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Roberts: ‘Custom-building will change the landscape of suburban Britain’

Custom-built housing schemes and crowd-sourcing investment were the key topics of a speech by Mike Roberts, managing director of Happiness Architecture Beauty (HAB) at last week’s AJ100 breakfast club

HAB was founded by designer and presenter of Channel Four’s Grand Designs Kevin McCloud and sees itself as the ‘bridge between the custom-builder and the volume house builder’.

The company is working with architects such as Glenn Howells, DSDHA, AHMM and David Mikhail Architects to deliver housing schemes in Swindon, Stroud and Chippenham.

Roberts spoke about how the UK lags behind the rest of Europe on custom-built housing. ‘If you look at a comparison of the international market, we see that in the main European markets, 50-60 per cent of new housing is built for the customer. Only one in ten of new homes built in the UK is delivered for a customer. Why is this important? If you give customers a choice they aren’t going to say we want a standard built house.’

He added: ‘Somebody investing in their own house from the offset will be more interested in lifetime running costs, so they will push the sustainability angle further and harder, and they will want to personalise, they will want the house to look different.’

We will try to minimise reinventing the wheel every time

‘This has the potential to change the whole landscape of suburban Britain in particular.’

As HAB focuses on standardised custom-build, architects would not be paid the same percentage-based fees that they normally receive on other housing projects, with the emphasis of the project falling on place making and contextualising the housing units.

Roberts said: ‘It’s impossible to generalise [regarding fees]. At the higher end of the custom build level there will be a requirement for design services, at the mass market end, that is where we will try to minimise reinventing the wheel every time. There it’s more about place making and contextualising the development. To give a range of fees is impossible.’

He added: ‘I’m very clear that we want the work to be profitable for architects, but it’s got to be cost-beneficial to the scheme as well, otherwise we go back to the system where architects are not involved. We want to discuss [fees] once we move into live scheme situations.’

Roberts also spoke about HAB’s plans to crowd-source investment of £1m for future housing projects, £400,000 of which has already been raised. Roberts said that although returns could not be guaranteed, investors could would see rewards within three years, and returns of up to six times the initial outlay in five years.

‘Instead of going after high-net worth individuals, with rich people becoming even richer, we thought, let’s market this to the crowd let’s get the debate out there.’

‘Do people care about the places they live in? So we are [reaching] out for funding. We have 160 people who have come on board to date. We need another 160 to come on board. They are coming on board for a journey, and hopefully we can change the mass house building market for the better.’

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