Y:Cube shortlisted for RIBA Journal MacEwen Award

27 January 2016

Y: Cube has been shortlisted for the inaugural RIBA Journal MacEwen Award, the award which aims to find and celebrate the best examples in the UK and Ireland of projects with a clear social benefit, right across society.

The judges said: “No award for architecture for the common good would be complete without covering some bases to solve Britain’s housing crisis. Y:Cube is an economical and innovative housing solution prototyped in Mitcham, Surrey, providing self-contained and affordable starter accommodation for young people unable either to gain a first step on the housing ladder or pay high private rents. Using volumetric technology and offsite manufacture Y:Cube provides a bespoke solution for single people and couples in housing need in one-bed studios that arrive on site as self-contained units.

Despite some objections to the tight 26m² size of each unit, Duplo appearance and the source of the housing crisis, overall the judges felt that Y:Cube was a good and serious attempt to address an overwhelming problem. Each unit is factory-built with the services incorporated. As a result, the water, heating and electricity can be easily connected to existing facilities or other Y:Cubes already on site. This ‘plug and play’ approach produces a modular, demountable system of apartments designed for brownfield sites.

‘We need to cover some bases on the common good,’ said judge Matthew Taylor. ‘One of these is surely in the short to medium term – while we are waiting for the glorious revolution – to meet the needs of people who would otherwise be living in hostels or overcrowded accommodation. This seems like a quick and cheap way of giving people a little flat, rather than a bedsit or sharing.’

Rent is set at 65% of market rate and in addition to low energy bills the Y:Cube is genuinely affordable

The first Y:Cube development is made up of 36 units. Every resident is referred either by the London Borough of Merton or a previous resident of the YMCA. The rent is set at 65% of market rate and in addition to low energy bills the Y:Cube is genuinely affordable for those who live there. Y:Cube offers an opportunity for social investment, providing a solid return to investors while meeting a huge need.

The judges liked the project’s flexibility – additional units can be added if needed and whole developments can be taken apart and rebuilt elsewhere. This modern method of construction also makes for a neighbourly, clean and quiet site.

‘What RSHP has done is demonstrate that a proven technology used for Travelodge and the like can be applied to housing that is affordable and well planned,’ commented Hugh Pearman, while judge Claire Bennie proposed that the NHS should ‘open up all its land and commission these for all its nurses”