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Circular disruption and integrated offsite design thinking

Circular disruption requires new business models along with products designed for reuse. Bringing some creativity and intelligence to progressive home delivery could offset the spectacular failure on the part of the architectural profession in relation to the housing crisis in Scotland and the UK, says Neil Sutherland of MAKAR.

Scotland builds 85% of its homes in timber, the UK average is about 30%. What do you think is the main reason for the high adoption of timber construction in Scotland?

Timber framed construction has been gaining market share continuously for the last 50 – 60 years in Scotland. During this period it has evolved and developed and continues to do so. I’d like to think the multiple reasons for this growth are centered on enlightened and principled thinking, but its more likely simple pragmatics and an openness to changing circumstances, over an extended period of time. We still have the continued predominance of rendered block-work external finishes however, although the uptake of timber cladding is accelerating across the country.   

We are also still over reliant on imported timber and timber products, which I’m confident will change over the coming years. The timber-processing sector has developed strongly across Scotland over the last 20 years and now offers consistent quality timber products. Beyond structural timber, an example of this is the production of OSB by Norbord at Morayhill, near Inverness.

Of course with this trajectory in Scotland, we are very well placed to push on with the adoption of modern methods of off-site production, which will be a game changer in the home delivery sector in years to come.

What strikes you as the most important aspects in driving the type of timber construction you offer forward?

As an organization MAKAR is motivated by the belief that great homes and places change peoples lives. We are customer facing and exist to serve them and their values. Having looked closely at their motivations, our customers engage with us for non-technical matters such as comfort, health giving and light filled spaces. Local environmental, energy and carbon issues are important also, and becoming more so. The integrated off-site quality driven agenda while interesting to some of our customers, and high on our agenda, is rather lower on some customers minds, and understandably so.

Like any changing industry sector there are early adopters who forge an often lonely path while the majority look on with scepticism. It takes time and the constant trial and error of empiricism to move forward in this manner; and it seems the trick for pioneers is not to end up lieing face down with an arrow in your back. However over time and with constant commitment new areas, such as value-added business opportunities, will be opened up and astonishing results will eventually flow. 

Where do you see the role of the architect in this?

That’s a tricky question as I’d much rather discuss timber and the future linkages between the built environment and the forest environment.

At MAKAR we are not really involved with the architectural profession as its not really involved in progressive design for manufacture, and why should they because very little home delivery has anything to do with an architect in the UK. Speculative volume builders provide up to 90% of all new housing and very few of these organisations have an architect in their midst.

There are, I’m sure, many individual architects motivated to design homes for the 10% or so self procured homes built every year. But architects have generally disconnected from the delivery process of new housing being more comfortable with developing the design intention, then letting others get on with the delivery. Of course bringing some creativity and intelligence to progressive home delivery could offset the spectacular failure on the part of the architectural profession in relation to the housing crisis in Scotland and the UK.   

Scotland is becoming a hot spot in circular economy thinking. Where do you see the house building industry in 25 years with regard to designing and building for circularity?

We believe there are tremendous opportunities for the house building industry by adopting the principles of the circular economy. House building is one of the most wasteful industrial sectors, reliant at present on the linear economy of extract, use and discard. Circular principles anticipate the reuse of technical and material resources as inputs for the next process. Other circular disruption centres around leasing rather than traditional ownership purchasing models to encourage remanufacture and long term customer relationships by suppliers.   

How is your company engaging in this agenda?

We are currently working closely with Resource Futures and Zero Waste Scotland on a Research & Development project supported by the European Regional Development Fund. Our focus is on the design, engineering and manufacture of serviced modules, or pods, as essential sub-assembly elements in all our future houses.

The on-site coordination of shower & bath rooms, utility rooms & kitchens, is very challenging, particularly with the integration of micro-renewables, mechanical heat recovery ventilation systems; and the electrical and plumbing equipment. In order to improve the quality and effective delivery of these parts of a house, very careful consideration has to be put into sequencing of tasks; these are best done in a factory.

After handover of the house to our customer, this same information used to optimise of the equipment integration will coordinate future system monitoring, leading to reliability; and maintenance, repair and re-manufactured renewal.

We see this future circular service as a natural extension to our core business – to deliver exceptional contemporary homes, which nurture and delight on a daily basis.  

Further information

Read our feature article how Scotland sows the seed for homegrown timber housing

Find out more about MAKAR 

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