MODULAR, THE RETURN by Rejane Salgado | GENERATION RENT? NO THANK YOU, WE ARE CONSUMERS OF SPACE by Nicolas Khalili | 33-35 MONIER ROAD: BRIGHT, DENSE, INTELLIGENT HOUSING | INTERVIEW with Nick Rees from Design Collective
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This is the first edition of Graphite: An annual journal from HWO Architects exploring the latest in urban planning,intelligent housing, modern living and working spaces. By Nicolas Khalili, Managing Director, HWO Architects
These are strange times for politics. No, I’m not talking about Jeremy Corbyn’s jam-making. I’m talking about a Conservative government pushing policies that promote home ownership, while London’s Labour mayor suggests that the Private Rented Sector could solve our housing crisis. This clash could change the whole housing landscape in the coming years. The Tories think that modular Build to Sell schemes are the way forward – which is odd. After all, anyone who was around in the nineties (like me) might think that watching modular schemes creep into our cities is like watching reruns of the Walking Dead. But if the UK’s largest housebuilders are investing heavily in new offsite facilities, should you be getting involved too? Take a look at our first article to find out. And turn to our second article to see how PRS developers should approach branding and design to make their schemes a success. Adding their thoughts to the debate are our special contributors: Stephen Young of Fizzy Living, and Giles Morse of Westbrook Properties. Finally, hear from l’enfant terrible of co-living The Collective. Architectural Director Nick Rees speaks exclusively to Graphite about what lies in store for their co-work spaces. This first edition of Graphite coincides with HWO Architects’ thirteenth birthday. It’s hard to believe that thirteen years have passed since Rejane and I started HWO in late 2003, somewhere between the kitchen table and a fax machine tucked behind the sofa. Huge thanks to all our staff, colleagues and clients – past, present and future! Happy reading.
Modular, the return The UK’s Housing Minister has hailed modular as a solution to the UK’s housing crisis. Big players are investing into modular manufacturing plants, and even Private Rented Sector providers are getting in on the action too. But we’ve heard it all before. For as long as I can remember, modular has been hailed as the way to produce more homes at a lower cost. In the late nineties, it was all over the trade press. But it wasn’t the success everyone hoped for. Back then, developers didn’t invest enough and produce enough volume to make the practice cost effective. By Rejane Salgado, Design Director, HWO Architects
Now, following the vote for Brexit, Housing Minister Gavin Barwell has suggested that modular housing is a way to solve the housing crisis. Is he right?
The meaning of modular There are different types of modular construction. For instance, in ‘volumetric’ construction, three-dimensional units are produced in a factory and fully fitted out before being transported to site and stacked onto prepared foundations. These foundations are usually built from Light Steel Frame (LSF) or sometimes cross laminated timber (CLT). In other modular schemes, developers manufacture flat panel units in a factory before assembling them on site, creating a three-dimensional structure using CLT, structural insulated panels or concrete panels.
“ In ‘volumetric’ construction, three dimensional units are produced in a factory and fully fitted out before being transported to site and stacked onto prepared foundations.”
Faster, cheaper… better? There are reasons to be positive about modular. All modular systems are designed to cut down construction time, reduce waste, and cut labour costs. Given that the UK’s construction workforce is already shrinking – and could shrink further after Brexit – this should be a smart move. Also, modular solutions are much more flexible than they used to be. They can create unrestricted internal spans – some systems achieve up to 12m, using modules that are 18m in length and buildings up to six storeys high. And BIM modelling means that prefabricated designs are higher quality and more efficient than they were in the nineties.
Backed by big players There’s no denying that industry names are getting behind modular. Right now, Elements Europe uses Light Steel Frame to produce 700 homes each year. Modules typically take a week to make – they’re painted on day three, the windows are installed on day four, and all the furnishings are fitted down to the soap dish and coat hooks. The modules arrive on site 20 at a time, are stacked one on top of another, and are plugged into a concrete core. Each apartment is typically made up of two or three modules, but they can be built as large as necessary. The only restriction is what developers can take on the road.
