This issue’s Specifier takes a close look at the expanding world of modern methods of construction, including a checklist of when to head for the factory and when to steer clear, lifetime costs and, overleaf, the latest products. But first, one London architect’s bid to build the ODPM’s vaunted £60,000 house …

Bryden Wood Associates is the latest architect to join the race to design a £60,000 house for John Prescott. Not only that, the Clerkenwell practice also claims it can build the affordable dwelling using its very own modern methods of construction.

The practice has just designed and built its first dwelling in Forest Gate, east London, using prefabricated units assembled by Optimum Building Products (OBP), an off-site manufacturer owned by Bryden Wood, and cladding and curtain walling outfit Commercial Systems International.

The three-storey five-bedroom home cost £269,000 to design and build, but Bryden Wood associate Paul O’Neill says the same principles could be used to manufacture smaller homes for much less. “With an order of 10-20 homes we could build two- to three-bedroom homes for £60,000 or thereabouts,” says O’Neill.

Bryden Wood was selected by the client after another architect’s design was rejected for being too expensive. Bryden Wood’s first design for the client using traditional building methods also proved too costly, so the practice turned to ODP and off-site manufacture. Amazingly, Bryden Wood discovered that by building the home in its factory it could cut total costs by £70,000 and meet the client’s budget.

After Bryden Wood had convinced the client of the merits of off-site manufacture, OBP fabricated six insulated steel-framed units and installed services, glazing and doors in the factory. The first two volumetric units, which were finished with brick slips, were then craned onto a concrete slab foundation and fixed in position. The roofs of these units formed the floors for the next two units, which were lifted into position. The final two units, which had an insulated blue render finish, were then craned to form the third storey. Each unit measured 2.8 × 4 × 10 m.

Work on site was minimal, with two units being installed every other day. The wooden flooring was installed in situ and the walls received one last coat of paint after the units had been bolted together. Money was also saved on scaffolding: only a small tower scaffold was required to apply the aluminium flashing details that covered the joints between the units.

O’Neill said that the flashing deliberately reinforced the unitised appearance of the building, as did the stack-bonded brickwork. “The bricks carry no structural strength, and we were happy to show off the construction methods, as was the client.”

O’Neill and partners Mark Bryden and Martin Wood are now ready to present their building system to the ODPM and put in their bid to provide affordable homes for the Thames Gateway and other growth areas.

Bryden Wood has a trump card that O’Neill believes will give the company an advantage over its rivals. “We have a lot of experience in logistics,” says O’Neill. “We know the parameters and know what the highway restrictions are when transporting prefabricated homes around the country.” It’s just possible a £60,000 house could be winging its way down the motorway, courtesy of Bryden Wood, some time in the not-too-distant future.


Off-site manufacture