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Competition: Self-build retirement community on a shoestring

The National Custom & Self Build Association (NaCSBA) has announced an open ideas contest for a £1.5 million retirement community (Deadline: 21 September)

The competition seeks ‘cost-effective, beautiful and green’ proposals for an elderly housing development featuring 30 units, each costing up to £40,000, on a theoretical 1ha suburban site.

The project is the latest edition of NaCSBA’s annual ‘Self-build on a shoestring’ competition. This year’s call for ideas was inspired by Pollard Thomas Edwards’ £4.2 million New Ground cohousing scheme (pictured) for older women in Barnet, north London.

Pollard Thomas Edwards’ £4.2 million New Ground co-housing scheme

Pollard Thomas Edwards’ £4.2 million New Ground co-housing scheme

Source: Image by Tim Crocker

Pollard Thomas Edwards’ £4.2 million New Ground co-housing scheme

The competition brief explains: ‘In mainland Europe many innovative retirement communities have been delivered directly by groups of elderly people. The groups have worked together to commission and design their homes, and then hired a contractor to construct the properties. These projects often incorporate lots of shared spaces, such as a communal laundry, workshops, libraries and car-sharing schemes. Many also include shared guest bedrooms that any of the residents can use when friends or family want to stay. And most have a generous central communal space that can be used for shared meals or other community events.

‘The 2017 Shoestring competition wants to capitalise on the growing interest in these new forms of housing for older people – especially housing that is simple and cost effective to build, and where the residents have a real say in the design, layout and the range of facilities that are to be provided. Developments like this often help elderly people be more active, and encourage mutual support, thereby reducing the need for social care.’

First held in 2013, the annual ‘Self-build on a shoestring’ contest focuses on promoting alternative low-cost solutions to emerging issues such as affordable housing. Barton Willmore won last year’s competition with an innovative ‘SNUG’ proposal for a two-bedroom home costing just £49,644.

The latest competition seeks Lifetime Homes-compliant proposals for a 30-unit retirement community featuring communal spaces on an imagined site on the edge of a small UK town. Schemes should feature low running-costs suitable for pensioners on modest fixed incomes.

Pollard Thomas Edwards’ £4.2 million New Ground co-housing scheme

Pollard Thomas Edwards’ £4.2 million New Ground co-housing scheme

Source: Image by Tim Crocker

Pollard Thomas Edwards’ £4.2 million New Ground co-housing scheme

Anonymous submissions should include high-quality visuals, detailed technical information relating to construction, and cost estimates. Judges include television architect George Clarke and Piers Taylor of Invisible Studio.

The winners, set to be announced at the Grand Designs Live Exhibition inside Birmingham’s NEC in October, will share a £5,000 prize fund.

How to apply

Deadline

The deadline for applications is 5pm, 21 September

Contact details

Custom Build on a Shoestring
c/o NaCSBA
National Self Build & Renovation Centre
Lydiard Fields
Great Western Way
Swindon
SN5 8UB

Email: shoestring@nacsba.org.uk

Visit the competition website for more information

SNUG home case study: Q&A with Alex Dutton

The architectural associate at Barton Willmore discusses lessons learned designing last year’s competition-winning scheme

Alex Dutton

Alex Dutton

Alex Dutton

How did your SNUG project propose an innovative self-build housing solution for modern families?

What we think is special about SNUG is the level of adaptability – a family can configure it like a car, cherry picking the features and spec that they want. They can choose how many modules to take and how to arrange them, so you’ve got huge flexibility in terms of the layout – with the potential to bolt on later extensions, or add on a balcony – as well as choices on external cladding, and pitch of roof to suit different tastes and budgets.

This isn’t a one-size fits all approach, and the level of customisation available empowers people to up-skill and take ownership of their future home. The modules are the core building blocks, but can be self-finished internally and externally. So at the core of the SNUG concept sits the Community Hub Housing Factory that would offer training to people building or fitting out their own home, creating jobs, teaching lifelong skills and fostering a strong community.

