How much does it cost to build a house?

 

We’re often asked how much it costs to build a house. This is a difficult question to answer: every new build has its own requirements and new build costs depend on a range of factors. In reality, it is possible to have an accurate estimate of the price when all of the drawings and work schedules have been completed. However, there are a number of variables and issues that you can take into account to gain a sense of price before then. We’ve outlined these below.

New build london architect

Location and design

Construction costs vary depending on the location of the site in the country. Central London will be a lot more expensive than elsewhere. For a new build home designed by an architect in London or the South East, current minimum construction costs tend to be in the region of £1,750 per square metre, with land acquisition and professional fees on top of this. Where other issues apply (and we’ll come to these next), this figure is likely to increase to a minimum of £2,000 per square metre.

The design of the property can also have an impact on the cost. It is important to use an architect who has a track record of designing houses that are within your budget (see examples on our Projects page). Where the highest quality finishes are required, the cost per square metre may rise to £4,000 (and more).

Factors that increase costs

It is likely that several other factors will apply to the project which will lead to higher costs. Examples include: party walls; difficult site access; specialist foundation requirements; non-standard forms of construction (e.g. cross-laminated timber); large areas of glazing rather than walls; and high spec kitchens and bathrooms.

There are a number of fees that will also need to be taken into account:

– Purchase costs (price of the sale, solicitor’s fees, survey, Stamp Duty Land Tax);
– Finance costs (relating to any borrowing and associated interest rates); and
– Consultant costs (these will also vary depending on the size and nature of the project – architect, structural engineer, inspectors, etc.).

Factors that decrease costs

There are a number of tax benefits for new build houses which can offset some of the above costs. Stamp duty is calculated on the value of the land only, which is typically less than the value of the land with an existing home on it. Community Infrastructure Levies can be considerable (especially in London) but new self-build properties are usually exempt from this (in line with certain residency terms). VAT is also not payable on the construction costs of a new build house and, assuming the house will be the principle private residence, Capital Gains Tax is not payable if you make a profit at the point of sale.

If you are interested in exploring the cost of a new build project with RISE Design Studio, please get in touch.

Spotlight on Jean Prouvé

 

French architect and designer, Jean Prouvé (1902-1984), has been described as one of the most influential designers of the early modern design movement. Once quoted as saying “never design anything that cannot be made”, he combined engineering and design to produce a wide range of furniture and prefabricated architecture. An influential force among modern designers and constructionally-minded architects, we also take inspiration from his work here at RISE Design Studio.

Jean Prouve RISE Design Studio

Modern metal furniture

A apprenticeship in his teenage years with a Parisian metalsmith led Prouvé to become a master of of various metals. Opening his own workshop, Atelier Prouvé in Nancy, he became adept at working with wrought iron and steel at scale, creating numerous furniture designs and then opening his own factory. He fabricated lamps, chandeliers, and handrails, as well as the famous ‘La Chaise Inclinable’, the first reclining chair to use the technique of flat steel tubes, which allowed the chairs to be stacked.

He collaborated with some of the best-known French modern designers of the time, such as Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, and his early successes led to the mass-production of his furniture (tables, chairs, shelves, etc.) for universities, hospitals, offices and schools. Tables made via an innovative method of folding sheet material were described as having “the perceived lightness of bridges and the presence of architecture”.

Prefabricated architecture

During World War II, Prouvé was commissioned to design prefabricated barracks for the French army. This allowed him to develop the structural system that became central to his later architectural designs. The roof and walls were supported by large A-shaped columns that a ridge beam could be slotted into.

In the 1950s, Prouvé devoted more and more of his time to the challenges of prefabricated architecture. His own house, which he designed as a prototype, is now considered a major development in prefab housing and, even today, engineers can’t always grasp the complexity of the bracing and support system that he set up intuitively in the structures he created.

His ‘demountable houses’ combined easy assembly and structural integrity that were used in a range of scenarios in a number of countries: durable housing for homeless war victims, manufacturers’ offices, and rural schools, to name a few.

