Urban Creation is behind a pioneering approach to construction that is seeing bespoke, pre-built homes craned into an existing building on one of Bristol’s most famous thoroughfares, with huge implications for the future of house building in the UK.
Modular construction – where homes are created off-site in a factory – has been used widely for new builds, but this is believed to be the first time in the UK that homes have been specially made to fit into the shell of an existing building on a historic, city centre street.
The site – 50 Park Street – was formerly a nightclub but was vacant and dilapidated when Urban Creation bought it in in 2018. Whilst most of the buildings in Park Street are Georgian, number 50 was built in the 1950s after the previous building was bombed during World War II.
Jonathan Brecknell, director and owner at Urban Creation, which has many years’ experience in transforming unusual, complex buildings, said: “We’re very excited to be taking modular construction to a new level, using a highly innovative approach that has the potential to revolutionise the future of home building in the UK.”
Urban Creation has teamed up with modular construction specialist Go Modular, which has created bespoke, ready-to-go homes built specially to fit into the building. This is an unusual approach as usually modular units are created in uniform shapes and sizes. The apartments are already fully fitted out and decorated with kitchens and bathrooms in place.
Jonathan added: “The UK is facing a significant construction skills shortage, which is exacerbating the housing crisis as it means we aren’t delivering enough homes to meet demand. Modular construction is set to revolutionise the future of home building in the UK, as it brings huge benefits compared to traditional builds.
“There’s potential for modular homes to be delivered much quicker than traditional homes, putting less pressure on our stretched construction skills pool. They’re created in a controlled environment, meaning the construction programme isn’t at the mercy of adverse weather – plus there are fewer snagging issues as a result. Not to mention the fact that it causes less disruption to neighbours as most of the build is carried out off-site.”
Whilst modular construction has been used widely for new builds, often on greenfield sites, Urban Creation’s approach shows what’s possible in tight urban sites, which could help meet the urgent need for homes in our towns and cities.
A recent survey by the Federation of Master Builders, which represents small and medium-sized construction companies, found that housebuilders were encountering problems in recruiting skilled workers, with 60 per cent saying they were struggling to hire bricklayers and 54 per cent finding it difficult to employ carpenters and joiners.
Over four nights, from August 11th to 14th between the hours of 8pm and 5am, nine pre-built apartments are being lifted by 200-tonne crane into 50 Park Street through the open roof into the cleared shell of the building, after arriving by lorry from a factory in Southampton. Park Street will be closed during these hours. The first box was lifted in during the early hours of Monday morning, and the second the following night – together they form one apartment and the first floor staircase.
The building team has already stripped out 50 Park Street, removing the internal floors and walls, stabilised the shell of the building with a steel structure ready for the big lift-in.
The scheme will include 13 beds in total, including two three-bedroom flats, five one-bedroom duplexes – with an upper bedroom area – and two studios. Urban Creation will bring back some traditional charm and character to the building by creating a mansard roof at the front of this four-storey building, as well as incorporating features such as cornicing and period-style sash windows into the design. The addition of an asymmetrical pitched roof to the rear two-storey element of the building will house the duplexes. A commercial unit on the ground floor will be upgraded for use by a new tenant.
Jonathan Brecknell added: “Modular homes are a far cry from the prefab housing of the 1940s. They are designed and fitted out to the highest standard and built to last. We pride ourselves in our meticulous attention to detail and ability to take complex buildings and give them a new lease of life – and 50 Park Street is no different.”
“Now that we’ve put this innovative approach into action, we’ll be looking to use this method in other suitable development projects.”
Phil Hodge, Southern region director for the Federation of Master Builders, said: “Urban Creation’s project of re-purposing an existing site by preserving the outer skin whilst using modular off-site manufactured units installed within it is ground-breaking. It combines new building technology whilst preserving the heritage of this much-loved part of Bristol. Bringing in pre-manufactured elements also assures that the building out-performs the expected standards for thermal efficiency, setting an example of what can be done to help meet our carbon emissions reduction targets as a nation.
“Furthermore, this project creates new accommodation above an area of retail units, helping to repopulate the inner city, relieving pressure on our housing shortage. This is a great example of how new solutions to renovating existing sites can address multiple challenges and the Federation of Master Builders is calling upon house builders to consider new approaches like this, in future projects.”
The homes will be let to the student market and are scheduled to be ready for occupation in September this year.
Jonathan added: “There is huge demand from both UK and international students for high quality accommodation in the heart of Bristol, with this particular city centre location ideal thanks to its proximity to Bristol University and everything the city has to offer.
“It’s important Bristol meets this demand as the student population is a major contributor to the local economy through spend in our shops, eateries and local businesses, not to mention the vast number of jobs created by the universities.”