Richard Rogers designs $50K flatpack homes for the homeless

on production line
© Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

In 1971 the firm of Piano + Rogers won the competition to build what became Paris's Pompidou Centre, one of the most important buildings of the 20th century, an icon of high-tech and prefabrication. They split up in 1977, yet seem to have continued on parallel paths. Last year Renzo Piano showed his lovely little high tech mini-house; now Richard Rogers shows that he can do mini-houses too, with his design for a 300 square foot low-cost prefabricated house, the Y-Cube, designed for the British YMCA.

exterior on site© Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

It is designed as short term transitional housing for people moving on from hostels. Archdaily quotes:

“The beauty is that the units can be moved off site as quickly as they are installed,” says Andy Redfearn of the YMCA, “as we operate on short-term leases – we expect people to stay [in the Y-Cube] for between three to five years, giving them time to skill up and save for a deposit.”

I don't know how one saves up for a deposit while paying rent of £140 (US$ 235) per week, but housing is expensive in Britain, and they have promised a 5% return to speculating “social investors.”

The Guardian gives more information about the construction technology:

Employing a timber-framed system called Insulshell, developed by Sheffield Insulations Group and Coxbench (which was also used for the London Olympic velodrome), the units are manufactured in one piece in a factory in Derbyshire. Built from precision-cut glue-laminated timber sections assembled by hand – “fixed with just two kinds of screw,” the designers tell me proudly – they are packed with insulation, forming a structural frame that can be stacked up to eight storeys high.

insulshellInsulshell/Promo image

I described Insulshell in an earlier post as "a new form of structural insulated panel with a patented joint system, a 60 minute fire rating and an insulating value of U0.16 for 239 mm panel, which translates through a complex calculation to R35 for an 8" thick panel."

multiple housing© Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Importantly, the demonstration unit that people are calling the "monopoly hotel" for its shape and colour may be a standalone, but the system is designed to do low-rise multiple unit projects. The first will be a horseshoe-shaped 36 unit project built around a courtyard where residents can grow vegetables.

Interior© Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Interiors are small and spartan, and critics have noted that they are reminiscent of postwar prefabs built in Britain. As for the exterior, Guardian critic Oliver Wainwright is unkind:

Whether it’s the clunky massing that comes with the stacking of prefab boxes, or the cheap-looking laminate cladding that give the air of paper-thin walls (belying the 350mm-deep construction), or the dubious colour schemes punctuated by shallow oblong windows, it’s hard to shake off that image of living in an 80s office block, or a converted data centre.

That's harsh. Monopoly hotels are the most expensive buildings in the game; it seems like an aspirational target.

Richard Rogers designs $50K flatpack homes for the homeless
The 300 square foot units are derided as looking like "monopoly hotels" but they offer a lot to people with little.

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