The poetics of the technical object

Many of Prouvé’s furniture pieces are still manufactured by a Swiss furniture retailer, and his prefabricated houses remain preserved and regularly displayed. In 2008, Prouvé’s ‘Maison Tropicale’ (developed in the 1950s to address housing shortages in French colonies) was assembled in front of the Tate Modern in London to coincide with an exhibition of his work at the London Design Museum.

Since 2010, there has been reinvigorated interest in Prouvé’s prefabricated architecture. Many have been sold to collectors as installation art and, at a time when architects, planners and governments are becoming increasingly interested in addressing the issues associated with mass affordable housing, his ideas are being developed, adapted and modernised to suit modern day needs and increase their original material and economic efficiencies.

Parallels: boat building and architecture

 

Several well-known architects (Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, John Pawson, Frank Gehry, to name a few) have turned their hand to designing and building boats, and it is now common to find boat building technology and materials (such as custom composites) in modern building structures. Floating architecture is also becoming more and more popular. There seem to be natural parallels between the skills of the architect and the boatbuilder, particularly in the crafting of a wooden structure to create a functional and beautiful end result.

RISE-Boat-John Pawson

Making sense of lines

To the boatbuilder, ‘lofting’ is the creation of full-size topographical maps of a boat’s hull that allows the builder to make all the molds, patterns, parts and pieces accurately. The process of ‘laying down the lines’ is relatively similar to practices that go back to the 17th century, generating curved lines for the streamlined hull and keel of a vessel. Lines can be drawn on wood and the wood then cut for advanced woodworking. Today, boatbuilders, like architects, use computer-aided lofting to fine tune designs and produce a set of full-sized lines.

Following architectural conventions, a ‘lines plan’ slices through the boat in several directions and can be combined with a ‘table of offsets’. This contains reference points used in a similar way to latitude and longitude on maps to allow the use of coordinates to find specific points on the hull. This then allows the full scale model to be built.

Symmetry and alignment

Like architects, boat builders are focussed on what looks good. Subtle attention to detail, symmetry and proportion don’t necessarily make a boat float better but they do affect the appearance of the vessel. The ‘sheerline’ is the subtle and graceful curve that defines the uppermost edge of the hull. This is probably the most important feature on a boat and is often difficult to get ‘right’. Often, a 2D drawing of the sheerline will not look as attractive in three dimensions as the paper drawing cannot take into account real-life perspective.

Simple things like how screws line up are also important. Lined-up slots impart understated elegance, while randomly aligned slots might look unattractive.

Keeping with tradition

Wooden boat building has been described as “the quintissential industry“. Over time, boatbuilders will have found that certain woods are more suitable than others, and that locating sources for materials can be a challenge. This is a challenge also experienced by the architect who wishes to uses local materials to retain the sense of place and context of the structure.

History of a building: foundations

 

Constructing foundations is one of the oldest of human activities. Foundations provide support for structures by transferring their load to layers of soil or rock beneath them. Over 12,000 years ago, neolithic inhabitants of Switzerland built houses on long, wooden piles that were driven into the soft beds of shallow lakes, keeping people high up above dangerous animals and hostile neighbours. A few thousand years later, the Babylonians raised their monuments on mats made from reed, and the ancient Egyptians supported the pyramids on stone blocks which rested on the bedrock. It was in ancient Rome that foundation engineering really leapt forwards, with rules created and concrete used. In the first of a series of posts that chart the history of modern building elements in the UK, we look at how foundation engineering has changed over the past century or so.

Foundations building Muhlhofen

Byelaws for healthy buildings

The Public Health Act, introduced in 1875, was the first legislation that required byelaws to be set by the authorities. These byelaws were focussed on the development of new streets, ensuring the structural stability of houses, preventing fires, providing adequate and efficient drainage, and ensuring air space around buildings.

In 1878, the Building Act provided more detail regarding house foundations and wall types. For foundations, the byelaws stated that walls should have stepped footings (twice the width of the wall) and that nine inch (225mm) thick concrete should be placed under the footings unless the building sat on gravel or rock sub-soil (‘solid ground’). At that time, Portland cement was seen as making the best concrete, with hydraulic lime as ‘the next best thing’. Common (hydrated) lime was seen as inferior.

