Down in North Shields, on the banks of the River Tyne stands the new residential development by Places for People and Urban Splash: Smith’s Dock. The site is already home to a series of one, two and three bedroom apartments and a collection of 24 townhouses.
Now the next stage of the development, which has been designed by North East architect and Channel 4 presenter George Clarke, has been unveiled. 10 two-storey homes, known as Fab Houses, have been created on the Plateau area of the development. ‘They are contemporary homes, modular and factory built,’ explains George. ‘Building the homes in the factory means we can raise the standard of the quality. We build the ground floor as a unit, and then the top floor as a unit, and stitch them together on site.’
‘In some ways we are just at the beginning of an exciting process of factory-built homes,’ he continues. ‘It protects us from the weather — we don’t get held up like conventional building methods that can’t finish a job because of rain.’
Each of the Fab Houses are built using modular technology meaning the house starts as a timber frame in the factory, built in separate sections, before being transported to the development site and put together. ‘Once they’ve left the factory, we can have them stitched together in a week,’ says George.
When asked about the inspiration behind the Fab Houses, George explains that each of the 10 homes have been created with young couples and small families in mind and so have been designed to maximise space and natural light. ‘We’ve just done some simple things very well — the ground floor has really high ceilings and exposed timber joists that are almost Scandinavian in style,’ George continues. ‘I wanted the interior design to create a warm and cosy feel yet have a contemporary look,’ he says. ‘To sum it up, it’s classic modern; they’re just Fab Houses.’
With floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights at the top of the stairs, the houses are flooded with natural light. ‘I hate the way modern design has every wall finished white to make the space look bigger. We’ve actually gone for some dark tones to make it feel more intimate and cosy,’ says George. ‘Even things like sofa positioning, most developers would push the sofa right back against the wall to make the room feel as wide as possible,’ he says. ‘We’ve incorporated the sofas into the space and added shelving behind to create another zone in the room.’
Each house has high ceilings, exposed joists and open beams to make the space feel more open without creating clutter, and the birch ply used on the staircase helps funnel light into the house. ’The staircase is my favourite feature in the house,’ George tells us. ‘We spent an awful lot of time designing the stair, it’s all in timber and runs up the stairs to become the balustrade,’ he says.
The Smith’s Dock development is part of a regeneration programme in North Shields which aims to create new communities with modern housing and encourage business growth in the area. ‘There’s been so much money poured into major cities, but what about your smaller cities and towns in the North?’ asks George. ‘Places like North Shields, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough need that investment to stop younger people leaving the area.’ George marks the lack of investment in the North as a pivotal reason behind the number of young people moving South in search of more opportunities. ‘I want people to stay in the North East and start businesses and thriving communities.’
Before Smith’s Dock could be built, the former shipyard underwent a £20 million decontamination project that cleaned the site and made it a safe space for people to live. ‘It’s not just about the houses. The whole development of Smith’s Dock is a major regeneration project on a site that’s been left to deteriorate since the shipyard closed,’ explains George. ‘We’ve got plans for nice bars and restaurants down on the waterfront which should appear in the next few years,’ he says. ‘When the community has arrived, the businesses will start to come to fruition.’
To tackle the issue of inefficient building and the housing crisis, George has recently founded the Ministry of Building Innovation and Education: an educational charity in the North East that will encourage young people to become interested in home design. ‘Young people think differently and want to design homes in new styles,’ explains George. ‘We can take people on who can’t work on building sites but who can work building the homes in factories.’ In conjunction with Teesside University, the charity is offering courses in home design and construction, and will be launching regional MOBIE facilities across the country as a place for training, making, creative thinking and craftsmanship.