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THE PRODUCT IS INTERESTING, WORKABLE - AND ARCHITECTURALLY UNINSPIRING

TECHNICAL & PRACTICE

Sustainability advocates talk a good talk of consensus, partnering and social responsibility but, in reality, they are in business and not averse to rubbishing the competition.

Product information from a Swedish factory-built housing system states that 'timber is a renewable resource that can be dismantled, reused, recycled and then the energy can be recovered as a fuel.' So far, so what. But, it continues, 'compare this with the environmental impacts and the energy needed to produce and transport steel, plastic or concrete for the construction industry'.

Well, I await responses from the steel, plastic or concrete industries to rebut the implied criticism and for them to suggest that, in fact, they are more sustainable.

Steel is recoverable and reuseable. Admittedly, it can't be burned as a fuel but since when has releasing dioxin and CO 2 been seen as positive sustainable advantage anyway? Concrete's longevity and the new technological advances in CO 2 selfsequestrating concrete leave low-tech timber way behind. And plastic has the potential for zero maintenance, low weight-tostrength possibilities that should make it the most efficient and adaptable material of them all.

However, timber is more regularly mentioned with the suffix 'sustainable' these days, and the Modehus domestic housing panellised system is no exception. Its glib use of these words masks two facts. One is that it is a very interesting, workable, efficient factory-standard prefabricated system that has enormous potential for providing quick solutions to the housing shortfall. The second is that it is architecturally uninspiring, to the point of downright unpleasantness. Perhaps the fact that Ryder HKS has been asked to help bring the product to the UK market might input some design pleasantries to the finished product.

A year ago, a delegation from RyderHKS went over to Korsberga in Sweden at the request of their client - and Modehus' joint venture partner - Metnor Property Services, to view the product and factory and to see if they could help develop the closed-panel, factory-fabricated product range for the UK market.

One of the main differences between the UK and Sweden is that their insulation standards are well in excess of UK requirements. It was easy to continue the product run with Swedish insulation levels. This is cost effective as well as providing a better insulated product for the UK market - well in excess of even the predicted Part L requirements in 2010!

The system is similar to structural insulated panel or fabricated panellised systems. A 120 x 45mm timber stud frame has intermediate studs at 600mm centres. 120mm foamglass insulation is packed into the voids and the panel faced with 12mm chipboard, 0.2mm polythene vapour check and 13mm plasterboard on the internal face of the panel and 13mm impregnated fibreboard on the outer face. The finished appearance can use a brick outer leaf with the panel as a timber-framed inner leaf to a conventional cavity system; timber or rainscreen cladding hung from battens and counter battens off the structural panel; or rendered using a proprietary system of render on mesh on insulation fixed to the panels. Roof construction incorporates 195mm foamglass insulation, for both warm- and cold-roof construction.

All windows are triple glazed and factory fitted, as are doorsets, enabling the insulation details and airtightness seals to be managed in factory conditions.

RyderHKS has been tasked with drawing up eight new house types to suit the system. Project architect Graeme Phillips says of his role in adapting the existing Swedish housetypes: 'We thought we should provide a more contemporary design for the UK market? and the open-plan culture in Sweden wouldn't go down too well over here.' He is helping to turn out a range of units including three-bed terraced and five- and six-bed detatched houses.

All panels come with conduits, sockets, pipes, etc included and Phillips ensures the regulations have been complied with.

One of the problems of translating the Swedish model to UK conditions is that Modehus uses untreated timber in its construction but UK authorities insist that it be treated - to prevent warp, rot and infestation. To comply with such a change will significantly interfere with the panels' manufacturing processes in Sweden, which wasn't the intention. Negotiations are in progress.

Phillips says that RyderHKS hasn't been constrained by plywood sizes and other restrictions that typify modular housing types. Because this is just a panellised system, 'the Swedish team told us that we can do whatever we want within reason' , he says.

Let's hope that introducing some architectural design, styling and aesthetic judgements will not be deemed unreasonable.

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