It is not known how many authorities adopted these byelaws outside London – many produced their own, less onerous rules. This meant that the nature and quality of foundations varied somewhat (concrete foundation, brick footings, rubble/flagstone)  with depths varying according to circumstances and, in general, shallower than modern foundations.

Raft vs strip foundations

Raft foundations are created from reinforced concrete slabs of uniform thickness, covering a wide area. They spread the load over the whole area of the foundation, in effect ‘floating’ on the ground. In the 1920s and 1930s, this type of foundation was common, with brick footings also permitted.

In the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, most new houses were built on strip foundations, although raft foundations remained popular. Strip foundations are particularly suited to light structural loadings, such as those found in many low-to-medium rise domestic buildings, with minimum strip widths applying to different ground types and total load. These regulations were set out in the National Building Regulations in 1965 and applied generally throughout England and Wales, with the exception of London which had its own Building Acts.

Today, raft foundations are quite rare, except in former mining areas. An overview of modern types of foundations can be found here.

Spotlight on Alvar Aalto

 

Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, had an international reputation for a ‘distinctive blend of modernist refinement, indigenous materials, and personal expression in form and detail’. Born in 1898 when Finland was part of the Russian Empire, Aalto took a break from his architectural studies in Helsinki to fight in the Finnish war of independence. After graduating in 1921, he travelled around Europe before returning home to began practice. Over his career he achieved international acclaim for more than 200 buildings and projects and we take inspiration from his work.

Alvar Aalto

Uniquely modern

His became well-known in the late 1920s for the Turun Sanomat Building, a newspaper office in Turku and the tuberculosis sanatorium at Paimio. These buildings were designed in a straightforward and functional manner, without any historical stylistic references and incorporated smooth white surfaces, ‘ribbon windows’ and flat roofs. The sanitorium has been described as a work of both art and science: at the micro-scale the patients’ rooms received incredible attention to detail (lighting was never at sight lines and non-splash sinks allowed users to wash without disrupting others) while at the macro-scale the large, landmark building integrates perfectly with the densely forested landscape.

The Municipal Library at Viipuri (now Vyborg in Russia) was a departure from his earlier style, incorporating a spatially complex interior arranged on different levels. The library auditorium is particularly notable as it comprised an undulating ceiling of wooden strips, the warmth of which provided contrast to the whiteness of the building and appealed to both the public and professionals who were not enamoured with the ‘clinical severity’ of modern architecture at the time.

The horseshoe-shaped Jyväskylä University Building (1951) was nicknamed ‘the Athens of Finland’. An entire campus plan, the designs incorporated tree-lined paths with the inner part of the university closed off to traffic. Each building has two entrances to allow conduit from the city to the more ‘discreet court’. His Festival Hall is a combination of multiple lecture halls, a poetic gesture to create enticing and exciting spaces for everyday academic work.

‘Organic’ design

Aalto’s furniture designs were a natural extension to his architectural thinking. The ‘human touch’ of the wooden library ceiling is recognisable in his curved laminated wood furniture. He saw furniture not simply as an isolated object in space and his functional furniture remains popular internationally, despite changing styles. He also created lighting and glassware that were described as works of art, embodying an expressionist style with a keen sense of purpose and practical function.

Legacy

Although Aalto passed away in 1976, his works continue to receive the care and attention they deserve. The Vyborg library was recently restored and the Finnish commission responsible for the work won the 2014 Modernism Prize for preservation of a modern landmark.The Finlandia Prize for Architecture was also awarded in 2017 for the overhaul of the Harald Herlin Learning Centre and several other Aalto University campus buildings that were originally designed by Aalto. The renovation included updating the library to suit the technological needs of the university while retaining the traditional elements of the original design.

Spotlight on Charles and Ray Eames

 

‘A chair that looks like a crisp’ or ‘a folding screen that ripples’ are descriptions that are likely to bring to mind North American husband-and-wife design team, Charles and Ray Eames. Revered as two of the ‘most important designers of the 20th century’, their ‘grand sense of adventure’ made significant contributions to modern architecture, furniture design, industrial design and the photographic arts. In our ‘spotlight’ series about architects and designers who inspire us here at RISE Design Studio, we share some of the distinct characteristics of the designs developed by the Eames, trying to capture their spirit of ‘way-it-should-be-ness’ (when an object, through hard work and meticulous process, is realised in the incarnation of its ideal state).

