The average cost of a home in London has now reached over £500,000 ($640,000), a figure far beyond the reach of the large majority of individuals or families on or below the average UK income (£34,473, or just under $45,000, per year). It’s a story which has been told time and again in recent years; the “housing crisis” of affordability continues to exacerbate the lives of a generation.
For Naked House, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to “stripping affordable housing back to the bare essentials,” crisis necessitates a creative response. With support and funding from the GLA (Greater London Authority) and the incumbent Mayor of London, who has awarded a £500,000 grant to the development, they—in collaboration with OMMX—have now made an important step closer to realizing their vision.
The premise is simple: “the Naked House unit will be a well-designed shell.” In practice, this requires the construction of a “base layer” that can be adapted, extended and improved over time – but it is only part of the formula needed to drive down the build cost of homes. The cost of land, for example—which is often the most significant tariff—has been removed in favor of a leasehold arrangement on public land. Rather than incur hefty charges right off the mark (and charged to the buyer), this means that occupants will pay a “monthly ground rent” to the local authority who owns the land. And to ensure that the Naked House units "remain affordable in perpetuity," the developers have a resale covenant in the lease which “locks in the original discount for subsequent purchasers.” According to the developers:
Anyone can sign up for a Naked House as long as they earn under £90,000 ($115,000). We don’t need fancy show homes or sales brochures. The homes will speak for themselves.
OMMX, the London-based practice behind the design of the twenty-two homes which will be built across three “constrained” sites in the north of the British capital, have developed designs which ensure that living standards are both maintained and exceeded. Based on the urban typology of the Mews—typically a row of houses converted from stables, or built to appear as such—each dwelling will be “constructed from robust, cheap, DIY and ‘Design & Build’ friendly materials.” The intention is to provide enough flexibility “to ensure that the building can be easily adapted for future use over its design life” of up to a century.
The idea of co-authoring a house (between architects and homeowners) is by no means a radical idea – our proposal builds upon a long tradition of home making in Britain. It’s exciting, however, that architects and developers are now embracing its reality to provide what we hope will be a broad and inclusive spectrum of solutions to UK housing crisis.
In order to maintain long-term relevance, therefore, each house will both anticipate and encourage future adaptation. “Half-Finished” social housing, while not a new concept, faces specific challenges in the consumer-context of London. In their naked state, "the houses are completely open plan and fitted with a minimal number of appliances and fittings." 50 square meters (around 540 square feet) of open plan dwelling will be initially provided to each resident, this floor area could then be expanded in one of two ways: through a rear extension or by infilling the double height space within the envelope of the existing shell.
In relation to the former, foundations will be laid so that a rear extension could make use of a full-height garden wall designed into the scheme, which will sit against the boundary of the site. According to the architects, “this means that the resident need only construct a roof and insulate within to enclose a new well-proportioned room.” As the enclosing wall will have already been built, “a party wall agreement with the neighbors is already in place for the extension.” In their fully-adapted state, each house will have the potential to achieve 87 square meters (around 935 square feet) – equivalent to a three-bedroom, four person two-storey home according to the current London Housing Design Guide.
If a resident would like more space without extending the physical envelope of the existing building, the option is there to “build out from the mezzanine provided to form a two storey house.” To accommodate this, an internal concrete shelf will “protrude from the block-work walls around the perimeter,” allowing residents to “easily support timber joists from this shelf to form a new floor.” The weather barrier of the roof will sit above the structure to enable the resident to easily replace the solid panels with glazed panel in order to build-in roof lights.
[The Naked House] provides a very affordable entry level shell, which is generously proportioned and loaded with potential. The hard work is done by the contractor, and provides the resident with a blank canvas to tailor into their ideal home.
In his essay "Figures, Doors and Passages", the architectural historian Robin Evans described how "it is difficult to see in the conventional layout of a contemporary house anything but the crystallization of cold reason. Because of this," he asserted, "we are easily led into thinking that a commodity so transparently unexceptional must have been wrought directly from the stuff of basic human needs."