Building study: George Clarke and TDO’s modular house for Urban Splash
The current crop of house-factories might suggest Fordist visions of seamless manufacture – that from manufacture to marketing Reyner Banham’s Second and Third Machine Age have finally been realised in housebuilding. But the process of off-site construction and production is no magic bullet – as Lewith concedes – and, of course, glitches remain. Even with these small number of units, which should arrive on site fully fitted-out, in theory not needing to be entered again by workmen after they leave the factory, several arrived without flooring installed. Off-site manufacture might mean more control, but it does not mean full automation, and the actual processes and materials still used are not revolutionary – carpenters and workmen involved in drilling and cutting, if now out of sight in a factory.
So as yet we’re not talking any Fourth Machine Age of bots or advanced digital fabrication, with the choices these might open up. Indeed, for Lewith, it was the human, collaborative nature of the process –working directly with the fabricators and cutting out the competitive tendering element – that was one of the most rewarding aspects of the process.
These dwellings are necessarily relatively basic and bland, but they feel no more boxy than brick-built equivalents. They are small starter homes, engineered to meet a price, but balanced with a baseline quality in their spec – with standard bathroom fit-outs using Vitra and Grohe products, for instance. Though constrained, overall they are thoughtfully made and designed new homes.
The brief from our joint venture clients called for an exemplar modular house type. To achieve this, we worked closely with the modular contractor to develop a unique identity which fully embraced the capabilities of modular construction.
Modular construction presents quite specific constraints and offers the best project benefits when elements are simplified and repeated. Our challenge was to develop an exemplar modular house type within these parameters.
To succeed, Fab House had to be an exemplar on two fronts: a technical exemplar of modular construction, delivering the associated benefits; and also an exemplar of residential architecture when judged against ambitious, contemporary houses, regardless of their method of construction.
Maintaining our focus on the efficiencies and consistency of quality which modular construction brings allowed both these requirements to be met. We saw the project as a test-bed opportunity to introduce a creative tension into the detail design process to uncover and explore design opportunities, so as to arrive at a more evolved design template than existing modular blueprints.
The process itself was extremely collaborative and SIG (now Urban Splash Modular) and ourselves worked closely to finesse details through workshops, exchanging sketches and drawings, reviewing samples, and closely monitoring the progress of the houses through the factory line to ensure no opportunity was missed, and false efficiencies were avoided.
Tom Lewith, director, TDO Architecture
Places for People and Urban Splash are working in joint venture to deliver an entire community on the River Tyne, transforming the former Smith’s Dock shipyard in North Shields into a place where people can live, work and play. We are working with great architects to introduce a range of residential options, with a spectrum of properties suitable for first time buyers and families, as well as those looking to downsize.
One of the key components is modular housing, and we commissioned TDO in collaboration with George Clarke to design an exemplar MMC prefabricated house type which would form part of our first phase. The result is 10 striking homes which are perfect for contemporary living. The TDO team has managed to plan out a space compatible with modern life, with a simple layout, high ceilings, full-height doors and plenty of natural light; while the exposed joists, birch staircase and open beams add detail and warmth, without adding visual clutter. I’m delighted that TDO and George Clarke’s original vision is now a reality.
Nigel Brewer, planning and design director, Places for People
Paul Edwards, design manager, Urban Splash Modular
Original link - Architects Journal