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Self Build Homes, Plymouth

Part 2 Project 2001
Anna Marie Higgs
University of Plymouth, UK
I studied architecture in order to learn how to design and build homes. After my degree I did this on a small scale and found the experience rewarding. In a time when people are becoming more and more detached from basic skills, designing and building your own home is an empowering experience. It can also be very economical.

This year I wanted to try to set up a self build project for people in housing need and on low incomes in Plymouth. I found Sue Caley from the Youth Enquiry Service (YES) and Robin McCaren from McCaren Design Architects (MDA) both interested in making the project happen and bringing their own approach to it.

YES would like to use the project for young people in housing need and provide ongoing social support. MDA is interested in taking on more self build projects and has run a demonstration classroom building alongside the housing project. This is now being built by 10 school kids during architecture week.

The project is now being considered by a local housing association who own the land on which the design is sited. They should be able to make a decision by September.

Anna Marie Higgs

Anna Marie Higg's second year Diploma project for 'Housing the Homeless' was initiated by herself to provide a live self-build housing initiative for the homeless in Plymouth. In the first year of her Diploma, she and her partner built for themselves a small temporary home on the edge of a farmer's field. They built it out of straw bales and timber over the summer before Anna Marie started her Diploma programme. The accommodation was modest, but during the following year it provided for all their needs and had been built within the limits of a student budget.

Given this experience, Anna Marie's impeccable logic concluded that such techniques could be offered to others, perhaps more needy than she. For her final year's project she therefore set out to repeat the process, this time as the enabler to a group of homeless people in the city. She introduced herself to the homeless through a post-card she designed and distributed around the homeless community. From this introduction she established a core client group who were interested enough to participate in the scheme. She then harrassed the local authority until they offered her a site. The site she was given sloped steeply to the North and was subsequently almost totally shaded in the winter. Undaunted by this, she continued to chair the meetings with the group, arranged other meetings with the local community and youth groups and brought in external advisors to lend expertise to the project.

In the final scheme, the principal living rooms are placed at the top of the house to make the most of the sunlight on the site. Learning from her first year's experience, the technology of construction has been kept very simple, and the whole scheme designed with a high regard for ecology. The project, although now finished in terms of her Diploma portfolio, remains live with the expectation that it will be completed during the forthcoming year.

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