Building Technologies Cluster Innovative House Project – An Example of Local Enterprise

The Building Technologies cluster has been identified by Advantage West Midlands (the Regional Development Agency for the West Midlands) as a key area for driving growth, enterprise and employment within the region.

Advantage West Midlands has focused funding into the Building Technologies cluster to promote the development of a sustainable competitive advantage for the region. Its aim is to encourage innovation and collaboration throughout the supply chain from aggregate extraction and raw materials, through building product manufacture to construction sites and the professional services area of Building (Architects, Quantity Surveying, etc).

Examples of how this cluster model can be used to promote development include both innovative housing and a green future for social housing.

Innovative Housing

This is a key area of focus and brings together suppliers of materials and building products, construction companies and research centres to develop new products and materials to address the housing problems within the region. Problems such as skill shortages and poor energy efficiency are being addressed by developing innovative products, services and ways of working throughout the supply chain.

The objective of the Building Technologies cluster is to foster this collaboration with strategic and innovative projects, the ultimate goal being to maximise the wealth creating potential of the regional building industry by addressing the major issues facing the region - sustainable development; social inclusion and regeneration of communities.

An innovative house made from single leaf brickwork wall construction has been constructed at Burton-on-Trent and is to be available as a seminar centre. The project has been funded by the DTI Partners in Innovation programme, the NHBC and the Brick Development Association. Industry in-kind contributions from manufacturers, material suppliers, designers, contractors, etc were considerable.

This Partners in Innovation project was the brainwave of Professor Geoff Edgell, Head of CERAM Building Technology, and was approved for funding in 2001 at which time the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions was interested in, as a priority, innovative approaches to housing. The project fitted well with the key Economic, Social and Environmental themes of government policy, there was commitment from industry and a sound technical base to build on.

The project also offered the opportunity of innovation but in a series of relatively small steps not necessarily involving capital investment on the scale required to realise some of the Egan driven objectives of greater factory production. This project offers the possibility of continual improvement as the developments are implemented such that a relatively conservative industry can be improved with self confidence. The design itself is not specific to the region and the general benefits are described below, although initially particular contributions were made locally and hence local benefits did accrue. It is hoped that with further local support the designs can be developed to help solve some crucial midlands housing problems which can then be showcased for others to take forward on a national basis.

General benefits of the design are:

  • Proven wall construction to meet all regulatory requirements.
  • Proven compatible foundation system.
  • Single leaf construction of large format bricks and hence fast construction, reduced demand for bricklayers.
  • Standard mortar used, no new skills training required.
  • High standard of construction, inspected from inside and out.
  • Thermal Insulation to regulation minimum and beyond easily available.
  • New brick type, greater perforation, savings in manufacturing energy.
  • Floor/wall connection simple, positive no need for extra straps.
  • Proven fixings for wall mounted cupboards etc.

Benefits specific to the Midlands have accrued and include:

  • Readily accessible demonstration project and seminar centre.
  • New design of bricks made locally - Walsall.
  • Mortars provided locally - Rugby.
  • New design of joist hangers developed locally - Cannock.
  • Roof tiles manufactured locally - Stoke-on-Trent.
  • Construction staff - local (Westbury, Bullivants and others).
  • Design expertise, project management (CERAM) - Stoke on Trent.

Green Social Housing

New technologies are being encouraged to address the issues of sustainability and energy efficiency in social housing. This innovative housing project encourages the development of innovation within the regional supply chain whilst at the same time addressing issues of social inclusion and regeneration.

The final outputs of the project are to:

  • Develop a wider range of designs using the findings from the project; and
  • Build six or more dwellings using the concept whilst focusing on product development to suit the system; and in
  • Developing the supply chain and construction sequence.

It is intended that the dwellings are to be showcased in Stoke-on-Trent and should enable the designs to be used in the regeneration of sustainable and energy efficient housing stock throughout the City. The result will be modern housing to modern standards built in a fairly traditional way from innovative products sourced from within the region.

North Staffordshire has always been at the cutting edge of construction and building materials in the Built Environment. With the emphasis on renewable and sustainability of buildings it makes perfect sense to follow this up with innovative new cutting edge innovation design and quality housing techniques here in North Staffordshire. For my part, I am matching this initiative of CERAM's by co-sponsoring the Greener and Safer Buildings Bill introduced to the House of Commons in January. I want to see CERAM and KIBT's vision and actions on the ground reinforced by new Building Regulations to improve their sustainability both in energy and materials used. New powers and duties will underpin our existing developments in North Staffordshire.

Joan Walley MP, Stoke-on-Trent North

The project is managed by the Centre for Knowledge and Innovation in Building Technologies (KIBT), part of CERAM at Penkhull, in Stoke-on-Trent, in such a way as to ensure maximum dissemination of relevant information through the existing KIBT website and partnership arrangements. The Centre is part funded by Dti, Advantage West Midlands, Stokeworks SRB 6 and industry partners.

Source: KIBT
April 2004

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this article?

Leave your feedback