RayEames-plywood

Mass-produced furniture

In the early 1940s, the Eames developed designs with a unique synergy that led to a new phase in how furniture looked and how it could be produced. When knowledge of their moulded-plywood method spread at this stage of their careers, they were asked to design moulded-plywood splints, stretchers and even aeroplance parts for the military during World War Two. After exhibiting their experimental moulded furniture at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1946, the Herman Miller Company in Michigan began to produce their furniture designs. The success of these initial designs of chairs with compound curves meant they went on to design and mass produce over 100 designs for these types of chairs over four decades, perhaps the most famous design being the moulded-plywood and leather lounge chair with matching footstool.

A mecca for modern architects

In 1949, the Eames switched their focus away from furniture, designing and building their own Californian home as part of a Case Study Home Program, sponsored at the time by an American architecture magazine. ‘The Eames House‘ (as it is known today) is where they lived for the rest of their lives and is considered a classic example of modern residential architecture, as well as a ‘must-see’ for today’s architectural students interested in this type of design. Intended as an experiment to realise the design of a house for a young married couple needing a place to live and work, the design of the house is perhaps as visionary today as it was all those decades ago.

From furniture to film and beyond

In the mid-1950s, the Eames began to focus more on their work as photographers and filmmakers. Charles Eames was an exceptional photographer and his photography work clearly permeated into their design work. The couple designed museum exhibitions, including the IBM Pavilion for the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York and the Copernicus exhibition at the Smithsonian in the 1970s, both of which drew extensively on their photography and film work.

Looking forwards

Although Charles and Ray Eames are no longer with us (Charles died in 1978, Ray in 1988), members of their family run The Eames Office, which works on communicating, preserving and extending their work.

The Eames understood design as a solution rather than a luxury, and as something that is as much about industry as it is about art. Their vision of design that can get ‘the best to the greatest number of people for the least’ is perhaps one of the reasons why their designs are so timeless and why almost everyone recognises their work.

Spotlight on Sverre Fehn

 

Sverre Fehn (1924-2009) was a Norwegian architect who received worldwide recognition for his work. He is widely referred to as the leader of Scandinavian architecture in the postwar years and he was awarded both the Pritzker Architecture Prize and Heinrich Tessenow Gold Medal in 1997. Here at RISE Design Studio, Sverre Fehn is one of several architects who inspire our work. In this short post we share some detail about Fehn’s life, his well-known works, and reflect on how, like Peter Zumthor, his designs developed an aesthetic that drew on local culture and nature to create a unique experience of space.

Sverre-Fehn-RISE Design Studio

His influences

A Norwegian, Fehn was described as always trying to ‘run away from the Nordic tradition’. After qualifying as an architect in Oslo in 1949, he went on to work with the French metal worker, architect and designer, Jean Prouvé. With a resulting interest in resolving complex problems of construction detail, he was simultaneously influenced by Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect, nurturing a passion for the modern design movement. Time spent in Morocco in the early 1950s also provided him inspiration from the simplicity of life in adobe vernacular houses, which are built from earth piled up in simple structures and respond to the surrounding natural environment by regulating heat and light.

Responsive architecture

After his time in Morocco, Fehn became acutely aware of the different characteristics that light can take, focussing his work on creating responsive architecture for different climates. He completed commissions for the Venice and Nordic pavilions at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, the latter of which was reminiscent of the detailed construction work of Prouvé: intersecting blades of Perspex and glue-laminated wooden beams, all held together with only 48 bolts. Five decades later, the Nordic pavilion still stands with three plane trees growing up from the ground and out of the roof.

He then completed the rest of his life’s work in the cooler, damper and mistier climate of Scandinavia where he designed country villas, an ecohouse and several notable museums, including the Norwegian National Museum of Architecture in Oslo and the Hedmark Ethnographic Museum in Hamar. The Hedmark Museum, also known at the Storhamar Barn is one of his best known works and a space designed to speculate on human nature and material history.

