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Five architects have designed innovative timber housing as part of a project to promote timber use in the conservative housing sector Homes out of the wood

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The Timber Dwelling Project is aimed at innovation in timber housing design and construction. Although the three main developers among the project partners (see box) are all housing associations, the hope is to influence speculative housebuilders too. After all, 50

per cent of housing-association dwellings are produced by speculative housebuilders.

One of the project outputs is to be a centre for best practice in design and construction of housing, based on the University of Greenwich campus, providing information on projects, seminars, training and education. There is a hope that some sample buildings may be included. The uk centre will focus on innovation, but not exclusively on timber.

This follows a study tour to Japan, where the housing industry provides a more customised and prefabricated product. Partly this is because a lot of housebuilding involves replacing an old house with a new one on the same site. Speed is at a premium, and economies of scale are often not possible except through standardising components. One result of the distributed pattern of housebuilding there is that usually there are no estates with show houses. Rather, show houses from a variety of housebuilders are sited adjacent to out-of-town retail centres so customers can compare what is on offer.

The idea of doing this in the uk is to open minds to new possibilities, both among the public and among the normally conservative housebuilders, and to increase the focus on customer service within the housing sector. For example, as well as the initial Japanese custom design (easier with little planning control), it is usual for Japanese fabricators to service the house every quarter for the first two years.

The project group intends to run the centre for seven or eight years in the first instance and hopes to develop similar centres in other parts of the country in future.

The timber house challenge

While some of the project focuses on refurbishment, adaptation and reuse, another part, headed by Hyde Housing Association, was an invitation to five practices to design innovative timber housing:

prp Architects

Calford Seadens Partnership


The Greenwich Design Group


Each was paid £8000 to develop designs in detail (though not detailed drawings), working to a standard Hyde/Housing Corporation brief for two- and three-bedroom housing on a site in Dartford, Kent. Hyde's brief includes a focus on energy efficiency, setting sap-value targets for different dwelling sizes and requiring maximum benefit from passive solar gain. Some housing on the site was to be for rent, some shared-equity, some for outright sale. (Hyde has around 25,000 dwellings in ownership/ management.)

As well as following the standard brief, the design teams were asked to select one of three themes as a focus for innovation - production, sustainability or structures/ components/materials (see box). In practice, all schemes tended to pick up on at least a few topics of the other two themes too. So the focus was wide, with the designs stretching the production process as much as current design conventions.

The designers were briefed in March and presented their work in July. The project group, including private developers (see box), is reviewing the five schemes shown on the next two pages, and there will be an independent costing. They will meet in September with the hope of using aspects of the work or whole designs in demonstration projects for permanent occupation.

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