Architecture

Honey, I Shrunk the House: Tim Pyne’s Prefab m-house

16 Apr , 2011   Gallery

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.

Tim Pyne's m-house

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.

Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice

m-house living area

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.

m-house inside-outside

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!’

Now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was!’

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.

m-house dining area

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

Words & Photos: © 2011 Ken Sparkes. First published June 2006. All Rights Reserved

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