Architecture Step by Step: Y:Cube by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Paul Keskeys Paul Keskeys

Richard Rogers of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners is known in London, United Kingdom, for his high-quality exhibitions of structural expressionism, buildings such as NEO Bankside offering commercial space that blends his distinctive industrial language with a luxury office environment. Recently, though, the British architect completed a project in the capital with very different requirements: the Y:Cube apartment block in Mitcham, South London.

Y:Cube reimagines the prefab for affordable housing in the 21st century, offering residents leaving homelessness hostels and supported housing schemes a place to call their own in spite of the city’s sky-high property prices. Here, we break down the project into seven steps that chart this innovative project from concept to completion:

1. The Vision

The firm began sketching out ideas that would incorporate the primary design features: modular construction, integrated outdoor space for each resident, and flashes of upbeat color. The concepts within these painted sketches were then solidified in CAD, creating plans for each unit that would both be easy to manufacture and provide residents with efficient internal layouts.

2. Concept Development

3D printing technology was utilized to visualize the modular nature of the development as a stackable model, providing the architects with the ability to assemble units in any number of configurations before settling on the most appropriate layout for the site.

© Grant Smith

© Grant Smith

3. Pre-Fabrication

The 36 Y:Cube units were all built in a Derbyshire factory before being transported to site. In collaboration with project manager Aecom and U.K. contractor SIG Plc Building Systems, wall panels were designed and constructed with highly efficient insulation and incorporated optimum daylight and acoustics for each unit.

4. Transportation

The compact nature of each unit made it ideal for transportation via flatbed truck, traveling 150 miles along the motorway to Mitcham in South London. Off-site manufacturing increases efficiency of the construction process, forming a new housing model that harnesses what Practice Partner Ivan Harbour calls “cost-effective volumetric technology.”

5. Assembly

Once the units arrived on site, their relatively low weight allowed them to be swiftly craned into position. The complete build program for the three-story structure lasted around five months, and this construction process made the price-per-unit significantly less than conventional multi-unit housing projects.

© Grant Smith

© Grant Smith

6. Completion

Funded by a grant of £337,000 from the Mayor of London’s “Building the Pipeline” scheme and a number of other organizations, Y:Cube was completed in August 2015. The efficient method of construction allowed the rent to be considerably more affordable for residents, around 65 percent of the local market rate.

© Grant Smith

© Grant Smith

7. Post Occupancy Evaluation

Time will tell just how successful the Y:Cube project proves to be, but 24-year-old resident Wendy Omollo has already given some very positive feedback. “By having my own space with my own front door, I will regain my independence, but it’s not just that,” says Omollo. “As the rent is affordable and I can stay for up to five years, I’ll also be able to save money for a deposit. When the time comes to move on from Y:Cube, I will be in a far better situation than today.”

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