An innovative housing system based on modular elements.

World Habitat Awards Application

In 2001 I was invited to apply for this award. While I was not successful, the exercise gave me the opportunity to express some of the philosophy behind UpDown housing.
An edited version follows:
Name of project: UpDown Housing
Current stage of project: in progress
Location of project: Christchurch, New Zealand
Kevin Scally
Managing Director
Organisation: Number 8 Enterprises

Background information:

The project started 37 years ago while I was a student and I puzzled over the difficulties of owning your own shelter. At that time I drew plans for a variety of houses based on the early salt box design. I went on to graduate in dentistry and the following years were devoted to innovation and research in my profession.

Twenty years ago I began building a research studio and workshop and that process rekindled my ideas about housing. Towards the end of that project I began incorporating the ideas of what became UpDown. Since then I have worked with a designer and engineer. The ideas have developed into a general philosophy of sustainable shelter and living.

The project has now developed into a mature philosophy and critical analysis of land ownership, housing, sustainable living.

The main purpose of the project is to integrate all the innovations in sustainability into a living style that makes as smaller ecological impact as possible. It is envisioned that this will make shelter affordable and achievable in a variety of societies and countries.

Project Description:

What are the key features:

As a building system the strength comes from the internal wall linings and framing. There are no nails in the building so it can be completely deconstructed into its component parts and shifted. Sections or modules can be removed and exchanged or sold on. As the need arises, additional sections can be added. The design is engineered to support two stories and the modules can be developed into “row homes”. This it similar in concept to Avi Friedman’s Grow Home and Next Home. Historically, this is how buildings grew during colonial development.

The key difference is that the house is separate from the land it is on and the land can be leased and the house shifted at the end of the lease if necessary. A number of housed would constitute a village.
The full vision is houses sharing water and waste systems that enhance the fertility of gardens and keep the nutrients within the community by way of UpDown gardens and other opportunities for retrofitting as the technology becomes available or affordable.

The main benefits of the project are the flexibility of ownership. As family needs change the extra building space can be sold off. If the materials have been well looked after they will keep the value and be a resource rather than a waste product.

Those involved in the project will be able to build up equity in their own home at a pace they can afford. It is a project for the disenfranchised, for those in need of temporary housing, for families who want to develop an extended family living situation. Because they design can be developed into row homes, they lend themselves to affordable housing and inner city urban redevelopment.

At the moment I am funding the first example to illustrate the principles involved and to have a unit that tests the interaction of the designs with the city planners. I will be helped in this via my involvement in the Sustainable Cities Trust.

The future plans are to encourage communities to consider the advantage of this approach to housing. In addition, a company here in Christchurch “Lignotech” had developed a process that processes any lignin containing material into building material. This offers the possibility of building a house out of waste rice husks, straw, milling waste – the ultimate ecologically sustainable dwelling. The company has tentative plans to use my project as a show-case example of the materials used.

Because of the modular and panel construction the dwelling is easily retrofitted with different windows, say double glazing, other door treatments.

Because there are no internal load bearing walls, the layout of each module is flexible and the units can be made to fit a number of functions: houses, schools, hospitals, etc.

The next phase of development is the design of partitioning systems and fixtures and fittings using the same concepts of deconstruction. This is well in advance and for the moment the furniture will be model on IKEA principles

The key innovative aspects of the projects are twofold:

Rethinking the idea of permanence in a dwelling and using existing technology to make a dwelling that can be deconstructed without loosing its value. Any loss is in the sweat equity used in constructing and deconstructing the dwelling.

  1. The separation of the dwelling from the land it is on. In this way the permanence of the dwelling is not based on location. In most urban environments the land value changes with respect to the dwelling. By separating the two, the owner has greater flexibility. With a mature ecologically integrated unit the investment is transportable.
  2. The strength comes from the internal walls and the framing. This is a reverse of early houses where the strength came from the framing and the external walls. The design lends itself to a number of external claddings and styles and allows individuality of the dwelling.
  3. To meet building code requirements I have had a number of specialist fixtures and fittings designed.

To my knowledge, the concept is novel. Elements of it have been developed, as I have recently discovered, by Avi Friedman. He comes close to my solutions in his Next Home arguments. His treatment of housing and its function in society parallels my own thinking and is in his book The Grow Home.

I have enclosed the blueprints of the final one and a half story version. This treatment explores all the challenges of potential modules: single story and double story.

Over the next few months, as the next phase of the project develops (getting a building consent) the story of the project will be posted on the website. One example of a “sleep out” has been completed. It is a 90 percent version of an UpDown house as extra accommodation and the costings are basted on my experience with this.