hoUse by Urban Splash and shedkm

Seeking an alternative to mass housing schemes across the country, Urban Splash has teamed up with architecture practice shedkm to create a prefabricated housing scheme in Manchester that is customisable and quick to construct

Noticing a gap in the market between the cheap, soulless, red-brick boxes favoured by volume housebuilders and costly, bespoke architect-designed homes, property developer Urban Splash has come up with a new concept to give buyers the power to choose the layout of their home.

The wooden pods are stacked to create twoand three-storey homes
The wooden pods are stacked to create two and three-storey homes. Image Jack Hobhouse

Sited along the canal in the inner-city area of New Islington, Manchester, hoUSe is being developed with Liverpool and London-based architecture practice shedkm as an alternative to established UK mass house-building schemes. Made of modular timber pods, prefabricated in a factory and delivered to site fully finished, hoUSe draws inspiration from the ubiquitous long rows of Victorian and Georgian terraces with slender plots for its two and three-storey homes. Advocating that customers are buying ‘space not rooms’, it gives house buyers an empty shell to customise with a range of internal layouts, from spacious, open-plan living to more traditional fixed rooms. The first phase of 43 homes have been built and occupied, with 21 three-storey homes and 80 apartments still to come.

The homes take eight weeks to fabricate in a factory before being delivered to site. Image Jack Hobhouse

For Urban Splash chairman Tom Bloxham, frustrated by the mediocrity of the UK’s new-build homes with their typically low ceilings, small windows and tiny rooms, hoUSe was born from a desire to create well-designed, generous homes in space-poor, inner-city areas. ‘We have been thinking for years now about how we can break the mould, inject some new ideas and disrupt the house-building industry, just as we did when we helped create the city-centre living boom and loft-apartment trend in the Nineties,’ says Bloxham. ‘We noticed that in UK cities there is a real lack of diversity in terms of new residential stock, and our traditional customers would ultimately get older, richer and end up moving to Victorian or Georgian terraces in the suburbs. hoUSe is our way of offering them something in the city.’

Homeowners can choose the layout of their homes, opting for a bare shell or all the extra add-ons, including fitted kitchens and bathrooms

The journey started four years ago, when Urban Splash approached four architects - Glenn Howells, Alison Brooks Architects, Riches Hawley Mikhail Architects and shedkm - to come up with an idea for a simple and easily constructed, light, spacious, modern house that could be flexible and adapt. The catch? It had to be built for around £1,000/sq m. Says Bloxham: ‘We wanted to make houses with great space standards - high ceilings, big windows - and we wanted to give customers the ability to alter and change the layout both initially when they buy or if they are on a budget the option of a “base model” now and over time improve and adapt.’

Buyers choose between loft living or garden living, depending on whether they want to use the light-filled top floor as a living or sleeping space. Image: Urban Splash

Shedkm came up with a simple composition that can be configured to tailor up to five bedrooms in two- and three-storey terraced blocks of 93 sq m and 140 sq m. Homeowners choose between loft living and garden living; whether their living room will be on the top floor with an exposed pitched roof or, in a more conventional arrangement, on the bottom floor overlooking the garden. Always in the centre is a core of services including stairs, bathrooms and risers, but the rest of the space is free to be split up or left open depending on the buyer’s preferences.

With generous windows and ceiling heights, Urban Splash claims the homes are 25 per cent bigger than an average new build
With generous windows and ceiling heights, Urban Splash claims the homes are 25 per cent bigger than an average new build. Image: Urban Splash

Urban Splash likens the process to buying a car, with optional extras from fully fitted bathrooms and home offices to floor finishes and furniture. ‘The idea was that we’ll create some space for the buyer to live in the way they want to, to suit their budget, taste and lifestyle,’ explains Jonathan Falkingham, creative director of Urban Splash. ‘The wall arrangements actually give us 10,000 variables they can have as a customer, but we’ve tried to distil that back and give our customers a clear way of thinking about how they want to live in their home and the option to live in a different way.’

The second phase includes 21 three-storey homes and 80 apartments still to be built
The second phase includes 21 three-storey homes and 80 apartments still to be built

The timber modules are built by a company called Insulshell, which has created thermally efficient, closed-panel structural timber systems for schools and homes as well as the London 2012 Velodrome by Hopkins Architects. Says Falkingham: ‘We worked intensively with Insulshell for three years to develop an approach; initially it was going to be built as a panelled system on site. Then Insulshell said if you reduce your house width by 15cm, we think we can built these [the whole homes] in the factory.’

Optional add-ons include designer-esque kitchens, floor finishes and furniture
Optional add-ons include designer-esque kitchens, floor finishes and furniture. Image: Jack Hobhouse

With all the structure on the external walls, it freed up space inside for fl exible layouts, as well as reducing construction time, wet trades on site, excess waste and, ultimately, cost. The homes take eight weeks to make in the factory before being delivered to site, thermally eficient and airtight. Claiming to be 25 per cent bigger than the average new build, there’s an emphasis on quality of space, rather than square footage, with high ceilings, large windows and an exposed pitched roof on the top floor.

Optional add-ons include designer-esque kitchens, floor finishes and furniture
The prefabricated pods are energy efficient and reduce both construction time on site and excess waste. Image: Urban Splash

The plan is to roll out multiple hoUSes across the country, with planning already secured for 171 homes on the banks of the River Irwell in Salford. Urban Splash and shedkm are also developing a ‘sister’ product, a mid-rise mansion house with apartments. For Falkingham, the long-term aim is for hoUSe to evolve into the ‘designer brand of volume housebuilders’, comparing it to furniture brands such as Vitra and Alessi, which frequently team up with designers and architects. ‘We want there to be a strong design philosophy running through everything, and our designers to live and breathe the product,’ he adds.

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