Trailblazing project could revolutionise future of UK home building

August 12, 2019

A pioneering approach to construction where bespoke pre-built homes were craned into an existing building on one of Bristol’s most famous thoroughfares could revolutionise the future of UK home building.

Urban Creation is behind the incredible feat of engineering which has now reached an important milestone in its delivery as the final pre-built home has been lifted into place on Bristol’s Park Street.

Dubbed the ‘Uber of house building’, 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 were specially made to fit into the shell of an existing building on a historic, city centre street.

Jonathan Brecknell, director and owner at Urban Creation, which has many years’ experience in transforming unusual, complex buildings, said: “It’s hugely exciting to be breaking the boundaries of what was considered possible in modular construction and taking this method, already seen as a disruptor to the industry, to a new level.

“Of course, we’ve faced challenges along the way, as you would expect when taking on such a complex project, but in future we expect off-site construction to cut the time it takes to deliver schemes like this one by up to 50%. With most people living in towns and cities, our project shows what’s possible in tight, urban sites with major implications for the future of house building.”

Phil Hodge, Southern Region Director, Federation of Master Builders, said Urban Creation’s project was ‘ground-breaking’, and called upon house builders to consider new approaches like this in future projects.

The 50 Park Street site 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.

Urban Creation teamed up with modular construction specialist Go Modular, which 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 were already fully fitted out and decorated with kitchens and bathrooms with the roof already in place before they arrived on site. 

Now that the final one is in place, the homes will be wired and plumbed in over the coming weeks, with the finishing touches made before they are ready to move into at the end of September.

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 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, whilst the approach is also more environmentally friendly. 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.”

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.

Phil Hodge 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.”

Over six nights, between the hours of 8pm and 5am, finishing in the early hours of Tuesday 20th August, nine pre-built apartments were 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. The building team had 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.

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.”

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.

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.”