Summer 2017

Waste of space?

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By Gabor Honfi, architectural technician

Could we build a sustainable home above a car parking space?

A company called ZEDFactory certainly thinks so. Their creation, the ZEDpod, was erected in the car park at the BRE Innovation Park in 2016.

ZEDFactory’s manifesto is that sustainable development is both affordable and achievable within current market constraints. Their innovative ZEDpod is a light, prefabricated building providing first homes for young people and key workers. Utilising wasted space above existing car parking lots without losing valuable parking, the basic pod unit is one car space wide and two car spaces long. They can configure single pod terraces or double stack them, forming elevated communal space between the rows. The whole of the roof is covered in PV panels, providing energy for the units or for electric cars parked underneath.

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I ventured inside a ZEDpod show home at BRE Innovation Park in April. The pods are reasonably-sized units and there are obvious pros. The build would be quick, without causing too much disruption or disturbance to existing parking areas. Manufactured abroad, the pods can be erected on site within days requiring only a pop-up assembly shed and creating local employment.  It’s also a highly adaptable system that can be easily relocated to meet changing needs.

Features include private balcony, own front door, kitchen, bathroom, lounge space, bed space on a mezzanine level (accommodating a double bed) plus desk space for homeworking or studying. Imagine how many healthcare workers could benefit from retreating to a pod in the hospital car park after a long shift. There would be no commuting time/cost to bear, and few car park spaces would be lost.

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Looking at the drawbacks, the pods could benefit from shared utilities, such as a communal laundry (there was a washing machine but it was rather minimalist). Being of a lightweight construction without traditional foundations, we experienced a degree of movement especially on the upper level.  Bearing in mind that the show unit is a freestanding one, once arranged in a terrace it would probably be sturdier.

Space in urban areas is becoming more and more valuable. The lack of affordable housing is becoming critical. With our ever-increasing need for mobility, huge areas are dedicated to vehicle traffic and parking. The pods offer an easy and fast way of creating homes without long and expensive construction works.

There is no simple answer to the housing crisis but I think these pods can play an important role in addressing the shortage of housing for particular groups.

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About BRE Innovation Park

BRE operates innovation parks in the UK and China, with further facilities being developed in Brazil and Canada. Launched in 2005, the Watford park attracts thousands of people every year, from heads of state to school children. The park features full-scale demonstration buildings developed by industry partners, showcasing innovative construction methods and different low and zero carbon technologies.  The buildings are occupied for certain periods in different seasons to access their performance in real life testing, and the stock of houses is in constant change.

BRE evolved over 90 years ago, when the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research proposed to form an organisation to study building materials and various construction methods in new housing after the First World War. In 1921 a Government-funded laboratory, the Building Research Station (BRS), was established to carry out research work for the Building Research Board formed in the previous year. The UK’s first standard for construction materials, the British Standard for bricks, was developed here. During the Second World War BRS was engaged in a number of projects, including building a 1 to 50 scale model of the Möhne Dam used by Barnes Wallis in the early stages of his research, leading to the development of the bouncing bomb.

In 1997 the organisation was completely privatised and is funded through the BRE Trust. After becoming independent from the Government, it became able to certify and approve products that it tested, and the BRE certification was born in 1999.

If you’re planning a visit, it’s worth booking a tour to make the most of your time there.

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Get in touch with Gabor Honfi via LinkedIn

Photo credit: BRE

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