A council-owned development company wants its architects to design schemes for offsite construction to drive forward its circular economy push
BeFirst is owned by Barking & Dagenham Council and aims to deliver 3,000 homes, as well as some new light industrial space, over the next five years.
The arms-length regeneration company is already working with architects including Morris + Company, White Arkitekter, HTA Design, Haworth Tompkins, Archio and Pitman Tozer.
But BeFirst has now published a design guide, developed with Mæ Architects, for architects hoping to win work from it in the future – and has said it expects architects to ‘strive’ for standardisation and design for modern methods of construction (MMC).
‘We are not fixing ourselves to any single supplier [for off-site components], but instead plan to open source a number of components,’ said Jacob Wilson, Be First’s head of design.
‘We have been thinking a lot about circular economy principles. Barking & Dagenham has a strong manufacturing sector and we plan to make use of local businesses.’
Wilson said that MMC solutions are different depending on the scale of the project. For instance, developing 12 townhouses requires a different approach to MMC than an estate regeneration with hundreds of homes.
‘For smaller sites we might use volumetric modular construction, but also prefabricated elements of concrete or steel frame and then a panellised cladding system.
‘For bigger sites, we are more interested in design for manufacture and assembly, and using parts which can be easily produced. This also feeds into the circular economy, because then you are designing for disassembly, with parts which can be re-used.’
He added: ‘We have previously designed to build with timber, but that is more challenging post-Grenfell, and obviously there was a fire down in Barking riverside as well.’
Wilson also denied that asking for greater standardisation will lead to fewer unique or creative designs.
‘Architects benefit from knowing what components we like to use and what standardisation we like, but we are keen for them to apply it creatively,’ he said.
‘There won’t be a uniformity to our developments, but inside there may be similar kitchens or specifications,’ he added.