Relationship with the surroundings

Many of Fehn’s buildings have a strong relation with the surrounding environment, blending modernity with regionalism. The private Oslo residence, Villa Schreiner, has been called a ‘hommage au Japon’ due to its sliding doors, large windows, and the way the wooden structure is intricately linked with the nature around it. In Bamble in Norway, Villa Busk straddles a ridge and follows the natural terrain to demonstrate the strength of nature and man’s subordination to it. His Eco House in Norrkoping (Sweden) took the relationship with nature even further, using natural ingredients in construction. A wooden structural frame is filled in with straw bales mixed with clay and finished inside and out with a clay plaster. Partitions of adobe (from his days in Morocco) also feature.

You can browse a selection of Sverre Fehn’s woks on Pinterest.

Spotlight on Peter Zumthor

 

One of our most respected architects here at RISE Design Studio is Peter Zumthor, the renowned Swiss architect. Winner of the 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize and the 2013 RIBA Royal Gold Medal, Zumthor’s sensuous materiality and attention to place has inspired several of our architecture and design projects. Although he has only built around 20 projects worldwide, his work is widely acclaimed and sought after. In this short post, we reflect on the career of Peter Zumthor, the projects that he has designed, and how he wishes his work to be experienced.

RISE yoga retreat Norway

With inspiration from Zumthor: Lake Krøderen Yoga Retreat, Norway (RISE Design Studio)

Five decades of work

Peter Zumthor has been based in his studio, Atelier Peter Zumthor, since 1979. Situated in the Swiss mountain village of Haldenstein, Zumthor works with a small team of around 30 employees. In the past, Zumthor tried to protect himself from too many outside influences and gained a reputation in the media as being somewhat reclusive. Although he is quashing this image today, his practice remains somewhat rarefied as his clients are seen as ‘vehicles’ for him to realise his ideas and facilitate his works of art, rather than ‘clients’.

Poetic sensibility – mountain, stone, water

Zumthor is well-known for his preference for simple, unfinished materials. Perhaps the most well-known work of Zumthor is the Therme Vals in Switzerland, which was completed in 1996. Built over thermal springs, the building is a hotel and spa/baths which is created in the form of a cave or quarry-like structure. To complement and ‘fit-in’ with the surrounding environment, the baths are situated below a grass roof and partially buried in the hillside. The Valser Quartzite slabs used in the project were quarried locally and the respect for the stone became the inspiration for the design.

Zumthor is also celebrated for the Kunsthaus Bregenz, built in Austria in 1997. The museum’s minimalist design allows the space to be adapted to suit the art that is on display, redefining the relationship between art and architecture. Other notable works include the Swiss Pavilion at EXPO 2000 in Hanover (built of stacked beams of larch wood and Scots pine and held together by steel rods and springs) and the London Serpentine Gallery temporary summer pavilion in 2011 (at the heart of the pavilion was a specially created garden to allow the audience an emotional experience, with time to relax, observe and talk).

Sensation of the interior

The work of Peter Zumthor is all about how a person experiences the sensation of a building. With buildings ‘grown out of their place’, as if from the ground of forest, the orchestration of light and sound, as well as the touch and smell, are all vital, tactile qualities which create a minimalist feel. The focus on experience is embodied in the attention to detail paid to the interior of the building, on a par with the design of the exterior. When the exterior can ‘rule all’ in many contemporary architecture projects, this is a welcome reminder of the importance of considering the experience of detail and looking at things closely, something that we are currently researching in our own work.

The Search for Totality

 

We are researching a method of designing our projects ‘in totality’, an approach developed by Danish architect and designer Arne Jacobsen. Using this concept, we plan to research and design a range of ‘imperfect’ yet universally appealing products that would be handmade in London using raw materials like wood, metals and glass. Initial ideas include door handles, threshold details, light fittings, furniture, light switch plates and knobs, and plug sockets. As we undertake this exciting piece of research, this short blog post explains Arne Jacobsen’s approach in some more detail and reflects on how his unique Scandinavian architectural tradition has had a profound impact on international architecture.

