Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

It’s Fun to Live at the Y:Cube

In the quest to provide much needed affordable housing to London, architecture firm Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners, in conjunction with YMCA London South West, has designed the Y:Cube. The simple 26 sq meter (279 sq ft) house is, according to the Y’s site, meant to provide “self-contained and affordable starter accommodation for young people unable to either gain a first step on the housing ladder or pay the high costs of private rent.”

y-cube-crane

A couple things make the Y:Cube notable. First is it’s cost: about $50K to produce, which according to Fast Company, is 40% cheaper than traditional construction. Much of this savings is attributable to the use of prefab construction, where systemized and controlled building keep labor costs low while simultaneously making build quality higher. The units are essentially dropped into place nearly ready to live in.

Next, the structure can be built to stand by itself or stacked on top of another Y:Cube (many prefab structures are one or the other), making it adaptable to several different planning scenarios. There are plans to construct a 36 Y:Cube development this year alone.

Lastly, the houses are made with something called Insulshell, a closed panel structural timber system, which creates a near-perfect thermal barrier. The Y’s site claims that Insulshell will essentially eliminate the need for heating altogether, thus reducing the operating expense of the houses.

The Y:Cube seems to make a lot of sense to us. Though it doesn’t eliminate the real force we suspect is driving housing costs skyward (i.e. property values), it would seem to hold the promise of cutting construction costs considerably, which helps.

Prefabrication just makes sense. It mitigates so many of the costly variables that plague outdoor and one-off construction. Perhaps the main question we have concerns the Y:Cube’s aesthetic endurance. Will the Y:Cube look as timeless as the shack down the road 100 years from now?

dezeen_B2-at-Atlantic-Yards2This author lives in a part of Brooklyn where many of the streets are lined with classically styled housing, much of which is 100 + years old. The buildings’ brick and stone facades reek of craftsmanship and an aesthetic for the ages, not just the times (and people pay up the nose for them).

Travel a mile down Flatbush Avenue and B2–what will be the world’s tallest prefabricated building–is rising up like a growth on the Barclay Center’s backside. There will be 350 units and 32 stories, 60% of which will be built offsite. It’s a marvel of efficient design and construction technique. But I must say the final design strikes me as a little generic (a charge, incidentally, I’d make against many buildings that have risen up in the last 10 years).

Both Y:Cube and B2 were designed by two of the world’s preeminent architectural firms (RSH and ShoP, respectively). And we may need to wait and see whether these two different examples of prefabricated architectural will stand the test of time. After all, there was a time when Mies van der Rohe buildings were considered drab, featureless eyesores. Now many consider them as supreme exemplars of elegant, modern design. Only time will tell.

  • Christopher Tilley

    i think that one of the challenges today is the need to squeeze as much useable space as possible out of a given space at the lowest cost. Which leads to bland boring steel and glass boxes.

    With a few notable exceptions, this is what’s happening now in San Francisco where each new development looks like the last, except for how they’ve adjusted the shape of the building to the lot size and shape.There’s no space and no budget for decorative frills and fancies.

    If they survive for a 80-100 years then people may be looking at them as masterpieces but I doubt that they’ll last that long.

    • clarkbennett

      You mean like the bland and boring stick built homes that billions of people throughout the world live in now? Sears catalog victorians, developer designed and built ticky tacky track homes? Failed Frank Lloyd Wright inspired utopia ranch homes, Bastardized visions of prefabs that fill mobile home parks?

      • Christopher Tilley

        I agree that a lot of how people view things is very subjective.

        Looking at some of the tower block estates built in the 1960’s and 70’s, I don’t think that they’ve held up very well and I don’t think that these will hold up well either. But, I could be wrong, I often am.

  • Maggie

    Other sign there are too many people on this planet, with most of them wanting to live in only a few places.