Modules typically take a week to ma they’re pain the window day four, and are fitted do and coat hoo
At HWO we started working with crosslaminated timber (CLT) in 2014 with the design of the Woodland Barn for Lakes by Yoo. The Woodland Barn is a 21st-century version of the classic rural building, crafted from local Cotswold stone and green oak, with double-height volumes and extensive glazing. The frame is made from crosslaminated timber panels which were machined in Austria by KLH. CLT panels create a very dense and structurally robust engineered timber – as strong as concrete, in fact. Timber is the only truly renewable building material, and it also has the lowest energy consumption of any building material throughout its lifecycle. Each cubic metre of cross-laminated timber panels will remove approximately 0.8 tonnes of CO2. Use enough timber in the construction of buildings and you could, theoretically, achieve negative CO2 emissions. This home meets level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes because of its frame, but its design can be adapted for further sustainability, via, for example, photovoltaic panels, an airto-air heat pump or geothermal pump, and connection to a green energy source. The Woodland Barn was completed summer 2015.
PRS provider Essential Living chose Elements for their Deptford Creek development. Pocket Living chose contractor Donban’s sister company Vision Modular Systems to build out their sites in Lambeth and Streatham. And some developers are building their own facilities – Laing O’Rourke is spending £100 million on facilities next to its existing Explore concrete plant, while L&G Capital is building a plant capable of producing 3,000 homes per year. Modular is ideal where there’s true repetition of units, plus a secured pipeline. And since the ‘factory’ system is more predictable and less reliant on subcontractors, it’s attractive to institutional investors who want to guard against delays and budget overruns.
So is modular the way forward? Does this mean modular is the silver bullet our Housing Minister hopes it to be? Yes and no… This is a post-referendum economy where nothing is certain – and where residential sales have slowed. Developers will naturally be less inclined to invest in modular Build To Sell. But if they don’t make serious investments, they won’t produce the volumes needed to be cost effective. However, developers in the Private Rented Sector are looking much further ahead for their returns. Because they invest for the long term, they can make the kind of investments that modular really needs. So this type of construction could help increase the number of quality rental homes on the market. So, while modular could help us tackle the housing crisis, it won’t necessarily help the Conservatives achieve their dream of home ownership for everyone. Maybe it’s not the solution our Housing Minister was hoping for after all.
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Generation Ren Or consume of space? By Nicolas Khalili, Managing Director, HWO Architects
For too long, developers have treated renting as a secondrate tenure. But, as branding specialists Don’t Panic Partners point out, they’re missing the point. With 60% of Londoners predicted to be renting by 2025, renters – or perhaps consumers of space – could soon become developers’ biggest and most important market. It’s fair to say that the Private Rented Sector is the flavour of the month. After the UK’s vote to leave the EU, residential sales softened, making PRS a more attractive option for developers. Fizzy Living is just one of many providers offering PRS schemes through forward funding. ‘We’re seeing many developers obtain Built to Rent-focused planning consents’, says Stephen Young of Fizzy’s acquisition team. ‘It’s a relatively safe and rewarding route for them given the fierce competition for stock.’ And here in the capital, politicians believe PRS may be the answer to several issues. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has declared his interested in providing more homes at Discounted Market Rent. Meanwhile, local councils are warming up to PRS as a way of getting an income from public land while keeping ownership of it. Because of all this, it seems that renting it set to become mainstream. With this in mind, do developers need to change their ideas about Generation Rent?
Temporary homes, lasting communities When investors support PRS through forward funding, they’re looking 20 or 25 years ahead, not simply to quick gains as with Build to Sell developments. And because they’re invested in the long-term, PRS providers create functional, attractive, safe and secure neighbourhoods – places that thrive, and boost occupation. This is exactly what Local Authorities want to achieve through development. The conclusion is that Local Authorities will recognise and support PRS for its placemaking qualities. Stephen Young agrees, and says: ‘Our blocks let up quickly and our tenants then get busy contributing to the local economy. Once we’ve let up the first phase of regeneration scheme is alive, paving the way ahead.’
nt? ers 52-54 White Post Lane is a PRS development of 55 residential units over 25,000 square feet of flexible workspace for Aitch Group in Hackney Wick. Working alongside Hawkins Brown we developed a commercial yard where business tenants can meet, socialise and hold events. The building’s design takes its cue from the area’s historic warehouses, and features simple elevations of pale brick and tall windows, with the occasional gleam of a perforated metal screen. Images Copyright HWO / Aitch Group CGI’s courtesy of Ninety90
“ We’re seeing many developers obtain Built to Rent-focused planning consents... It’s a relatively safe and rewarding route for them given the fierce competition for stock.” Maidstone West is a redevelopment of a distressed office block into a 220-unit PRS scheme for The Zamek Group. The scheme will be delivered in two distinct phases: a Permitted Development of 191 units and a two-storey roof extension of 29 units. The scheme will regenerate the high street with completion due late 2017. Images Copyright HWO / The Zamek Group CGI’s courtesy of Line Creative
Rebranding Generation Rent Given all this, developers should rethink the way they approach PRS. For instance, the majority of renters have always been young Londoners. But new audiences are emerging. More and more young families are renting. Similarly, pensioners looking to downsize are considering rental properties. This means new PRS brands with different looks and design codes will emerge across London. And, while branding is secondary in Build to Sell, it’s a key ingredient in retaining renters. Our colleagues at creative agency Don’t Panic Partners believe that successful PRS brands of the future will do more than deliver quality homes, and will develop strong, flexible brands to suit different locations. They will also use their brand to push for developments in particular areas. As Giles Morse of Westbrook Properties explains: ‘Strong brands can make undesirable locations ‘cool’ and investable’. Right now, the idea of a Virgin PRS block in Bexley doesn’t sound so far-fetched.
