Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Non-fab prefab

Not a great advert for affordable sustainable urban development - the troubled Caspar housing development in Leeds is to be demolished before it falls apart in the high winds not unknown in West Yorkshire.

The Yorkshire Evening Post this week reports:
Developer LifeHomes has bought the distinctive crescent-shaped, five-storey block of pre-fabricated flats in North Street, Leeds, and intends to completely redevelop the site.
The £3m CASPAR (City Centre Apartments for Single People at Affordable Rents) scheme was built seven years ago by Japanese construction firm Kajima.
It was hailed as revolutionary, both in terms of the high-speed advanced pre-fabrication building techniques used and in providing a blueprint for encouraging middle-income singles and couples to live in city centre.
But problems emerged in 2005 when consultants advised that the flats were potentially unsafe in high winds. The residents were moved out early in 2006 and the 46 flats have stood empty ever since.

An earlier story in the Guardian, following the evacuation, noted:
[Lord Richard Best, director of the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust] said that the decision had serious implications for the sort of innovative building hailed by Mr Prescott, the deputy prime minister, at an exhibition of new construction techniques earlier this year.
Mr Prescott said that there had been too much prejudice against modern construction methods because of the failure of system-built tower blocks. "You just have to look round this exhibition to see how much off-site construction has improved in terms of quality and reliability," he said.
Lord Best said: "Caspar's form of construction was very much at the cutting edge of new techniques and the results have been very disappointing indeed."
The Kajima system was "wonderful" but required precision in assembly and care of the pre-built units - an area which Arup will now survey in more detail.

As I noted in this 2001 YBI feature on architecture and regional regeneration, the scheme won a RIBA award for its design. And while the prefab construction technique is still a promising one, and the social aims of the scheme were laudable, it's deeply sad that it's all been let down by fundamentally crappy construction. Even on a low-cost project, that's unforgiveable.

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