Modular building boosts drive for social housing - Ryan Fletcher

I have been in and around building sites since I was a boy and have worked and continue to work in all sectors of the architecture/construction industry. So, it might seem rather surprising that even after more than 30 years in the sector, as an architect and a developer, I am still thrilled and excited when I see our design, planning and building know-how crystallise in a new housing development.

Ryan Fletcher, Managing Director at Cullross Ltd and Senior Director at award-winning architect practice, jmarchitects
Ryan Fletcher, Managing Director at Cullross Ltd and Senior Director at award-winning architect practice, jmarchitects

Take one of Cullross’s latest projects, which was last week visited by Housing Minister Shona Robison. This £13m development of 119 flats spread over two blocks is located in Dundee’s £1.6bn waterfront transformation area which encompasses 240 hectares of land stretching 8km along the River Tay. The site at Victoria Dock was formerly a car park and one of the major sites in the city’s regeneration masterplan to be developed.

Our client, Hillcrest Homes, will offer these one and two-bedroom flats at social housing and mid-market rent from next year.

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Having studied architecture at Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee, I have a great fondness for the city, and feel proud to be part of its renaissance, through this and other developments in Dundee that Cullross and jmarchitects are currently working on or have completed recently.

Dundee waterfront project with Hillcrest Homes.

Of course, I am confident that people will love living in the Victoria Dock development — spacious, affordable, energy-efficient, set in a fabulous waterfront location, each with a balcony with outstanding views overlooking the Tay on one side and the city on the other. What’s not to like? More notable however for me, as an architect/developer, is the way in which these flats have been designed and constructed.

We decided that the project was one in which we could apply Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). This involves building the units off-site in a factory and then transporting ‘pods’ to the site where they get lifted by crane and secured into place.

This modular approach has a number of benefits, foremost of which is the quality of build: Offsite factory production guarantees precision and consistency; there is a more efficient quantification and use of raw materials, leading to a reduction in construction waste and reducing the embodied carbon of the final build —important in the drive towards new homes that are carbon neutral.

Another key benefit is that the development can be completed much faster than traditional builds – by up to as much as 30%. And, as Homes for Scotland estimates a cumulative shortfall in housing of 100,000 homes, modular construction is an obvious way of helping to address this shortage.

That’s not to say that modular build is the only way to go. Our expert management team and the partners with whom we work are all seasoned professionals and have seen how construction techniques and technologies have evolved over the years. As a result, we have a keen sense of what will work for the specific requirements of a client, what the most feasible solution will be for a given site and, importantly, how to deliver much needed affordable homes.

Cullross started out 9 years ago, working on one small development of 49 units in Perthshire. Today, we are managing multiple developments across the country. Just now we have over 350 units either under construction or about to commence on site this year, having just completed another waterfront regeneration project comprising a 195-unit residential development and office space on the site of the former Archibald McMillan shipyard in Dumbarton Harbour. Last year Cullross had over 400 units on site in West Dumbarton, Dundee, Edinburgh and Arbroath. This year we are aiming to at least match this and build on this momentum.

And while I am a strong advocate of offsite construction, I predict that our operation will pursue a blend of both modular and traditional builds for the foreseeable future—sometimes opting for mixed construction solutions.

Ryan Fletcher, Managing Director at Cullross Ltd and Senior Director at award-winning architect practice, jmarchitects

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