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ZEDpods may be coming to a car park near you

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Hattie Hartman assesses ZED Factory’s ZEDpods, budget homes on stilts developed specifically for car park locations

‘Bill Dunster is on to something with this concept,’ says Mike Taylor of Hopkins Architects, whose WWF-UK headquarters spans a public car park in Woking. ‘There is nothing new with integrating parking and architecture – after all, Le Corbusier wrapped the Villa Savoye around the car’s turning circle as long ago as 1928. The idea of developing the air rights above an existing car park for another use is full of potential.’

The cleverest bit of the ZED Factory principal’s proposal, which was unwrapped at BRE last week, is that it decouples housing provision from land prices. ZED Factory estimates that the pods can be delivered for about £65,000 each, depending on the site. The developer negotiates only the air rights over the car parks, and the pods are installed and maintained at no cost to the land’s owner.

And ZEDpods can be installed very quickly. Advocating a pop-up factory approach which relies on small builders and eliminates the need for a general contractor, Dunster reckons the pods ‘can be manufactured and built in the time it takes to get planning approval. Four people can manufacture a pod in a week’. A forklift truck is the only major equipment required and the services, which are minimal, can be installed over a weekend.

At one parking bay wide and two bays deep, the double-height 22.4m2 units include a bedroom mezzanine with space for a desk. ‘The units designed themselves,’ says Dunster. Below is a micro-kitchen, bath and open plan area with a sofa and a small table for two. This tiny size does not meet Homes & Communities Agency minimum space standards, which means that the pods do not qualify for HCA funding streams. Hence, says Dunster, they are not viewed as affordable housing and face less resistance from future neighbours. He views the pods as gateway housing for a couple of years, a kind of post-student days transitional accommodation.

Interior looking towards door img 2597

Interior looking towards door img 2597

Several proposals for ZEDpod communities are at feasibility study stage, including a 24-unit complex at Bath Easton, near Bath, and a town-centre proposal in Medway, Kent. ZED Factory has also completed proposals for Oxford’s park and ride sites, which Dunster sees as ideal for pod communities, because they have integrated transport and convenience stores. NHS sites have also been proposed as possible locations for ZEDpod communities. ZED Factory’s most likely funder for the pods is a former solar farms developer in search of new ways to push solar following the decline in feed-in tariffs.

ZED Factory has surveyed some 15 urban car parks to date and all have the existing infrastructure to handle a pod community. The proposed pods would sit on a ballasted raft structure on rubber pads, whose pressure on the existing parking surface is no more than a parked car. Grooves are cut into existing tarmac to lay conduit for a water pipe, a bore pipe for macerated sewage that is pumped to an existing foul water drain, an electric supply and optional fibre optics.

The electricity supply for ZEDpods can be fed through existing street lighting circuits and linked to lithium battery storage located under the stairs to the unit. No upgrading of electricity supply is required. With rooftop PVs and onsite storage, ZED Factory estimates that the pods will draw energy from the grid a maximum of 30 per cent of the year.

ZED Factory’s two decades of research and engagement with the supply chain shines through in this proposal

Engagement with suppliers spreads the risk and is key to the success of this project. ZED Factory’s two decades of research and engagement with the supply chain shines through in this proposal. Analysis of the solar orientation of units to optimise the efficiency of the PVs showed that pods can work in any orientation, losing no more than 15 per cent of solar energy than if their orientation were optimised for solar gain.

Every pod component is a line item on a spread sheet, including triple-glazed windows by Rationel, British steel and OSB and insulated timber panels to be supplied by local timber framers. ZED Factory fabricates its own building-integrated PVs in China.

The ZEDPod prototype which opened last week at the BRE’s Innovation Park does not do justice to the concept. Unattractive exterior cladding and interior finishes (multi-purpose boards with metal strips over the joints) make what is an average design unappealing. The end-of-terrace prototype benefits from a side window, which makes it difficult to judge how much daylight mid-terrace units would have and how claustrophobic they might feel. And the balcony overlooking a sea of parking makes explicit the downsides of living over a car park.

I tested the ZEDpod idea out on some 20-somethings who visited this week. Would they be happy to live in one of these pods for £650 a month (ZED Factory’s projected rent)? The answer was a resounding yes, though they felt the units would be better suited to solo living than to a couple.

zed factory zed pod proposed for existing carparks

Zed factory zedpod designs

ZEDpods should take a cue from co-housing initiatives by WeWork and The Collective. With some sprucing-up of the design both inside and out, these units could prove very popular. ZED Factory should consider running student design charrettes, offering workshops in sustainable design and renewable technologies in exchange for brainstorming the pod concept.

It’s all down to location, location, location. Since car parks abound in city centres, suburbs and in the country, ZEDpods may well be coming to a place near you.

Comment: Mike Taylor, senior partner, Hopkins Architects

I think Bill Dunster is on to something with this concept. There is nothing new with integrating parking and architecture – after all Corbusier wrapped the Villa Savoye around the car’s turning circle as long ago as 1928 but the idea of developing the air rights above an existing car park for another use is full of potential.

Our WWF-UK project in Woking adopted the same idea with the building on a raft above a public car park and the end result was really good-quality office space without any noticeable compromise. To be viable you need to get the building grid fitting a 2.4m-wide parking space, create good acoustic and fire separation between the two levels, ensure you can get wheelchair access to the upper level and build enough volume to spread the additional structure costs of not building directly on the ground.

The ZEDpod prototype looks like it has tackled all these challenges head-on, and I can’t see why it can’t be rolled out to make a significant and immediate contribution to the housing crisis in this country.

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • Are they seriously advocating living in a cramped box with minimal daylight, zero storage space, presumably no parking space and then paying £650 for the privilege as being an acceptable standard of living in the 21st century?
    As noted this does not even come close to meeting the minimum space standards for living. This is not a viable living solution fit for anyone to occupy. As architects we should be strongly fighting against this kind of ill thought through sorry excuse for housing not championing it! We must do better than this!

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  • A cold heart, mechanical mind and no conception of the human condition are prerequisites for home design among too many architects. These shoe boxes on stilts illustrate the point perfectly.

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  • John Kellett

    The decriers of the pods are the ones without soul. By making better use of space, as architects, the 'minimum' standards become meaningless. My 14 m narrowboat is more than capable of being a home for a single person (and has been), with an infinite number of outdoor spaces, bedroom, engine room, bathroom, kitchen, office and living room. The one thing it isn't, is a family home :-)

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