architectural world may prove difficult. “We are trying to shift culture,”says Kohn, “I think there will be a range of buildings some of which will be loved by many, some of which will be controversial.”

Despite the challenges that are faced Kohn is optimistic about the project. It is early days and not all the questions can be answered. They still, for example, do not know quite if they can deliver housing this way and have no business plan as of yet. But Kohn feels that it could be a refreshing change in the architecture world:

“There’s this thing called ‘consultation fatique’. People just get sick of getting into projects which never get built. By removing speculative development you get rid of this problem. This is a great opportunity for architects to get involved in housing again. If you look at their portfolios you’ll see how many designs have been done and just never built. This will allow them to get back on.”

Youcanplan will be officially unveiled on the 20th June at the London Festival of Architecture.

Niki May Young
News Editor

Key Facts:

United Kingdom

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