SNUG by Barton Willmore and Ecomotive

SNUG by Barton Willmore and Ecomotive

SNUG by Barton Willmore and Ecomotive

Which architectural, material, structural and other methods did you harness in your design?

SNUG is a pre-fabricated, modular home, but while the structural modules would be manufactured by the team off-site, everything was designed with self-build strongly in mind – and with the aim of encouraging and inspiring homeowners to roll their sleeves up and get involved in the creation of their new home.

SNUG by Barton Willmore and Ecomotive

SNUG by Barton Willmore and Ecomotive

SNUG by Barton Willmore and Ecomotive

So it was important for us that the materials used would be easy to work with for those self-finishing the modules – and that’s why SNUG is constructed from sustainable timber, not steel. The timber frame structure and I-beams require much simpler technology and tools to work with, and keeping it simple was key to making SNUG accessible for those with only basic DIY skills.

What advice would you have to bidding teams on designing a new self-build retirement community?

It always comes down to satisfying the brief, understanding the issues, and in this case it means tackling these from a self-build perspective. The key here is to really understand what a self-build retirement community would want, and also ensure you’re not designing anything too similar to a traditional project. You need to design for and allow for an element of choice and flexibility – where I think SNUG hit all the right buttons last year was that it included customisation, and worked in different configurations and contexts. Self-build enables much greater freedom, and this ethos needs to shine through the competition ideas. Ultimately, you need to catch the imagination of the judges.

SNUG by Barton Willmore and Ecomotive

SNUG by Barton Willmore and Ecomotive

SNUG by Barton Willmore and Ecomotive

Q&A with Ted Stevens

The project manager of NaCSBA’s research and development programme discusses his ambitions for the contest

Ted Stevens

Ted Stevens

Ted Stevens

Why are your holding a contest for a self-build retirement community?

The cost of social care is in the news a lot these days. In mainland Europe older people now regularly form themselves into a group to commission their own 20-40 home retirement communities. The result is a custom designed home for everyone, and a retirement community that positively encourages interaction, mutual support and healthy lifestyles. And because they have organised their community themselves the cost of each home is a fraction of the price of a commercial retirement property.

What is your vision for how a self-build retirement community might work?

The best retirement communities are designed so that the residents interact a lot and mutually support each other. So, for example, if someone is having a hip operation other residents will walk their dog until they’re fit again; and vice versa. They will usually have a shared common room, perhaps a hobby space, a library and a ‘man shed’ or workshop. They often have a car club and a shared gym too. And rather than everyone having a spare bedroom that is empty most of the time they’ll have some communal guest rooms that can be booked when someone’s extended family want to stay.

The common room will also often have a decent kitchen so that residents can occasionally cook communal meals. And many collectives like this do away with having a washing machine in each home – instead they provide a communal laundry with a coffee machine. This means the individual homes can be quite compact, and because the cost of key ‘infrastructure’ is shared, the overall cost per unit is low. Some residents will also club together to hire a home help or nurse, as this can work out to be cheaper than using a commercial social care provider.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

The competition is open to anyone. The best entries in the past have tended to come from those architects who also know a lot about how buildings are put together, and the costs of construction; the competition isn’t just about a beautiful design, it’s also about how to build the retirement community as cost effectively as possible through the clever use of low cost materials and innovative construction techniques. Winners of earlier Shoestring competitions have had lots of media coverage, hundreds of calls from prospective clients and one has even been invited to advise the Welsh government on housing. You can see the shortlisted entries to the last four competitions here.

Are there any other self-build retirement communities you have been impressed by?

The Older Women’s Cohousing project in North London is the only current UK example – it was completed earlier this year, designed by Pollard Thomas Edwards. In Continental Europe there are many more projects. One of the most successful is the Kleine Bergstrasse scheme in Hamburg

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