A house for all seasons

From Chris Stanley, Housing Manager, Concrete Block Association

Earlier this month I attended (and chaired a session at) The Modern Masonry annual Resilient Housing Conference held in partnership with the Brick Development Association and The Concrete Centre. The event presented a great opportunity for masonry and precast manufacturers, architects, engineers and developers to come together and share expertise, innovative ideas and case studies within the housebuilding industry.

One of the main goals of the event was to foster an understanding of working with masonry and concrete as mediums, raise awareness of any upcoming building regulation changes and frame how they will impact housebuilding practice.

We kicked-off the day’s proceedings with a speech from Lynne Sullivan, chair of the Good Homes Alliance. In her candid speech, she outlined that while we have made great progress in our mission to tackle climate change, we needed to go further and faster. Housebuilders have an important role to play in meeting our 2050 targets.

Equally she highlighted that the approach to creating a more sustainable future lies in science, and that built environment professionals need to embrace it, mastering the terminology, with the understanding of how to get to net zero when asked.

In a wide-ranging talk, other key takeaways from her speech included the urgent need for a Clean Air Act, reducing the risk of urban heat islands and a greater commitment to refurb and retrofit solutions.

Guy Thompson highlighted the wide range of sustainability benefits of masonry as a locally and responsibly sourced solution which represents over 70% of current housebuilding whilst addressing long term housing challenges for the future.

Moving from sustainability to another hot topic for the industry, health and wellbeing, we heard from architect Ben Channon. His seminar outlined the different ways in which buildings could be designed for maximum mental as well as physical comfort, drawing from his recently published work: Happy by Design: A Guide to Architecture and Mental Wellbeing.

One point which particularly struck a chord and which I think we all need to consider across the housebuilding sector is that we should be enabling residents within our designs, not inhibiting them.

It’s something that could do with a session in its own right. Equally he outlined that it was a duty to avoid visual monotony and engage people through design, creating a safe and secure environment in which to live. I expect we’ll see much more discussion on these topics in the coming year.

Andrew Tam of Gort Scott Architects, brought some of these ideas to life, describing the work that he and his team did on Gainsford Road, a project for Pocket Living, and how they met the borough’s housing aspirations whilst making a lasting contribution to the area.

Oliver Novakovic, Technical and Innovation Director at Barratt, then took to the stage to show how this major developer has been working with Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). He focused on a couple of pilot initiatives and how many lessons had been learned during the testing stages of these new processes. He was also keen to outline how it can be difficult to convince clients to adopt this type of construction as it’s still around 5-10% more expensive than traditional methods. He caveated this by adding that such costs could be offset through the efficiency of the build and less hands required to deliver it, an optimal solution where large numbers of new starts needed to go up in areas with a shortage of skills availability.

Andy Adger, Construction Solutions Manager at H+H UK, built on these foundations to showcase the large panel potential of aircrete and their work with SIG to deliver a unique housing solution which promises a watertight shell for a standard-sized house design on-site in one week.

Tony Jones and Elaine Toogood from the Concrete Centre each provided incisive and cerebral sessions which focused on some of the most pressing topics facing the housebuilding industry. A technical overview was offered on fire and Part B for residential buildings, highlighting major changes in regulations and how any new legislation needed to improve the transparency of building product combustibility testing.

Other topics covered by the Centre’s resident experts was to define what is meant by a resilient home, from protection from flood and fire through to proper heat control and indoor air quality. Issues such as energy efficiency were also touched upon and how the housebuilding industry needed to embrace the potential of thermal mass as the National Grid goes green.

This dovetailed into a fascinating session from Michael Vernon of Delta Membranes, which delved deeper into flood resilience, highlighting how masonry and concrete can be used in conjunction with innovative attenuation products to deliver a non-intrusive flood defence solution.

The day culminated with an in-depth case study from Stuart McGrath of OMI Architects which perfectly demonstrated resilient housebuilding in action. Showcasing the practices work on Baker Place in Hulme, Manchester, where multiple structural obstacles were overcome in order to deliver a comfortable, safe and secure environment, designed with the end user in mind. Much to think about and discuss over the coming few months and into next year. I think it’s safe to say that, far from being uncertain, the future of residential design looks, well… resilient.