Could this be the future of urban housing?

We’ve seen the future of urban housing, and it’s definitely modular. Dutch startup WOODstacker is developing wooden stackable buildings that are sustainable, quick to build and make for stylish but apparently affordable housing.

It’s no secret that our exploding population has led to a significant shortage in housing. The financial crisis had resulted in millions flocking to cities in search of work, and has left many living in less-than-ideal situations.

But while some solutions have been put forward, these are often entirely conceptual and rarely make their way into reality. WOODstacker, however, seems set to break the mould, having been selected for Amsterdam-based Rockstart’s Smart Energy Accelerator programme.

The brainchild of mechanical engineer Theo Bouwman and architect Jurrian Knijtijzer, WOODstacker units are rectangular in shape so that they can be easily slotted together to form larger structures. This makes them quick to build, meaning they could be vital in situations such as natural disasters where there is a sudden demand for new housing. “The 21st century is a fast and flexible time,” says WOODstacker managing partner Jurrian Knijtijzer. “We’re bring the normally slow and static real estate up to speed.”

The company says the units, which are built of wood and natural materials, are completely sustainable and very durable. It also reckons that the materials make WOODstacker healthier to live in than other modular, chemical-containing structures. And with increasing concerns about the health implications of airborne chemicals and nanoparticles, that could be a big selling point.

“We believe in [building] a cleaner and better world. The building industry is responsible for ¾ of the material consumption and 40% of the energy usage,” says Knijtijzer. “With the use of ecological materials and state of the art technology we can change this.”

With so many young people living in cities, WOODstacker could be ideal as urban housing for the under 35s. Two modules put together would create a 45m² one-bedroom apartment with a separate lounge and kitchen diner; a level of luxury that is rare for many city dwellers.

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The wooden design also has some aesthetic benefits that could make for attractive affordable housing. With a wooden finish there is no need for carpet, paint or wallpaper, so a WOODstacker apartment could be very cheap to decorate.

It’s not just housing that WOODstacker could be used for; the company thinks they would be perfect for everything from hotels or holiday homes to healthcare or nursery units.

But of course all of this is reliant on the availability of appropriate land. Cities might be crying out for more affordable housing but space is still an issue. We reckon WOODstacker might be able to make use of empty spaces such as old multi-storey car parks and industrial sites, but this would only work for certain areas.  Until cities figure out a way to create more ground space, the appearance of solutions such as WOODstacker will be patchy at best.


Images courtesy of WOODstacker.


Why sandless sandbags could hold the key to flood protection

The sight of people hauling sandbags along streets and brushing water out of their houses has become a familiar scene in the United Kingdom, as floods have gripped large parts of the country.

British Prime Minister David Cameron promised those with homes underwater that money “is no object” but also warned they will be in it “for the long haul”.  A senior scientist from the Met Office, the leading weather service in the UK, linked the floods in the country and extreme weather in Europe and North America to climate change.

Those who have had their property damaged by the high waters have complained about the lack of aid provided, provoking national newspaper the Sun to launch a campaign to provide sandbags to those who are in need.

While effective at keeping flood water out, sandbags come with a range of problems, including rotting, weight and storage challenges.

With increasing concern over the impact of climate change and the large number of sandbags being used at the moment, modern technology is attempting to change the way we help to prevent floods. This includes upgrading the sandbag to be more environmentally and user-friendly.

One of the biggest disadvantages of the sandbag is its weight, which makes it difficult to move around quickly when a flash flood hits. At just 200g before activated, modern versions such as FloodSax provide a more flexible alternative. A semi-porous inner line within the bags contains gelling polymer which absorbs water to become taut in three minutes. Once the water is inside them it stays there and diverts the flood waters.

These type of modern sandbags come with a host of advantages over the traditional hessian and polypropylene bags, which may prove useful in future emergencies. They are the same size as an unfilled sandbag, making them easy to store and even vacuum packable.

They are also easy to dispose and do not rot like traditional sandbags. The polymer within modern bags can also be mixed in small quantities with soil to assist with moisture retention in summer months

If you’re not a fan of sandbags and are looking for protection from flood waters without buying a boat (or building an ark), design and architecture company Morphopedia have produced a house that floats. When surrounded by water, their prototype house does not float off but instead rises on the water while remaining tethered to vertical guides.


Image courtesy of Jeff Jones.