This is m-house in it’s natural habitat; a bit of useless waste ground which costs virtually nothing to rent. If planners could get their heads round the idea that you don’t have to wreck the environment to provide housing, there are thousands of sites in the UK like this which could be made into homes.
We’re not sure what to call it: is it a classy caravan or an ultra-chic pad with wheels? The distinction is the m-house’s raison d’etre and it’s greatest obstacle. Tim Pyne wanted a house on a bit of Essex estuary but was told he could only have a mobile home. Something on wheels, below a certain size, which arrives on site in no more than two big pieces. The planning laws do not, however, say that it had to be flimsy or look tacky so, together with Michael Howe of mae architects, he has produced a 2-bedroom, 900 sq foot designer home that is totally complete and can be assembled in a day with minimal planning permission.
‘This gives a good idea of the space in the living area. A lot of people try to plan homes into shells which are 3 meters wide, and frankly, it doesn’t work – it feels miserable. Someone needs to tell our housebuilders that. Do you know they actually make special 90% scale furniture for show homes to make them look bigger? Incredible.’
Although classed as a prefab, m-house is a proper home. It measures 17 by 6 metres, the large open-plan main room features underfloor heating and a high-spec kitchen, complete with Neff appliances. The bedrooms have ample storage, the bathroom is will kitted out and the large utility room contains a generous boiler. It has high levels of acoustic and thermal insulation. It’s designed and built to last a lifetime. In fact, it’s everything you would expect in a well-appointed flat, and perhaps any comparison with a caravan misses the point: this is a real house made to be dropped quickly, with minimal site disruption and environmental impact, into unused and unloved sites all over the country.
‘We only use around 10% of our land in the UK for housing, because it’s almost impossible to get permission — that’s why nobody can afford a house. As you can probably tell, I’m not keen on planners; they are the main reason I got out of architecture. There’s an architect who shot a planner — we send a bottle of Scotch to his prison cell every Christmas!’
At about £148,000 (without the furniture) it’s not cheap, but it is very good value. The choice of potential sites is large, from wasteland to flat city-block roofs, the purchase price is likely to be very much lower that comparable sites with full planning permission for a conventional structure, and because it is technically a caravan, there is no VAT and no Stamp Duty.
‘There’s underfloor heating so you don’t actually need the stove, but hearths are important because they provide a focus for the room which isn’t a TV. The vertical brickwork is a reference to Frank Lloyd Wright – he designed a ‘trailer’ for production. Unfortunately, nobody bought it.
The bath is huge and double ended, and it’s next to a window for views out. The hot water tank is massive and at mains pressure. Plumbers in the UK seem almost programmed to make sure you run out of hot water on a regular basis or have to run round to get wet in the shower. There’s something slightly sinister about them.’
Tim has explored the possibilities of craning an m-house onto the top of a tower block and even attaching concrete pontoons for a floating version. He is currently working on a project to build m-houses on the windward coast of a Caribbean island where low environmental impact is a requirement. Why, you could build a whole complex of m-houses if you got a licence to operate as a caravan park.
And if you found somewhere better or got fed up with your neighbours, you could always up sticks and move — with your m-house in tow.
Tim Pyne talks about m-house to Discovery TV
Contact Tim Pyne on T: 020 7739 3367 W: m-house.org