“ Generation Rent itself needs a rebrand... They’re discerning consumers of space, who will pay good money for a home that reflects their lifestyle.”
Most importantly, Generation Rent itself needs a rebrand. These renters aren’t people who are choosing a second-class type of tenure. They’re discerning consumers of space, who will pay good money for a home that reflects their lifestyle. The developers who recognise this are the ones who will succeed in this changed and changing landscape.
Changing spaces Where space is constrained, PRS developers can attract renters with good design and great amenities. In the past, young professionals have chosen to live close to services, employment and transport links, leaving space as a secondary consideration. And Nationally Described Residential Space Standards, which apply to all tenures, have stifled innovation in unit sizes. But now, pioneers like Pocket or The Collective are challenging space standards in their own sectors. In turn, Local Authorities will become less apprehensive of changes, and will allow more innovation within PRS. As a result, ‘Flexi Rooms’ which can become a different type of space depending on the renter’s needs – perhaps a funky yoga room that transforms into homework room – will become key selling points. And, as the PRS market matures, investors will insist on future-proofing amenity spaces. Michael McCauley of Northridge Capital explains: ‘PRS blocks have to withstand future competition otherwise their value will drop’. Getting amenities right could soon be a cornerstone of successful PRS properties. PRS is here to stay Soon, PRS will be recognised as making a capital contribution to London’s housing. And in order to thrive, PRS developers need strong and flexible brands with ground-breaking designs and outstanding amenities. More than this, they need to see this generation of renters for what it is: a discerning and important market that’s here to stay. Thanks to Stephen Young, Senior Analyst at Fizzy Living, for his contribution to this article.
Flexi Rooms plans: the plans for the Flexi were developed in reaction to the standard 50 square meters 1 bed 2-person unit. About a third of the standard unit is wasted in circulation or space without natural daylight. Its wide frontage doesn’t make it particularly suitable for London sites. By contrast the Flexi room uses the depth of the site to create a flexible room with borrowed light from the galley kitchen. The living can be accessed either from the flexi room or the bedroom side. The unit effectively delivers 2.5 habitable rooms over a minimum of 40 square meters. Images Copyright HWO / Don’t Panic Partners
HWO’s Flexi Room: Compact doesn’t mean Japanese-style capsule rooms. Londoners still crave space and light and above all flexibility for their busy lives. The Flexi room designed by HWO for PRS brand SHAPE illustrates how ‘smaller’ can deliver more flexibility. Many young Londoners have experienced purpose-built environment as students, so as creative agency Don’t Panic Partners points out ‘Generation Rent’ actually means a more informed and demanding generation of renters. Images Copyright HWO / Don’t Panic Partners CGI’s courtesy of Harris Kalinka
HWO’s Flexi Room: the concept of the Flexi room was developed for the PRS providers Titan Group. It is part of theSHAPE brand, a new PRS concept aimed at a younger audience of city renters who demand the best locations, the most flexible layouts and lifestyle designs all wrapped into one. Note the paired back concrete slab and exposed blocks juxtaposed with the Crittal-style folding partition. The Flexi Room is the embodiment of the ever-changing renters choices. Images Copyright HWO / Don’t Panic Partners CGI’s courtesy of Harris Kalinka
33-35 Monier Road: Flexible think intelligent ho The government supports modular Build to Sell. The Mayor of London supports Built to Rent. In construction if not in politics, can the two sides meet in the middle? In fashionable Fish Island, a scheme shows that ‘efficiently built’ can also mean flexibility in tenure. In the capital, people aren’t looking for ‘luxury’ bells and whistles. They’re craving light, space, flexibility and community. But when space is tight (this is London, after all), developers fall into the trap of creating endless identical boxes off long, gloomy corridors. It doesn’t have to be this way. Get beyond the lowest common denominator, and you can provide brighter, more spacious, more imaginative and rewarding homes – homes that can be attractive either to sell or to rent.
