Title: Building up

Pages: 39-31


Author: Richard Carr

Text: Building up

Building, increasingly understood as a multi-professional occupation, often depends for success as much on components and finishes as on concepts. At this month's Building Exhibition the emphasis will be on components; here we put the along side systems and a couple of end products

Truly flexible housing?

Richard Carr discusses a housing system developed by student sat the AA and backed b the GLC which should provide tenants with the ability to plan their own rooms and later change them at will

Stamford Hill in North London has been chosen as the site for one of the most exciting experiments in council housing since the war - an experiment which may at last fulfil the architect's dream of industrialised housing which is truly flexible. Developed by a small group of students at the Architectural Association, backed by the GLC and involving development work by two large manufacturing companies, the experiment is called PSSHAK- Primary System Support for Housing and Assembly Kits. It takes its inspiration from an experiment in flexible interiors originally carried out by a group of architects called SAR (Stichting Architecten Research) in Rotterdam, where they built a block of flats with movable walls. The idea was that, by moving the walls, the shape of the rooms - and indeed the whole layout of the interior - could be altered by the occupants to meet the demands of changing circumstances. The same idea applies to PSSHAK, where it has been taken to its logical conclusion so that, first, the system allows a variety of flat sizes to be built in two or three storey blocks; second, it makes it possible for the tenants to plan the internal layout of a particular flat before they move into it; and third, it allows them to rearrange the room spaces during the course of their tenancy. It is also possible to rearrange the positioning of the flats themselves, though one doubts if this will ever be done.

Basically PSSHAK consists of a concrete frame for the building, developed by Concrete Ltd. which supports the floors, external walls and roof, and contains within it a number of vertical columns carrying the main services. These, in fact, fix the location of bathrooms and kitchens and are the only inflexible part of the whole system. Once the frame has been erected the external wall panels can be fitted to suit any arrangement - using concrete brick or timber in fill panels and window openings as required, and door or trench window panels where flats on a higher floor are set back from those on the floor below to provide balconies. Similarly, within the framework of the building. either permanent or semi-permanent panels are then erected to divide the flats, and the system includes flow analyses to give guidance on the layout of different floors to cope with access, movement within the building and the constraints imposed by the service columns.

Once the flats have been divided off, Nabeel Hamdi and Nicholas Wilkinson (who designed the system with help from a young economist, Jon Evans), hope that prospective tenants will be called in to plan their flats, using a model which will also help them to understand how the internal wall panels work. These are the result of a development programme carried out by the architects working with Duport Industries Ltd. which began with the architects providing a list of dimensional and performance requirements and the costs of traditional partitioning - including brickwork, blockwork and industrialised panels. The target set for the PSSHAK panels was that they should cost no more than 3 per sq yd. From this Duport prepared a detailed questionnaire, seeking clarification on who would install the panels, how


Above exploded view of a PSSHAK apartment showing the fixed outside walls with spaces for windows, a french door or infill panels, and the flexible panels inside that can be used for both walls and cupboards. The interior contains a number of fixed columns, some of which carry services. The drawing a/so shows a kitchen, bathroom and other storage units designed as an integral part of the system

many would be required per flat, who would maintain and repair them, what kind of decoration would be used, and what kind of light fittings, shelving and other accessories would be used in conjunction with the panels. The questionnaire led to the development of a responsibility chart, with answers to the questions being provided by the architects, the GLC and Duport themselves as appropriate.

As a result of the research it now seems that the panels will be made of lightweight concrete. (The original proposal was lightweight concrete covered by a thin plastics skin. and chipboard. also investigated, was rejected as too costly.) Each panel, 2.35m high, 300mm wide and 50mm thick, will weigh 501b, which the designers believe is the most that can be comfortably lifted by one person. The panels will also have a flexible polyurethane lip at the bottom to provide a duct for wiring and an expanding foam edge at the top to be pressed up against the ceiling by an integral jacking system so that panels will be held in place by friction. Once in position, other panels can be added


Top: block models show the relationship between different sizes of flats. Right: a block model of the kind of development planned for Stamford Hill. Above: the planning chart used to help prospective tenants design their own flats


Above: details of the partitioning system showing, top the integral lacking system used to hold the partitions to the ceiling by faction and. bottom, the flexible polyurethane hip that provides a duct for horizontal wiring. Also, a tongue and groove used to link the partitions together. Right: two models showing different layouts and the choice of dividing walls available. These are used to explain the system to possible tenant

alongside to build up a wall, slotting into each other along a tongue and groove system at the side, and a separate frame is used where the wall is built out to form cupboards.

Besides containing ducts for wiring, the panels also have an integral vertical channel with bin spacing for internal wiring, fixing shelves, suspending cupboards or hanging pictures. The system is completed by doors that can be hung on the separate frame and by doors that can expand from 750-1050mm widths which are used to link rooms and to take up tolerances within the system. Once in place, the panels can then be painted or papered; special units are being developed for the kitchen and bathroom, where a detachable steel duct enables services to be placed away from the vertical columns if desired and cantilevered working surfaces can be placed above washing machines or cookers.

For Stamford Hill, the present proposal is that several blocks of two and three storey flats will be built providing altogether 53 dwellings (including 14 old people's flats, six flats for two people, 19 for four people and 14 for six) at a density, of 100 persons to the acre and at a cost equivalent to traditional building. Prospective tenants will be called in at the building stage to analyse their individual requirements and plan their own accommodation, and it is hoped to establish a research programme to see what changes they make to their interiors over a period of, say, five years. Similarly, the number of panels required per flat, and the frequency of repair and replacement, will also be evaluated - as well as problems like whether, once allocated a specific number of panels, tenants will be able to buy or hire additional ones when required. It may also be possible to swop flats around among the tenants to meet changes in family size. Since PSSHAK has so far been well supported by the GLC under Kenneth Campbell, principal architect in the housing and town planning department, as well as the companies involved, it is to be hoped that the housing committee will react favourably when it is shown a full scale mock-up of the system in a month's time.



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