Leeds housing focus: Amazing tech could see houses being ‘printed’

TECHNOLOGY: Architects Maurice Lyons, Irena Bauman, Sam Wilson and Costin Lazar with their design.
TECHNOLOGY: Architects Maurice Lyons, Irena Bauman, Sam Wilson and Costin Lazar with their design.
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The YEP is shining the spotlight on community-led housing in Leeds - its bid to offer an alternative to volume housebuilders and put people - not profit - at the heart of housing.

Today, in the final day of our special series, Joanna Wardill looks at one self-builder in Leeds and cutting-edge technology being developed in the city which could allow people to ‘print’ houses from their own computers.

Building your own home is a dream for many – particularly thanks to the popularity of TV shows such as Grand Designs.

But statistics show only eight per cent of all new homes in the UK are built this way.

It seems the challenge can prove too much for wannabe self-builders – but could that be about to change?

The Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding Act of 2015 set up the requirement for local authorities to begin a register of those who want to acquire land to build their own home, to try and assess interest levels.

Jonathan and Harriet  Lindh, who built their own home 22 years ago in Allerton Park, Leeds.' Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

Jonathan and Harriet Lindh, who built their own home 22 years ago in Allerton Park, Leeds.' Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

Leeds City Council set up this city’s register in March 2016, which at the last count had 214 entrants - 204 individuals and 10 groups.

The authority also now has a legal duty to grant sufficient ‘development permissions’ to meet the demand - all aiming to help tackle the hurdle faced by many, of obtaining a suitable plot for their projects.

But once a plot has been found, how does someone go about creating their dream home?

The sector differentiates between ‘custom’ build and ‘self’ build. While self-build is going the whole hog on your own - applying for planning permission, building on a DIY basis or commissioning trades - custom build is where you get a house built for you, but you have a say in how it looks. A new breed of custom-build developer has emerged over the last two years, such as Igloo and Potten, who can create homes to fit its future owner’s requirements.

These have yet to take off in Leeds but the potential is there, says Paul Chatterton, a director at Leeds Community Homes, the community land trust which launched in 2015 with the aim of delivering 1,000 community-led homes over the next 10 years.

He said: “They provide a plot of land and you choose which kind of house you want. It’s big in Europe, particularly with the Dutch. It’s not really happening in Leeds but this is all up for grabs. It’s something that will happen here.”

One forward-thinking architect in north Leeds is currently developing a new system which she says could revolutionise the custom-build market - and could one day lead to people being able to ‘print’ houses on their iPads.

Irena Bauman’s company, Bauman Lyons Architects in Chapeltown, has created a design set-up called MassBespoke which can essentially create a computerised kit house.

Using new software and computer-operated wood-cutting machines, called CNCs, MassBespoke can produce wooden ‘cassettes’ - like Lego pieces - which fit together and build a tailor-made house frame.

The technology can tap into an existing network of CNC machines - of which there are many around Yorkshire, often used for creating furniture - and ‘print’ houses. MassBespoke has so far won three grants from government-funded Innovate UK, the last of which is being used to build the first house prototype in Chapel Allerton.

Irena said: “You do everything on screen and finalise the design with the client, who can see their house, how many bedrooms, and turn it around. Then that can be translated into cutting the structure of the house. This is sent electronically to the router, the CNC, which cuts out parts which are then assembled into cassettes, which are then assembled in a house.

“The cassettes can be the size that one person can pick up, or bigger - whatever suits the construction process.”
She added: “New browser platforms will soon allow customers to take advantage of MassBespoke to design their homes on a tablet and then send fabrication orders to fabrication workshops near them.”

Their software also makes it more affordable to create environmentally-friendly homes - a factor which many custom and self-builders prioritise.

Jonathan Lindh and his wife Harriet are still living the self-build dream in their eco-friendly home built more than 10 years ago.

With timber frames, triple glazing and super-insulation, their three-storey home also boasts a large balcony and extensive gardens in the fashionable Gledhow Valley area of north Leeds.

They did as much of the work themselves as possible - with Harriet completing a carpentry course ready for the build - which kept the cost of materials and construction to just £50,000.

It also helped that they joined forces with two other couples in buying the land and building the three terraced houses. Jonathan, an architect, said: “We are still in design guides because I suppose we were a bit ahead of the curve, and this type of stuff is really current. The whole idea was building houses that were ecological and energy efficient and they were experimental.”

When asked what their home is worth today, Jonathan said: “A lot more than it cost us, but that’s down to the stupid housing dynamics.

“That’s the problem - the broken housing market and what you do about it. As long as you see your home as a commodity, you’re always going to be in that world and it’s going to be more difficult for everyone.”

After his self-build project, Jonathan went on to set up Leeds Environmental Design Associates (LEDA) - a team of designers dedicated to creating environmentally-friendly buildings - and is now also a director of Leeds Community Homes.

He admitted his self-build experience wasn’t without problems - wishing he’d used cranes and added more insulation for starters - but said they’re still very pleased they did it.

“It’s better than what you would otherwise get. That’s the universal thing about self-build - you get something better, and more suited, to what you would get anywhere else,” he said.

Visit http://righttobuildtoolkit.org.uk for more information on self builds.