Is it worth rebuilding Kevin’s house?

Duncan Baker-Brown – BBM Sustainable Design

It’s a month since I last updated my blog. Rather remiss of me I know, but I do have one rather nice excuse. We have just received funding to rebuild a house that I first built in 2008. This wasn’t any ordinary house, it was The House That Kevin Built (THTKB in short), Europe’s first prefabricated dwelling (well since 16th/ 17th Century) made entirely of compostable, replenishable & waste material.

TalkbackThames, the TV production company behind Channel 4’s hugely successful Grand Designs presented by Kevin McCloud, were looking for a slightly different angle on their brand. So they came up with an idea for a live version of the show that would follow the building of this unusual house over six days. When they approached me to design it I initially thought that it would not be possible to do as although prefabrication was good from an environmental point of view because it reduced waste in manufacture, the systems out there utilised lots of nasty petrochemical products that for me undermined any eco credentials. However I was also aware that a number of UK based architects were developing just the sort of construction systems that would do the job nicely.

THTKB Mk I in 2008

So I had one week to develop a design making the most of two brand new hardly ever (if ever in one case) used prefabricated systems. The first had been around for a couple of years. It was called ModCell and was the invention of Craig White of White Design. It comprised engineered timber boxes on roughly 3mx3m modules, in-filled with either straw or a Lime & Hemp mix. In both cases panels uniquely mixed the positive qualities of thermal mass and insulation. At 1.5 tonnes a panel we used these in the ground floor areas combined with an amazingly slim (120mm) engineered timber first floor panel system. The first floor was open planned and vaulted; a big lightweight bubble formed of ply boxes by FACIT that locked together creating the first floor external envelope. Married to this were a two storey rammed earth wall and the UK’s first full integrated solar roof creating hot water and electricity.

THTKB Mk I was built on time in 6 days. An average of 5,000,000 viewers a night watched the show. It was delivered using mainly UK-based companies and it was UK’s first A+ Rated dwelling in May 2008. A great success by all accounts. However it was only up for two days before it was pulled apart.

THTKB MkII on campus at University of Brighton Faculty of Art

Fast-forward to May 2011 and we had just cast low carbon foundations in the grounds of the University of Brighton’s Faculty of Art for THTKB Mk II. Students from the University and apprentices from Brighton contractors Mears installed all below ground works. But then it went on hold again due to financial problems.

So why did we want to rebuild this structure from 2008? Well firstly because THTKB was only around as a building for two days we had never had time to test or monitor the performance of its cutting edge design. However it would be rather boring to just rebuild the same thing again 4 years later. So this time we are going to slow down the build process so that we can include school pupils, students and anybody else who wants to be involved. We also want the design, construction and occupation of THTKB Mk II to be a fully inclusive experience and regularly updated as a test-bed of innovative green ideas. For a start we worked with students within the Faculty of Art to design/ invent some new construction systems for the rebuild project. This time around we have also decided to focus on reducing the amount of new resources we will need to construct THTKB. So we are asking around for waste material within and outside the construction industry. Material such as waste textiles/ clothes etc for wall insulation. As well as low-tech green ideas we are also plugging into brand new green technologies.

The plan is to develop the design of THTKB MkII over the next three months and then be on site in the Autumn of 2012 and Spring 2013. Want to get involved? Contact Duncan on For more information see THTKB website.

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