Collected Journalism

The Y:Cube – a Solution to the Housing Crisis?


This piece was published in The Guardian in June 2014.

The dream of factory-built housing, a mass production system as efficient as rolling cars off an assembly line, has enchanted designers and architects for almost a century.

The prefab bungalows built in munitions factories at the end of the second world war – 150,000 of them – helped Britain deal with a dire housing shortage. The last surviving prefab estate, in Catford, south London, stands as a reminder of what can be achieved in an emergency.

Could contemporary prefabs, quickly assembled with the aid of advances in computer modelling and bolt-together construction, be the answer to today’s housing crisis? Could efficient manufacturing improve the sluggish supply of new homes, and offer affordability for those in need?

The latest incarnation of the prefab dream can be found in Wimbledon, south London, behind the YMCA’s London headquarters. The Y:Cube, a bright red module, cost just £30,000 to build off-site in a Derbyshire factory and took less than 24 hours to crane in and install.

Devised by Richard Rodgers’ firm RSH+P, the architects are now working with the YMCA and Merton council to create a three-storey development of 36 “move on” Y:Cube homes for homeless people as a place to live between being placed in emergency housing and finding a permanent home. Each flat will be rented out at £140 a week – 65% of the market rent. A similar 36-home scheme of RSH+P’s modular flats for discount rent has also been ordered by Newham council in east London.

A YMCA hostel resident, Shantae Whyte, 22, spent most of last year sofa surfing at friends’ flats. She has been staying in the Y:Cube temporarily as a test to help the architects tweak the interior design.

“It’s warm, comfortable and cosy,” she said. “I quickly thought of this as a really nice one-bedroom apartment. Having your own place where you can close the door and shut out the noise is a big thing. And I think it looks good. I thought: ‘This is exactly kind of place that would suit me.'”

The YMCA hopes to have the development in place by the end of this year. “I’d happily be one of the first residents there, but I’m trying to give myself options. Everyone knows how tough housing is in London,” said Whyte.

Housing charity Shelter puts the shortage of affordable housing in England at between 40,000 and 60,000 homes a year. A report by Shelter and KPMG last month on house-building calls for more innovative and diverse delivery models…

Read the full story at The Guardian

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