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Opinion: If we want to solve the housing crisis, we need to find smarter ways of building

Tom Shaw
The Cube in Shoreditch, Europe's tallest resi building made using CLT

T he fact remains that London doesn’t have enough homes. The city is growing by about 100,000 people annually, but only 25,000 homes were built in the same period last year.

As well as finding the land to build these homes, we also need to find ways to build them quickly on a large scale. We must encourage those developing new technologies to flourish among more traditional construction techniques, open up supply chains and increase market capacity. I think there are three clever and modern methods of engineering that could be the answer.

The first is the use of Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT). Compared to traditional materials, CLT weighs less and is significantly quicker to build with. This is ideal for constrained inner city sites where there may be weight restrictions (such as over railway tunnels), allowing a greater number of apartments to be built rapidly within the same space.

Having overcome issues of flammability, longevity, mortgages, insurance and availability, we are starting to see more CLT buildings constructed in the capital, such as Dalston Lane, 121 homes in Hackney. The local authority’s ‘timber first’ policy – encouraging the use of CLT in new developments in the borough – is testament to the confidence now held in this versatile and dynamic material.

Read more: Canary Wharf's Spire will be the UK's tallest residential tower

Precast concrete is another option; rather than mixing on site, the concrete is poured into a reusable mould in a factory, then lifted and fixed into place later. This method went out of favour in the 50s and 60s due to poor quality control.

However, modern engineering has overcome these issues, and precast concrete now provides both advanced finishes and, crucially, saves time on construction. The luxury Merano tower in Vauxhall is an excellent example of precast concrete in action.

Finally, simply build full rooms or apartments off-site. Prefabricated volumetric pods, as they’re known, have already been successfully used in hotels and student housing projects, but they have become popular recently in housebuilding, being used in Pocket Living’s recently completed development in Streatham.

Could these methods solve the housing crisis? It’s clear that pumping in more resources is not enough – the industry must innovate and embrace new ways of building. These modern twists on traditional forms of construction allow building on a larger, taller, cheaper and quicker scale, while still remaining affordable – all of which are crucial if we are to meet the housing demands in our capital.

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