Custom-build housebuilding, backed by the current government and due to be supported in the forthcoming Housing Bill, is to get its own BIM-enabled cloud-based design and project management platform to create a new interface between custom buyers and the supply side.
The project won a grant of £330,000 from Innovate UK in April, and is now two months into an 18-month development programme.
The new software tools are due to be trialled at the government’s flagship custom-build scheme, where 54 homes are to be developed to buyer’s specifications by Carillion Igloo at Trevenson Park in Pool, Cornwall (pictured above), under lead architect HTA.
The "Digitising Custom Build" project is being led by Stickyworld, a company that has developed an interactive platform for project consultations set up by Michael Kohn, formerly of architect Slider Studio. Other project participants are HTA, Axis Design Architects, Slider Studio, Facit Homes, CommuSoft and the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA).
Kohn explained that custom build is the “middle ground” between Grand Designs-style self-build and normal volume house building: buyers commission a new home from a house builder and/or developer, choosing the design, layout and materials from a menu.
Kohn said the goal was to help the custom-build industry operate at scale, by creating an online platform where home buyers could manage every aspect of the process from design to post-handover.
He said: “It’s about enabling the process to improve the customer experience, we are building a set of tools to streamline the process for the customer so they can engage and participate in the design process, and also to make it easier for the design and construction supply chain.
“If custom build isn’t made easier, then it won’t take off in the UK – if it’s always a hard option [for buyers and suppliers] it will never take off. There’s lots of interest, and now local authorities have to compile a list of suitable sites. But on a project, how do you get decisions made? If you’re an architect, how do you facilitate design participation?”
At Trevenson Park, the Digitising Custom Build team is working with architect HTA and housebuilder Potton Homes, one of six design-and-build teams involved in the scheme. The scheme has won planning permission, with the software likely to be ready for later phases.
There will also be further tests on additional sites run by Facit Homes.
With regard to the BIM interface, Kohn said: “We’re looking at data flow from architects designing in CAD and BIM, and how we translate that into a form that regular people can make decisions on.
“HTA is designing in Revit and SketchUp, and if that’s then converted into IFC format, we would then extract the right information from the IFCs to present in a ‘sales room’ environment.
“We’re also fully aware of what’s going on with BIM and end-user occupancy. There is a BIM component, but it’s more about achieving workflows between the different players.”
To realise the project, SliderStudio is building CAD tools to help architects generate design menus; Axis Design Architects is testing the home user guide, incorporating an "Internet of Things" approach to energy efficiency; and CNC specialist timber-frame housebuilder Facit Homes is improving training material for the site phase of custom build.
Kohn added that the new project also builds on the experience of Stickyworld: “There’s a big communications context to be resolved, in association with the end user.”
It’s about enabling the process to improve the customer experience, we are building a set of tools to streamline the process for the customer so they can engage and participate in the design process, and also to make it easier for the design and construction supply chain.– Michael Kohn