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Caspar in Leeds due for demolition

by mel starrs on February 6, 2007

in Case Studies

CASPAR (city centre apartments for single people at affordable rents), a development of 42 apartments on North St in Leeds (just opposite Hansa’s Gujarati curry house) is now to be demolished. The Yorkshire Post have the latest developments here. Guardian report here and Treehugger comment here.

It’s a cautionary tale. What lessons are to be learnt?

The site was initially open to competition and won by Levitt Bernstein on behalf of the client, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Contractor was Kajima UK Engineering Ltd, structural engineers were Alan Conisbee and Associates and Services Engineers were Max Fordham and Partners. According to RIBA contract value was £2,432,916 and was reportedly built without subsidy. JRF expected a return of 6.2%, compared to their average portfolio of 2.9%. Each apartment cost in the region of £60k to build, high for apartments, especially for one occupant dwellings.

The project won much acclaim after it’s completion in 2000 and won awards with both RIBA and the Civic Trust. The SDC (Sustainable Development Commission) have the development rated as a 5 star sustainable case study. The energy efficiency of the development appears to be very good. Where it was obviously fallen down on the sustainable front is that instead of the 60 year expected lifespan, the development has lasted less than 7 years.

The concept of the design was prefab offsite construction carried out by Volumetric in Bedfordshire, part of Potton Group, whose expertise include other modular buildings such as Travelodges. The reason for the initial evacuation, after an investigation by Arup, was “potentially catastrophic structural problems“. The flats have a 2% chance of collapsing in exceptionally high winds. The problem appears to lie with how the units were put together once they arrived on site (hints of what might have gone wrong can be found in the comments here, including putting the ground floor flats on the fifth floor – oops!). Treehugger describe the false economy of deciding to go semi-volumetric (some flat pack, some pods – such as bathrooms and kitchens):

The project team is generally of the view that the decision to go semi-volumetric proved a false economy, as the challenge of tight, steeply sloping site, large overhanging roof and semi-circular plan combined to exert unmanageable pressure on the assembly of flat packs to keep up with the pace of pod delivery.

Further details of the project can be found here and here. CABE still have the details to CASPAR I in Birmingham (a different construction method was used), but there is now no sign of the CASPAR II case study.

The new scheme to take the place of the demolished building will be developed by local developer LifeHomes and local architect 2B. The old scheme was in general well received and despite the problems will probably be fondly remembered. LifeHomes are in talks with planners to see how the spirit of CASPAR can be retained.

The lessons that can be taken away from this are all in the delivery of the project once it hit site. There appears to have been both logistical and communication problems. Anecdotal evidence points to too many pods and flatpacks arriving on site too quickly, pressuring the operatives on site to construct even faster and mistakes being made about which pods went where. I would love to know if a full time clerk of works was employed on this job – could better site inspection have prevented these mistakes?

All this ended up being a mistake too costly to rectify without demolition. Whilst these mistakes are ultimately linked to MMC (modern methods of construction), the proximate reason lies in the delivery, rather than the method of construction. This, I believe, is a problem that can be identified and resolved in the future now it has happened once, rather than to damn MMC to the scrap heap. I’m all for learning from the lessons of others. It seems there is the potential to learn much more from mistakes than successes.

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  • CJ

    …and now over a year later it’s still standing empty with Druggies and Drug dealers squatting in it.

  • CJ

    …and now over a year later it’s still standing empty with Druggies and Drug dealers squatting in it.