First-time buyers offered flatpack kit homes in the Netherlands
With developers put off by economic crisis, Dutch and Britons looking to own their homes are being offered architecturally designed kit houses
If you like spending time in the greenhouse and following the sun throughout the day, you might opt for the Hayhouse; or if you're more drawn to the idea of a cosy Scandinavian log cabin, maybe the Deckhouse is for you.
Choosing your dream home has become as simple as picking furniture from the Ikea catalogue for residents of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, where a neighbourhood of affordable architect- designed kit houses has just been launched.
Aimed at first-time buyers, the city's "I build affordable in Nijmegen" initiative (IbbN) has paired 20 architects with building companies to produce about 30 designs - from detached timber cabins to redbrick terraced houses - with a construction cost of €115,000 (HK$1.2 million).
Anyone with an annual income of between €30,000 and €47,000 is eligible to apply for an IbbN loan, while all costs are fixed from the beginning, removing the usual danger of ballooning budgets and long delays when building your own, untested house. Designed to be manufactured from prefabricated parts, in close collaboration with the builder, the flatpack kits are delivered to the site and can be assembled within six to eight weeks.
"Since the economic crisis, both architects and the city are trying to find new ways to build houses," said Elsbeth Ronner of LRVH architects, a young practice that has designed one of the house types, a straw-bale eco-house inspired by local haylofts. "There are few developers willing to build, so the city is selling plots directly to the residents, and letting them do it for themselves."
For young architects like Ronner, whose practice has so far only worked on refurbishment projects, the scheme also provides an opportunity to get into house building.
"People always think working with an architect will be more expensive and take longer, but this way they feel more secure. We've always wanted to make a really cheap, sustainable house, and this gives us a great way into the market," she said.
IbbN joins a growing movement of self-build kit homes in the Netherlands, following the example set by the new town of Almere near Amsterdam, where more than 800 such homes have been built since 2006, with thousands more on the way. Demand is also building in the UK.
In the docks of Middlesbrough in northeast Englad, on the site of a stalled regeneration project, an area has been set aside for self-build, with a competition launched for innovative ideas, while parts of London's Olympic site could be given over to up to 100 self-build homes. So could flatpack kit housing be part of the answer? "System-building makes it so much easier," said Ted Stevens, of the National Self Build Association.
"Rather than giving people an entirely blank piece of paper, it's like a big menu with options to choose from. A lot of people are put off self-build because of the uncertainty involved, but this way the price and delivery time are guaranteed -making the process much more like buying a car."
It is also much cheaper: by cutting out the developer's profit, the average self-built house in the UK costs just 60 per cent of its final value to build.
If more local authority land can be opened up and architects retained at the centre of the process, it seems to make more sense than ever to go Dutch.