London's first hi-tech Y:Cube rental homes cost £30,000 to build

It's a first for London - hi-tech, high-spec Y:Cube homes are to be built on a YMCA site in Mitcham - and they cost only £30,000 to build.
Mitcham in south-west London is to get the UK’s first development of “Y:Cube” homes - designed by world-famous architectural practice, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (formerly Richard Rogers Partnership) - to help the YMCA’s efforts to house disadvantaged young people.

Y:Cube homes are first built and assembled in a factory before being slotted together in blocks on site.  Merton’s development will create 36 homes on a site owned by the YMCA, the UK’s largest provider of supported accommodation for young people. The project provides a ray of hope that London’s housing crisis might eventually be solved in an attractive and affordable way.

The one-bedroom homes will be let at 35 per cent of the market rent, which translates, in Merton, to £140 a week. The first residents are set to move into  their new homes in 12 months’ time.

Built on a quarter-acre plot, the homes will be for single people who are former YMCA residents. But future developments will also offer homes to people on the local council’s waiting list, both singles and couples.

Taxpayer-friendly plan
Lord Rogers’s architecture practice, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, was charged with making prefab homes look and feel anything but dull.


Bright design: Y:Cube homes are designed to help the YMCA house young people. Each flat has a double bedroom, bathroom and living room with sofa, desk, bookshelf and kitchen area

The Y:Cube’s high-spec, energy-efficient timber-and-cement panel design  took seven years to develop and is a variant of the prototype Homeshell pre-assembled home first revealed by Homes & Property last summer.

The YMCA is finding independent funding for the Merton scheme, which means the project costs the taxpayer nothing. If the model is quickly rolled out, both in London and nationwide - as the YMCA’s director of housing Andy Redfearn hopes - similar homes could be built for private buyers to invest in. The finances work so well that the homes can repay their investment in 10 years, excluding land costs. The unit cost is about £30,000. Currently the YMCA is in talks with Kingston and Hillingdon councils about building more.


Short-term leases, long-term thinking: The Y:Cubes have 60-year short-term leases, can be put up near ordinary houses, disassembled, moved on trucks and put up somewhere else

The Mitcham Y:Cubes will have green outside space, and are a 10-minute walk from the station. At only three storeys high and surrounded by ordinary houses, they blend in well. Design features include full-height glass windows, a glass balcony and the highest insulation standards. And, since they last 60 years, a really clever point is that if the Greater London Authority, for example, gives the YMCA a short-term land lease, homes can be disassembled, moved on trucks and put up somewhere else.

So what do you get?
The overall design was inspired by beach huts, which is plain to see and makes them look welcoming. Individual pods are manufactured off-site, using reinforced panels fixed to a  timber frame. They can be made in local factories with semi-skilled labour, ideally drawn from the local area.


Inspired by beach huts: the energy-efficient Y:Cubes are pre-assembled and kitted out in a factory, then taken to the site to be slotted together in two- or three- storey blocks

Everything is machine-cut to a fantastically tight 2mm tolerance, so they are very energy efficient. The homes don’t need deep foundations and the complete pods are taken to the chosen site fully furnished, to be assembled in two- or three-storey blocks in courtyard formations. Each flat has a double bedroom, plus a living room with sofa, desk, bookshelf and kitchen area, and there is a bathroom. The design is very well thought-out, though at 286 square feet, a unit could house two people.

Floorplan: the units are 286 square feet and can house two people

The GLA is interested in getting involved, and if this ingenious idea works it could make a big difference to the lack of affordable London housing. However, it is hoped the criteria for such homes will eventually be widened to include all young Londoners struggling to buy their own home.

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