Where do you live? Square city bolt-hole or mini Marina studio? Identikit gated house with a two-car garage or terracotta Tuscanesque villa on the lip of the beach? Whatever it is, our cities are filled with cookie-cutter residences that do for freedom of choice what Trump does for Mexican migrants.
Now, if like me, you watch Grand Designs with a mixture of awe and amusement at the sheer brevity and stupidity of those people who embark upon vast, complex architectural projects with no experience and a tenuous loan from the bank, wishing you were that brave (read: stupid), well now you can have the house of your dreams, with far more finesse and far less risk than you can imagine.
Modular homes are the next revolution of home ownership. In truth, they’ve been slowly revolutionising for the past 10 years, and I should know, I’ve been writing about them. If you’re not au fait with the term, they’re essentially houses that are manufactured in portions and then assembled on site.
These once-utilitarian residences have evolved into something far more covetable, courtesy of projects like Cube Haus, who offer potential homeowners the opportunity to live in prefabricated houses designed by the likes of starchitect David Adjaye and the ubiquitous polymath Faye Toogood.
Browse through the options on their website, like we’re all too used to with online fashion retail. Difference is, these houses give you all the credentials, style and kudos of couture, but at ‘off the peg’ prices. When you find out that the company is founded by a couple of entrepreneurs with a background in fashion, it all starts to make sense. Giving them real edge, the homes are designed economically, with sustainable materials and a modernist lean. You’re getting so much bang for your buck, it seems almost too good to be true.
Well it’s not, as it happens. The democratisation of choice in design is what liberates creativity from the egotistical confines of the architectural ‘bureau’ – the old guard that built phallic monoliths in order to play god, not merely to make wonderful experiences for humans. Taking talent at this stratospheric level and making it accessible to everyone is exactly where we should be heading.
Cube Haus didn’t invent this concept, lauded architect David Rockwell had released a range of beautifully designed prefabs five years ago, while Manila-based Revolution Precrafted has been collecting a veritable fruit salad of talents, from Marcel Wanders and Daphne Guinness, to Lenny Kravitz, to create their pre-crafted homes.
But it’s not just about touting famous names to hock houses. IKEA has inserted its sticky paws into the honey pot. They’ve signed a deal with developer BoKlok to build low-cost modular housing in the South of England, with the first apartments ready in 2021; 30 percent of which will be given as cost for social housing in return for use of the land.
Therein lies the rub. Modular homes are all very well if you have the land to build them on. Cube Haus were smart enough to address this in the first instance, securing odd pieces of land around London on behalf of buyers and dispensing their team to secure planning permissions. If you’re not bound to city dwelling, then your options widen and your costs fall. Here in the UAE, where prime sites are few and far between especially if you’re an expat, the challenge is substantial. But if you’re looking for a holiday home in a remote hotspot, this could be exactly what you need – the house you desire in a beautiful location – for half the price.
Finally – and this is not for the faint-hearted – there is an option created by Studio Bark: the self-build house. I could liken to it to me sitting down with a needle and thread and trying to make my own wedding dress. I’ll let you imagine that one, but suffice to say I would rather be walking down the aisle in a bin bag. Their system relies on a flat-pack system (worried face) made from timber parts that can be slotted together like a puzzle to create a frame, and then easily dismantled and recycled when the building has reached the end of its life. Not only is it affordable and sustainable, it can be completed two months faster than an ordinary build.
So many boxes ticked then, and in an age where our population is growing and our land is eroding back into the sea, it makes perfect sense to be thinking about how we can live smarter, more efficiently and, of course, with more panache.