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Revolution in construction?

Our final panel of the morning of 10th October Future Cities Forum looked at the issues of housing build for councils and social housing associations using modular and offsite construction. Please listen to our podcast above of the full debate involving Andrew Waugh of Waugh Thistleton, Sue Foster of Lambeth Council, Steve Cole at Clarion Housing Group and Mauro Burgio from Bryden Wood.

The discussion began with a description of the waste timber products from tulip wood in the USA used by Andrew Waugh, Founding Director of the architectural practice Waugh Thistleton, for an installation called MultiPly at this year's London Design Festival, constructed at the V&A Museums in South Kensington. Andrew said this laminated hardwood low carbon timber structure - flat packed 17 boxes and designed to provoke responses to how this modular approach could be used in housing - had received 16 million Instagram impressions as it was taking shape.

His practice has been developing low carbon engineered timber solutions for housing for over 15 years. The firm is working with Swan Housing and Vastint (the development arm of IKEA) on CRL housing which costs a fifth of a similar concrete building and is very low on carbon. They have been working on over station developments in Paris and now the city is proposing that cross laminated timber construction should take precedence over traditional methods.

Mauro Burgio, Director of Bryden Wood took the debate further in saying that the future of better building should involve many different types of materials and a revolution in construction. 'We are on the verge of a major shift in the construction industry. Our goal is to make construction so simple: to standardise and modularise into a "kit of parts" so that architects can really go back to designing. Watch Mauro talk here about the value of data in achieving this:

Interestingly, Mauro also felt that modular might save the NHS costs in building hospitals if the private Circle hospital in Reading that they have designed is used as an example, as it was 80% modular and 30% cheaper than the previous building, providing better space and hospital patient experiences.

On housing Sue Foster, Strategic Director, Neighbourhoods and Growth of Lambeth Council said that modular was an important element in the council's drive to deliver affordable homes. The council is gearing up to deliver 300 homes a year with 50% affordable and a priority to deliver more good quality homes. She said there are increasing numbers of tenants in temporary accommodation and the 500 million pound fund for current stock is coming to an end. Sue says she wants to see if modular can be scaled up and have the flexibility so that housing can be moved from site to site. Her concern is that modular products are sustainable, value for money and that modular can provide accommodation which will last 25 to 50 years as well as delivering a different product for short term housing options.

Clarion Housing Group's Policy Director, Steve Cole commented that guarantees with modular build are important and that the amount of investment that goes into maintaining Victorian social homes is often very high. When discussing the use of modular, the argument for him is not what the product is but the outcome. Clarion used to acquire building stock without having much control over it but now they are acting as developer in building housing. Discussing innovations in offsite construction and new housing factories, Steve said: 'development is still opportunistic and tactical rather than strategic. Land banks are as about strategic as it gets. So this approach does not sit well with the (offsite construction) factory model which needs a steady supply of orders to work properly.'

Andrew was asked to sum up the findings of the discussion and pointed out that the building industry is changing with necessity, since we are facing the major challenges of climate change and a housing crisis. In conclusion, he said: "we need to tackle these problems together and develop a construction industry workforce that is industrialised and which is diverse, and we all need to play a part in the solutions."

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