Having developed a strong and vested interest in Custom Build, including participation in NaCSBA’s ‘Digitising Custom Build’ research project, Facit Homes has been patiently waiting for the opportunity to apply its core offering of individually designed homes to a custom build site.
With sites slowly being brought forward, a number of which have been prescriptive with regard to whom a customer can procure their home from, our anticipation has been building.
Facit Homes was therefore delighted to be appointed to design and build a new home on the first phase of plots at Graven Hill, by a London-based couple.
They had all but given up on the dream of building their own family home due to the seemingly insurmountable task of finding a suitable plot of land. So custom build, and Graven Hill in particular, was the perfect answer, especially as the site allowed them to choose their own build route.
Having now submitted the design for planning approval (effectively a box ticking formality) we have had time to reflect on the process and consider the pros and cons of designing a home for a serviced plot on a large site, as opposed to the one-off projects we are more used to.
On the positive side, the plot passport mechanic means an architect can really hit the ground running. This is completely different to conventional projects where you are coming in to the design stage from a standing start and building the picture up entirely from scratch.
Initial requirements such as surveys, utilities searches and even a site visit, which normally see a project lumbering quite slowly in to life, are not required, as the information has already been assembled and formulated into a neat package.
The parameters of the scale, mass and location of the home on the plot are well defined, which while feeling slightly restrictive in terms of scope, in reality means the concept design can be formed quickly.
Another advantage of this has been the lack of need to engage with, and then usually second guess, the local planners.
Knowing what you can and can’t do, without any concern about subjective opinion, has dramatically reduced everyone’s risk and stress levels.
We’ve even found that some aspects of the Plot Passport have facilitated a more interesting design approach that might otherwise have been considered a potential planning banana skin. In our case, the inclusion of corten steel as a permitted cladding material was something we eagerly jumped on.
We were amazed at the effect this all had on the programme, allowing us to keep to a fast-track schedule we set at the start to get our application ready in 12 weeks, compared to a traditional project which could take twice that amount of time.
The Graven Hill team supplied valuable support along the way, doing their best to smooth the process and help ensure we met milestones.
Compared to the typical battles we expect to enter into on an individual site, this has been a breath of fresh air as everyone involved has the same goal.
That’s not to say that there are no drawbacks to contend with. Creating plot passports across such a large site, with so many different ideas then being brought to the table, inevitably means you will come across some rules that don’t seem to make sense.
Predicting every eventuality would have been impossible, and while we think they have done a great job, there has been a couple of head scratching moments where we thought ‘why have they done that?’
In one specific case regarding the position of a roof terrace it felt to us as if common sense should prevail, but in the end the rules had one specific interpretation which forced a late change to our design.
We’ve also had to iron out a few issues we encountered with the Golden Brick mechanic and undertake slightly more work than we had originally expected. Working closely with Graven Hill and their engineers has meant we’ve overcome them and again the fact that all our interests are aligned has propelled the project forward.
This area does still represent a small element of risk to the customer as although they are given an estimate at the outset, the reality is that until a detailed design is submitted no one knows what the foundations will actually cost.
However this is true of most projects, with works in the ground being the hardest to precisely predict at an early stage, and we can’t see an obvious way to mitigate this without homogenised designs.
Lastly, it is a bit of a lottery as to what your neighbouring plot owners will be building, unless you start work after they have submitted their plans. This means you might not be able to make specific allowances for the impact of their design on levels around your plot, views and overshadowing.
We spoke with the designers of our adjacent plot about dealing with external landscape levels – perhaps this should be encouraged – but for the most part you are designing slightly in isolation.
On the flip side of this, when compared to traditional housing developments the streetscapes at Graven Hill promise to be diverse and exciting with a rich mix of designs rather than rows of identical boxes, so it has advantages too.
Our conclusion is that although it is not without its idiosyncrasies and occasional frustrations, Custom and Self-build on serviced-plots is a true leap forward for those who want a simpler way to build their own home.
Custom build fundamentally changes the mindset of the customer at the outset as they have confidence that they will be building their home, rather than fear that the project might stall.
Combine this with the certainties our digital approach offers with regard to quality and cost, and a development company determined to succeed and it creates a compelling offer which we are seeing huge interest in.
We may be lucky to have really great clients, but this has been one of the smoothest projects we’ve worked on and is more or less delivering on its promise of making the process as simple as possible.
We hope that this will remain the case once we are on site during construction, but the signs are all good. If this is the future for delivering homes that people want to live in, then we are very excited about what is to come.
Photos: the Facit Homes design at Graven Hill
Rhys Denbigh is Head of New Business, Facit Homes