totality interior design london

A life’s work

Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971) designed numerous notable buildings of the 20th century, ranging from theatres, sports halls and schools, to hotels, the Danish National Bank and St Catherine’s College, Oxford. Although first and foremost an architect, he is arguably most remembered since his death in 1971 as an interior design innovator, thanks to his prolific and diverse designs. He created a range of modernist chairs in the 1950s that are still widely seen today (examples include the ant chair, the tongue chair, the swan chair and the egg chair), and his collaboration in the late 1960s with VOLA led to the design of a customisable system of plumbing fittings meant for both kitchen and bathroom. The mechanical parts of the VOLA series are all hidden, leaving only the spout and handle visible to the user – a completely new concept at the time. This design is now recognised and found across the world and in many prestigious buildings such as the German Reichstag in Berlin, the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. In conjunction with specific building projects, he also designed a wide assortment of textiles, lighting fixtures, door handles, cutlery, tableware, clocks and other accessories that were awarded many prestigious accolades and can now be seen in design museums around the world.

The goal of totality

Arne Jacobsen’s goal was totality. He strived to create total concepts, whereby everything was designed with a common thread between the building, the furniture and other interior décor so that all parts were ‘in harmony’. As his portfolio of projects completed in this way grew, the quality of the products he designed became so highly regarded that, although they were developed for specific building projects, they had such universal application and appeal that they became part of standard production. The VOLA design is still popular today, inspiring bathroom and kitchen designs that ‘clean-up’ the aesthetics of these rooms.

As we continue to research and design our own range of interior design products that use local materials and complement our architectural projects, we will be inspired by the timeless, holistic approach that Jacobsen used so successfully.

Different types of metal casting

 

We design bespoke lighting for our clients and light fittings can be made from a range of metals, including brazed copper, brass, black mild steel and light mild steel. Currently, we are researching door handle design and manufacture (small scale – batches of ten or so) via casting metals in a foundry – liquid metal is poured into a mold that contains a hollow space of the required design, and is then left to cool and solidify – the solidified part is called a ‘casting’. In this short post, we explain the different types of metal casting and provide some brief information about foundries (factories that produce metal castings) in the UK.

Bespoke brass door handles london.png

How does casting work?

The first stage of metal casting is to make a mold into the desired shape. A mold can be open or closed: in an open mold, the molten metal is poured directly into the mold cavity and the material is exposed to the air, like a cup. Closed molds are more common: the molten material flows into the mold via a short entrance cavity and the mold is closed off from the air. Metal is melted in a furnace before being poured into the mold, normally by automatic pouring machines. After being left to solidify, the metal component is removed from the mold, degated (any excess material is removed) and cleaned. The product is then ‘finished’, which usually involves grinding, sanding or machining to ensure the desired finish is achieved.

Some different types of casting

Molds can be expendable or permanent: an expendable mold is made of sand, plaster, or similar, and can only be used to produce one metal casting as the mold must be destroyed to remove the casting. A permanent mold can be used to make many castings as it is usually made of metal or a refractory ceramic, with sections that can open or close to allow the casting to be removed.

There are several different types of expendable mold casting. Sand casting is the most common, as almost all casting metals can be produced using this method. Sand castings can be any size and used to make a wide range of products, with another advantage being that sand is inexpensive. Plaster mold casting is a similar process to sand casting, with plaster of Paris used instead of sand to make the mold. Other types of expendable mold casting include: ceramic mold casting (allows materials to be cast at much higher temperatures); shell mold casting (particularly suited to steel castings); vacuum casting (also known as the V process, which uses sand with no moisture with the internal cavity of the mold held in shape using a vacuum); expanded polystyrene casting (a sand mold is packed around a polystyrene pattern); and investment casting (a wax pattern is coated with refractory ceramic material).

When working with permanent molds, ‘basic permanent mold casting’ is a term that describes all types of permanent molds. Sections of the mold are normally made from metal blocks that fit together, allowing them to be opened and closed easily and with accuracy. Although making the mold can be expensive, it may be used tens of thousands of times, making it suitable for products such as kitchenware.

Metal casting foundries in the UK

The majority of foundies in the UK are members of the Cast Metals Federation (CMF), the professional body representing and promoting the UK casting industry as a whole. The CMF website has a directory of foundries and suppliers.

More information about our recently completed bespoke lighting designs (door handle designs to be completed en breve): El Montovano Pendant; El Kiazim Wall Light; Christie Pendant Light.