Fishing for compliments Look at Fish Island: an area within the London borough of Tower Hamlets and one of the key zones earmarked for regeneration postOlympics. At the moment, the area has an unremarkable assortment of low-grade industrial buildings, yards and vacant sites, and some housing. There’s also a peppering of cafés, bars, clubs and galleries, now that artists and other creatives migrate from Shoreditch to more affordable areas. But the vision of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) is taking shape – and the landscape is changing fast. The current LLDC design, consented in November 2015, is the result of much
consultation with stakeholders and the public. It’s due to be completed in 2017. It meets all criteria set by the local authority and the LLDC, and features new and affordable housing with a socially balanced mix, high standards of design, and environmental sustainability. It will create new jobs, new business, and economic growth. And in the midst of it all is 33-35 Monier Road.
Lighting up the area We designed the 33-35 Monier Road development for Aitch Group. It will be stylish, sustainable, and will help make Fish Island a unique place to live and work. Even by central London standards, it’s very dense: almost 285 dwellings per hectare. Over its six-storeys, the building will include 45 high-quality homes: a mix of one-, twoand three-bedroom apartments, 29% of which will be family-sized units and 100% of which will be dual aspect. But even with this level of density, there’ll be plenty of daylight. We carefully considered and refined the massing so the scheme could be developed alongside its neighbours: Peabody’s Neptune Wharf to the North, an emerging development of 120 residential units to the East, and the outline consent for a school to the West.
The centre of attention Inside the development, apartments are arranged around a central space on the first to fifth floors. Residents will enjoy balconies, terraces and 177 square meters of communal space including a rooftop play area. At ground level, four commercial units will offer flexible space, perfect for creative businesses. The development is car-free, pedestrian and cyclist-friendly, with 77 cycle spaces for residents and business tenants. Green roofs will provide natural cooling in the summer and insulation in the winter. They’ll also act as mini wildlife zones, boosting the local ecology and adding another dimension to this mixed and vibrant community. At the same time, a nearby energy centre will make sure energy consumption is as sustainable as possible.
king, ousing 33-35 Monier Road will integrate well into the environment and local community. It will improve the streetscape, thanks to robust elevations and a simple palette of materials that reflect the area’s architectural heritage. Its wide walkways will encourage pedestrian flow, and its café and terrace will open onto 350 square meters of public space that the whole community can enjoy. Images Copyright HWO / Aitch Group CGI’s courtesy of Ninety90
The development wasn’t strictly modular – but we worked closely with Aitch Construction’s team, and other professionals, to facilitate delivery and offsite procurement. For instance, Apartments could stack vertically, and excavation was reduced to a minimum. Support brackets were reduced and masonry panels made consistent in size, while bathrooms were standardised. Most importantly, the process taught us that the latest generation of BIM softwares – plus great collaboration within the project team – really does deliver cost-efficient design.
Bright thinking, bright buildings Whether buying or renting, Londoners need homes with light, flexibility, and space to interact. They need housing that’s cleverly laid out and imaginatively designed; tightly laid out, making the most of brownfield land, yet spacious inside; part of a wider community, but tailored to individuals’ lives. These homes can still be practical and profitable. And as long as they address the needs of the community, Local Authorities will support dense schemes, whatever the tenure. Thoughtful, friendly, flexible housing: this is the true meaning of luxury in a city like London.
“ Londoners need homes with light, flexibility, and space to interact. They need housing that’s cleverly laid out and imaginatively designed”
A conversation with The Collective’s Nick Rees: From his Bedford Square headquarters, Architectural Director Nick Rees tells all on The Collective’s strategy for co-working world domination. NK: How did The Collective become involved with co-work? Did an opportunity arise or was it part of a long-term strategy?
Finally, you can’t underestimate the importance of a good printer and data supply… It goes a lot further than the traditional co-workspace free coffee!
NK: What’s the priority for your members? Affordability, being part of a community, location or flexibility?
NR: It was a combination of the two. Our primary product is co-living but there’s a great natural synergy between co-living and co-working, so we knew co-working spaces would thrive if we put them in our buildings. As a start-up company ourselves we knew we were in tune with the co-working demographic and could come up with a fantastic product. We were also starting to do larger developments with spaces at ground floor that were more suited to commercial uses, so we developed the co-working platform both to occupy these spaces and complement the co-living use.
