A Tiny Red House for the Homeless

by Allison Meier on March 4, 2014

Y:Cube prototype

Y:Cube prototype (all images courtesy RSH+P and the YMCA)

One of the hardest steps in surmounting homelessness is in the transition from a shelter to a permanent home, and while many ideas for pop-up temporary housing are manifested in designer dreams, few of those architectural solutions have found widespread implementation. Now the YMCA in London is teaming up with Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners (RSH+P) on a pop-up prototype that is getting some real world implementation.

A rendering of what the Y:Cube house would look like in a modular unit

A rendering of what the Y:Cube house would look like in a modular unit

The Y:Cube, a project three years in the making, is a flat pack, prefabricated little house that is aimed to be an “affordable starter accommodation.” Its prototype is currently being shown off at the YMCA London South West and a 36-unit complex of the Y:Cubes is planned for the Mitcham area of London later this year. All of the first residents will be referred to the new modular residence by the southwest London Borough of Merton, or will have been a former YMCA resident. As Andy Redfearn of the YMCA told the Guardian:

“The real issue is what happens when people leave our hostels. The only option is often poor quality shared accommodation managed by private landlords, who require large deposits and rent in advance.”

The Y:Cube, on the other hand, will be 65% below market rate, efficiently heated and cooled, and come with a bathroom, living room, kitchen, and bed all compacted within about 280 square feet for a cost of £30,000 (about $50,000). Sure, still not exactly cheap for many people, and that doesn’t even include the land. However, as the pitch goes:

“The units are located in clusters (of between 24 to 40 units) on brownfield sites that are purchased or leased. Schemes are owned and managed by a housing charity, registered housing provide or local authority. The units work as a ‘plug and play’ modular system, stacking on top, or next to, each other, so each build is unique and bespoke to the site that it’s built on.”

Inside the Y:Cube prototype

Inside the Y:Cube prototype

So could factory-produced temporary homes on brownfields — land that’s often contaminated by industry — work or even be desirable? There does seem to be a growing movement for combatting homelessness with such tiny homes. For example, groups like Occupy Madison in Wisconsin are setting up small houses for those without housing, and current ideas for prefab affordable homes include the Nomad flat pack home that was recently funding on Indiegogo and the QB2 house that can be built in four hours, designed by a Hertfordshire University engineer. However, these are always up against the problem of where to put them, and urban ideas for the use of unused space like Levitt Bernstein’s 2012 proposal to turn underused garages in London into homes or designers Pink Cloud’s idea to use Manhattan office buildings as pop-up hotels and potential temporary housing, seem to languish as concepts.

Prefab affordable housing is far from a new idea — it’s been decades since the prefab Aluminaire House was shown at the 1931 exhibition of the Architectural League and Allied Arts and Industries Association in New York that was intended to be a prototype for affordable mass production. Yet nothing seems to have taken off in a broad context. Perhaps with a partnership with the YMCA, however, the small Y:Cube might actually have a chance to make a big impact, provided it finds the right land to stand on.

Y:Cube prototype

Y:Cube prototype

The Y:Cube prototype is on view at the YMCA London South West (9 St. James’ Road, London) throughout February.

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  • Fiftyseven

    What a perfect little house. I live in a doublewide (2 regular size trailers attached to each other) but only use about half of it so the smaller house in this article is just right. I keep other half of my doublewide as a guest space and it’s downright luxurious. I don’t understand why people live in huge houses with enormous price tags. I find it all very inefficient, but that’s true of a lot of things on this planet.

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