Smart, sustainable homes for the future

25 August 2020

Robotics, vision inspection and augmented reality technologies are being harnessed to the latest innovations in construction to create a revolutionary new model for sustainable affordable homes that has been shortlisted for the RIBA Home of 2030 design competition.

The ‘ForEva’ home concept created by HLM Architects is a universal Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) platform that enables flexible, affordable and sustainable ‘forever’ homes that are designed to be fit for life and facilitate a circular economy. It was revealed as one of six finalists in the future homes competition by Housing Minister Christopher Pincher MP on Sunday (August 23).

The concept has been developed with support from the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with the ambition of solving the capacity and compatibility issues of offsite approaches to housing construction by developing a design standard that enables any MMC system to deliver the same high quality, sustainable design with parts that are interchangeable.

Philip Watson, director and head of design of HLM Architects, said: “Our ambition is to use the power of design and technology to create homes that are flexible, sustainable and affordable. Moreover, we want to create a design standard platform that enables the entire construction and manufacturing industry to unite to solve our housing crisis.

“‘HLM Architects were looking for a collaborative partner to help develop our concept of a platform agnostic modular home. We have a longstanding relationship with the University of Sheffield and approached the AMRC who were very open to exploring this idea.

“Working with James Illingworth and the team at AMRC was crucial to evolving innovative technical aspects of the concept for the ‘ForEva Home’. I am delighted that we continue our collaboration to the second phase of this competition.”

Working with James Illingworth and the team at AMRC was crucial to evolving innovative technical aspects of the concept for the ‘ForEva Home’. I am delighted that we continue our collaboration to the second phase of this competition.

James Illingworth, Head of Construction at the AMRC, advised on design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA) and Design for Disassembly and Adaptability (DfD/A) approaches and said supporting the ‘ForEva’ home design concept had been ‘an exciting opportunity’ for the University of Sheffield AMRC.

“The ForEva home concept is an agnostic Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) approach which should enable greater uptake and resilience for both manufacturer and client through putting the customer first to produce an adaptable, sustainable and affordable home.

“Our role was to explore what the manufacturing process might look like for each stage of the home’s lifecycle and I was involved with the brainstorming for the construction methodology.

“The opportunity to develop a concept design standard from the ground up considering the manufacturing approach is fantastic and ensures assembly challenges can be avoided in the future. The AMRC has been able to consider future manufacturing methods that incorporate advanced technologies such as robotics, machine vision inspection and augmented reality to ensure a quality-first productive approach.

“The flexibility of the concept enables offsite manufacturing and distributed construction to be exploited through the home's life cycle, enabling a home for life that can expand and contract according to the owner's needs. Much of the technology required to achieve this can be adapted and applied from other industry sectors such as automotive and aerospace.”

The AMRC has been able to consider future manufacturing methods that incorporate advanced technologies such as robotics, machine vision inspection and augmented reality to ensure a quality-first productive approach.

HLM Architects, whose portfolio includes a number of major schemes in Sheffield, says the biggest challenge facing housing both presently and beyond 2030 is a lack of capacity to build to meet the demand of a growing population, with the current shortfall estimated to be at least 100,000 homes per year.

Watson says this situation is further exacerbated by an accelerating skills shortage due to an ageing workforce and low entry of young people into the manual labour side of the construction industry. In tandem, the overarching climate emergency demands that we build with less waste in construction and reduced energy demands in occupation. Furthermore, the economic situation of the past decade has meant that many young people have been unable to afford to leave the parental home.

“A new model of affordable housing is required,” said Watson. “We believe that to address these challenges head-on we need to make better use of MMC and the benefits it brings, including: improving speed of build; reducing cost; reducing material waste; improving finished quality; improving environmental performance in use; and maximising the social value in that it brings by creating skilled and semi-skilled jobs in manufacturing in controlled and safe environments.

“We propose to develop a universal modular platform that provides interchangeability with a deep and varied ecosystem of components and suppliers. This will enable clients to select varied components from multiple companies within the ‘platform ecosystem’, empowering them to build, maintain, reconfigure, upgrade or shrink their ‘forever home’. “

The system would facilitate a circular economy by using finite resources in a more sustainable way and by allowing manufacturers to refurbish and resell components, increasing their possible revenue streams.

Launched by the Housing Minister Christopher Pincher MP, the competition invited small businesses, designers and manufacturers to come forward with ideas for new low carbon, age-friendly homes, meeting the highest standards of design..

The aim is to develop homes that will help tackle the key challenges facing society, focussing on solving multiple issues: harnessing new and evolving designs and technologies for a low carbon and highly energy efficient future; generating new typologies and solutions that are age-friendly and inclusive; and addressing comfort and wellbeing in homes.

The competition is focused on deliverability, cost-effectiveness and design quality, addressing gaps that may be in the market, whether that be due to demographic changes in an ageing population, increasing demands on the health care system, or patterns in our working lives and the increasing demand for smarter technology.

This competition demonstrates the best of British design being brought to bear on a key issue for today, and future generations: delivering homes that are good for the planet and that promote healthy, independent living for older generations.

Housing Minister Pincher said: “This competition demonstrates the best of British design being brought to bear on a key issue for today, and future generations: delivering homes that are good for the planet and that promote healthy, independent living for older generations.

“The winner of this competition will set the standard for the homes of the future and all six finalists have already made an exciting contribution to the designs we will need in the UK and around the world.”

Minister for Clean Growth and Energy, Kwasi Kwarteng MP said: “Cutting homeowners’ heating bills and making buildings greener is the next step in our plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and pioneering low-carbon initiatives like these will future proof our housing stock for years to come.”

Minister for Care, Helen Whately said: “We want everyone, regardless of their age, to lead healthy, active lives in communities that work for them. As the population of the UK ages, our housing and infrastructure must be adaptable to our changing needs.

“The innovation and talent shown by the finalists in designing solutions to meet the needs of our future population has been very exciting and I look forward to seeing what comes next."

The UK urgently needs a broad mix of affordable, age-friendly and sustainable housing – and these shortlisted proposals provide exactly that.

Alan Jones, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said: “The UK urgently needs a broad mix of affordable, age-friendly and sustainable housing – and these shortlisted proposals provide exactly that. Through the clever configuration of private and public space, natural light and ventilation, intelligent use of materials and technologies – these cost-effective, low carbon homes show what’s possible when architects collaborate.”

A winner will be chosen and together with other selected finalists will be introduced to Homes England development partners to explore the possibility of developing bids for a series of homes on Homes England land. The six finalists have each received £40,000 of funding to help them develop detailed plans. The winning Home of 2030 entry will be announced this autumn.

For phase two of the competition, HLM Architects and the AMRC will be joined by Mid Group, a ‘construction disruption’ contractor with advanced BIM capability who will help develop a universal modular platform that provides interchangeability with a deep and varied ecosystem of components and suppliers. Their 7D BIM ability will provide specification, time, capital cost, whole life cost, and maintenance information for each component.

Completing the team are Hydrock, who will bring engineering excellence, and Greenbuild, HLM Architects’ sustainability consultant partners, creating a multi-disciplinary consortium to take the concept forward.

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