NK: The Collective has now developed three co-work sites. What did you learn along the way?
NR: Seamless operations and communication are key, both with our members and inter-company. It’s also really important to form a close community through things like marketing, events and services. All of these rely on having an engaged and passionate team.
Good design is also one of our USPs and is really important to our brand. We’ve learnt that it can drive huge amounts of value and doesn’t have to cost huge amounts of money.
NR: We find it varies depending on the business. For a single desk type individual their order of priorities tends to be affordability first, then location, community and flexibility.
For businesses of five people or more it tends to be location first, then community, flexibility and affordability. Design is really important to our members too. There are plenty of sterile co-working spaces out there and we try to raise ourselves above the rest through creating unique spaces.
NK: Your sites offer amazing opportunities for young entrepreneurs... things like events, workshops, business support, mentorship. How do you explain your members’ appetite for direct contacts in this digital age?
NR: It’s hugely important. At Bedford Square we have a waiting list for people to join our community and a few doors down there’s availability left, right and centre. It shows that people want to be part of an exciting community as much as being in the right location. By curating the ultimate community or network it will give you the competitive advantage.
NK: Is it important to retain members as they grow from their first desk space to their first 1,000 square feet? Or are you focusing on start-ups? NR: We’re very much about trying to retain members through the whole journey of growth. This not only widens our customer base but creates an environment of true collaboration, where small companies and start-ups can gain inspiration and learn from people who are further down the line. It also helps the more mature companies keep up with new ideas, trends and what’s coming through.
NK: It’s common for hotels to subsidise function spaces in order to drive room revenues. Do you pursue synergies between co-work and co-live? NR: Very much so, we don’t subsidise as such but it’s broadly the same demographic that co-live and co-work so the synergy is strong. Our co-living community is largely made up of young entrepreneurs, remote workers, digital nomads and people who are intent on maximising life experience and values over traditional forms of living and working. Our co-living residents have free access to all our co-working spaces, which as you can imagine is a huge attractor for them.
NK: When assessing new developments, do you consider co-work as part of an ‘affordable workspace’ offer? And if yes have you found Local Authorities receptive to the concept? NR: Yes, we’re currently working on a project in partnership with the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea to provide affordable workspace for young businesses in the heart of the borough. It’s due for launch early next year and it has a profit re-investment fund attached to it that invests back into start-ups within the space and local community. Along with our partner Wild Blue Cohort, who provide a commerciallyled sustainable social enterprise, we’re looking to take this model to other boroughs.
NK: Co-live vs. co-work. What’s the best value per square foot? NR: Both underpin each other so it’s hard to separate them out and view them in isolation. However, co-living has the edge at the moment because the yields are more favourable, but both turn the same level of profit on cost.
NK: There are lots of promising new work brands out there. Any that we should watch out for? NR: I asked our Head of Workspace this question and his response was: ‘Really, I thought we were the only one.’
NK: Can our readers contact you about co-work opportunities within their own developments? NR: Absolutely, we’re always open to new opportunities!
NK: Finally, you’re re-launching the co-work website page. What new and exciting features can we expect? NR: We’re keeping the website relatively simple. The app and the digital platform are the future… Watch this space!
Thank you HWO: Nicolas Khalili (Managing Director) Rejane Salgado (Design Director) Richard Shrimplin (Senior Architect) Candice Moore (Associate) Joao Sa (Associate) Julian Cordoba (Architectural Assistant and BIM Manager) Steven Smith (Architectural Assistant) Idoia Amoros (Architectural Assistant) Maria Martin (Architectural Assistant) THE NEXT GENERATION: Arthur & Julian CREATIVE: Don’t Panic Partners PHOTOGRAPHY (NICK REES) Damian Miranda COPYWRITER: Kate van de Borgh CONTRIBUTORS: Nick Rees The Collective Stephen Young Fizzy Living CLIENTS: Aitch Group The Zamek Group COVER ARTWORK: Andrew Riddell firstname.lastname@example.org CGIs: Harris Kalinka www.harriskalinka.com Ninety90 www.ninety90.co.uk Line Creative, www.line-creative.uk Graphite is HWO Architect’s annual journal. If you want to take contribute to the next edition get in touch. Contact Nicolas Khalili: email@example.com HWO Architects, 407-8 ScreenWorks, London N5 2ER 0207 566 0006 hwo-architects.com firstname.lastname@example.org © Copyright Don’t Panic Partners HWO architects