Architecture students at Robert Gordon University have presented Aberdeenshire Council with their ideas to improve social housing in three North-east towns.
The fifth year RGU students developed proposals for three towns in the region, one of which was Fraserburgh.
Students Fiona Martin (24), Rachel Brown (22) and Andrew Stewart (22) each won studentships to work with RGU professor Gokay Deveci over the summer, through the university’s Innovation, Design and Sustainability (IDEAS) research institute.
Focusing on practice-based research in housing design quality, the group was set the challenge of coming up with suggestions for social housing in Fraserburgh, Inverurie and Ballater.
Under Professor Deveci’s supervision, the students first studied existing housing and compiled an initial report, which included interviews with tenants, before presenting their findings to the council.
They then worked on proposals which took account of some of the shortcomings which had been highlighted in the report, such as the amount of space, energy efficiency and community interaction.
Prof. Deveci, who has been at the forefront of sustainable low-energy house design for more than a decade, commented: “The unit I teach for final year architecture students specialises in 21st century housing issues so I approached Aberdeenshire Council to suggest that some of my students look at social housing on various local sites.
“I thought the students needed a real client to demonstrate the constraints that can affect a project such as planning, cost and social and cultural issues and it is entirely relevant that they understand the difficulty and complex issues involved.
“The council has been happy to engage with us which is great and it has very much been a two way process. The main idea was to promote the idea of a partnership between the practice and academia so that we could learn from each other. It has been a really useful dialogue with both parties sharing different views and ideas.”
The students have now come up with designs for prefabricated houses which make the most of modern technology – not only speeding up the building process but also allowing a high standard of fitting at a low cost.
The houses are low energy models which are highly insulated, air tight and which face south as far as possible in order to utilise sunlight. It is anticipated models such as these could mean a 60 to 70 per cent reduction in energy bills for tenants compared to current social housing.
The students presented their ideas to four council representatives, including Housing Manager (Strategy) Janelle Clark and Housing Officer Angela Keith, and the local authority is now looking into how they can be incorporated into plans for developing the sites.
Professor Deveci added: “It is time that we embraced these modern construction methods as there is no other way that we will be able to meet the housing demand.
“People have preconceptions towards prefabricated homes which stem from the memory of those built after the Second World War but as is being demonstrated more and more, prefabs can be extremely high quality and very much challenge those old fashioned attitudes. A good prefab can last just as long as a traditionally built stone or brick home and they are no longer purely targeted at the affordable housing market.
“The students were very aware of the fact that prefabs should not be exactly the same in each of the towns, they understand the heritage of the place and the clear impact that can have. They have designed different models for a coastal town such as Fraserburgh compared to a market town like Inverurie.”
Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee, Councillor Peter Argyle, said: “These are the architects of the future and it is great to engage with them and hear their ideas on improving social housing.
“The council is always striving to ensure we are keeping up-to-date in using the most sustainable and efficient technologies in the design and construction of our properties, and listening to the ideas of students who are in the process of being trained is a great way to do that.
“Some of their concepts are now being used to inform the final designs of the projects they studied. I am glad we have been able to provide a realistic project experience for the students and wish them the best of luck in the future.”