Cost-efficient homes allow first-time buyers to afford a new architect-designed home at a very low cost. Plus, with such houses having the capacity to grow, it meets the owners’ needs over time. For example if the family living there grows, the house can be easily extended.
The latest news from the field came from Netherlands, where a neighbourhood of affordable architect-designed kit houses has been launched. The “I Build Affordable in Nijmegen” initiative enables first-time buyers to buy a well designed prefabricated house for under US$150,000. The houses come in a flatpack and are built on parcels sold by the government in as little as six to eight weeks.
Buyers can choose their home from a catalogue of 30 detached-house designs created by 20 different architects. The designs include a large range of styles that range from a modern Scandinavian timber cabin to a brick terraced house.
In addition to helping young home buyers, the program also benefits emerging architects and designers looking to enter the market.
One of the architects involved in this project, Elsbeth Ronner of LRHV Architects, told British newspaper The Guardian that architects have a hard time approaching potential clients with little or nothing to point to in terms of completed projects.
“People always think working with an architect will be more expensive and take longer, but this way they feel more secure. We’ve always wanted to make a really cheap, sustainable house and this gives us a great way into the market,” she said.
The essence of I Build Affordable in Nijmegen is very similar to one presented in Montreal more than two decades ago by architect and McGill University professor Avi Friedman and his partner Witold Rybczynski.
The duo started the Grow Home Montreal project, the goal of which was to create affordable homes for low-to-moderate-income buyers, with the peculiar advantage that they could be finished incrementally to match the space requirements and financial circumstances of the homeowners.
Montreal’s first Grow Homes sold in 1991 for $75,900. At the time, an average comparable market home cost $149,900.
Over 10,000 Grow Homes have been built across North America, 6,000 of which are in the Montreal area. The project was honoured at the World Habitat Awards, which recognise practical and innovative solutions to current housing needs and problems.
“It was rather a process of reflection on current phenomena, an examination of coming trends, an assessment of case histories and a composition of construction strategies: strategies that would make homes affordable to people that were unable to purchase them as a result of those same societal changes we had been noticing. Cost, however was not the only consideration. We focused on the design of a home that would fit the everyday needs of its occupants when they moved, and that would let them modify the home as their needs and means evolved,” Friedman wrote in a book on the Grow Home project.
Friedman holds that the inspiration for improving home construction is in the simplicity of the automobile manufacturing industry. Car manufacturing is much more efficient than home construction because much of the work is automated and all the parts are customized but serial produced.
He said that if the same system were adopted by the construction industry, it would bring construction prices and increase affordability at the same time.