Lift-off for pioneering Bristol scheme that unlocks potential of factory-built homes

August 16, 2019

Bespoke pre-built homes have been craned into an existing building on one of Bristol’s busiest streets in a UK-first that has also brought so-called modular construction back into focus as a way of helping to solve the city’s housing crisis.

Bristol-based developer Urban Creation is behind the pioneering approach to construction it claims has huge implications for the future of housebuilding in the UK.

Eight pre-fabricated boxes have been lifted into the building – a former nightclub on Park Street in the city centre, creating five apartments.

The site was vacant and dilapidated when Urban Creation bought it in 2018. While most of the nearby buildings are Georgian, it was built in the 1950s after the previous building was bombed during World War II.

Modular construction – where homes are created off-site in a factory – has been used widely for new builds, but this is believed to be the first time in the UK that homes have been specially made to fit into the shell of an existing building on a historic street.

Jonathan Brecknell, pictured, director and owner at Urban Creation, which has many years’ experience in transforming unusual, complex buildings, said: “We’re very excited to be taking modular construction to a new level, using a highly innovative approach that has the potential to revolutionise the future of home building in the UK.”

Urban Creation has teamed up with modular construction specialist Go Modular, which has created bespoke, ready-to-go homes built specially to fit into the building. 

This is an unusual approach as usually modular units are created in uniform shapes and sizes. The apartments are already fully fitted out and decorated with kitchens and bathrooms in place.

Jonathan added: “The UK is facing a significant construction skills shortage, which is exacerbating the housing crisis as it means we aren’t delivering enough homes to meet demand. Modular construction is set to revolutionise the future of home building in the UK, as it brings huge benefits compared to traditional builds.

“There’s potential for modular homes to be delivered much quicker than traditional homes, putting less pressure on our stretched construction skills pool. They’re created in a controlled environment, meaning the construction programme isn’t at the mercy of adverse weather – plus there are fewer snagging issues as a result. Not to mention the fact that it causes less disruption to neighbours as most of the build is carried out off-site.”

While modular construction has been used widely for new builds, often on greenfield sites, Urban Creation says its approach shows what is possible in tight urban sites, which could help meet the urgent need for homes in our towns and cities.

A recent survey by the Federation of Master Builders, which represents small and medium-sized construction companies, found that housebuilders were encountering problems in recruiting skilled workers, with 60% saying they were struggling to hire bricklayers and 54% finding it difficult to employ carpenters and joiners.

In total nine pre-built apartments will be lifted by 200-tonne crane into 50 Park Street through the open roof into the cleared shell of the building, after arriving by lorry from a factory in Southampton. The building team had already stripped out 50 Park Street, removing the internal floors and walls, stabilised the shell of the building with a steel structure ready for the big lift-in. 

Jonathan Brecknell added: “Modular homes are a far cry from the prefab housing of the 1940s. They are designed and fitted out to the highest standard and built to last. We pride ourselves in our meticulous attention to detail and ability to take complex buildings and give them a new lease of life – and 50 Park Street is no different.

“Now that we’ve put this innovative approach into action, we’ll be looking to use this method in other suitable development projects.”

The scheme will include 13 beds in total, including two three-bedroom flats, five one-bedroom duplexes – with an upper bedroom area – and two studios.

Urban Creation will bring back some traditional character to the building by creating a mansard roof at the front of the four-storey building, as well as incorporating features such as cornicing and period-style sash windows into the design.

The addition of an asymmetrical pitched roof to the rear two-storey element of the building will house the duplexes. A commercial unit on the ground floor will be upgraded for use by a new tenant.

The homes will be let to the student market and are scheduled to be ready for occupation next month.

Jonathan added: “There is huge demand from both UK and international students for high-quality accommodation in the heart of Bristol, with this particular city centre location ideal thanks to its proximity to Bristol University and everything the city has to offer.

“It’s important Bristol meets this demand as the student population is a major contributor to the local economy through spend in our shops, eateries and local businesses, not to mention the vast number of jobs created by the universities.”

Top photo courtesy of Go Modular Technologies (UK) Ltd

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