Inspired by the humble beach hut, the Y:Cube, designed by architecture firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners over three years, is a 26m² factory-built one-bedroom flat that has been nicknamed the 'Monopoly hotel' because of its bright red face and boxy shape.
Funding the project, youth charity YMCA hopes the flats, which can be built for £30,000 each, will provide at least part of a solution to London's growing housing crisis.
The self-contained flats built in Derbyshire can be craned into place and stacked at least three stories high. Inside they contain a double bedroom and a living room space with a small kitchen. All amenities are 'plug and play' which means they can simply be plugged into local supply.
"We can't wait for traditional approaches to development that take two to four years," says YMCA London South West director of housing and development Andy Redfearn.
"What micro-volumetric housing does is produce housing very quickly," he says. "We are able to bring [Y: Cube housing] to the market from a year of identifying a site and handing the keys over."
The first prototype has been sitting rather boldly outside a building in Wimbledon since February, where it has been successfully tested and received a level 6 efficiency rating, the highest for sustainable homes in the UK.
Due to the success of the prototype, YMCA is currently waiting on planning permission to build a 36-flat complex on land it has purchased in Mitcham. The plan is for the flats to be rented out to those leaving YMCA supported housing for £145 a week (calculated as 65% below market rate), plus a service charge that is yet to be determined for water, light and heating.
YMCA has calculated the flats will pay for themselves in 15 years and offer a 5% return to the unnamed social investors who are funding the project.
Insulation, efficiency and flexibility via volumetric design
Architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners say very little heating is required as the modules are cut and assembled to ensure tolerances of 2mm, so the laminated timber pod is extremely insulated. The flats are built using a timber-framed system called Insulshell, a large-format, closed-panel structural timber system designed for maximum efficiency and insulation. A three-week test with the prototype showed the flat could be heated and run for £7 a week.
Redfearn says he expects the Y:Cubes to arrive at the Mitcham site by the end of summer 2014 and open for rent just after Christmas.
The Y:Cube is classified as semi-permanent housing because its size doesn't meet the 37m² needed to meet permanent residence size guidelines for a single person. The YMCA plans to rent the flats for three to five years - "long enough to not worry about what's next," says Redfearn - however the units are actually built to last for around 60 years.
Due to its volumetric design, the Y:Cube can be turned into two or three bedroom flats or even houses by stacking two together and adding stairs. "It allows us to not tie up that site for one bed users for the next 50 to 60 years. In 20 years if we wanted some family accommodation, we could do that," says Redfearn.
In the longer term, the charity hopes to have a whole range of accommodation offers including 'granny flats', full-size houses and flat-pack self-assembled houses using the same construction system.