Incubating a zero carbon idea

An ambitious technology-driven project is underway which sees architects collaborating with the materials sector to find a ‘transparent’ answer to the housing supply dilemma. Sébastien Reed reports

group’s co-founder, explains the challenge posed to innovation in the industry: “One of the problems with any innovation is that it has to take place in a very siloed environment.” A key issue is that due to how intellectual property works, innovators don’t have the ability to go out and look for applications, or bolt on other technologies to improve an idea.

T According to modular panels manufacturer and CFG partner,

Tufeco, the construction industry presents particular problems which the firm hopes the CFG can overcome in attempting to innovate a new approach: “The industry often tackles build problems and mandatory improvements by adding layers to existing systems, rather than looking for a whole, encompassing solution.” CFG has been set up to research and develop a more holistic approach to modular housing. It has created a framework whose purpose is to incubate individuals who are developing new ideas, while maintaining a collaborative approach to innovation. One of the fruits of this is Atelio, a housing concept developed collaboratively by architects Grimshaw, SAM Architects and Tufeco, who have devised a profoundly thought-through vehicle that harnesses a range of technologies to produce a model of future-proof and zero-carbon modular housing.


At the heart of Atelio is Tufeco’s panellised system, made of a reconstituted glass composite and boasting impressive properties. Originally developed for hurricane-proof housing, it is watertight, almost 100 per cent hermetic, and extremely thermally resistant, as Morgan explains: “the most closely akin technology is the re-entry shield of a space shuttle. Outside temperatures can be 16-18 hundred degrees, it’s 21 degrees inside, and there’s just 55 mm of material in between.” Unlike traditional insulating materials, the ceramic GRP technology used to encapsulate the panel works to reflect and expel heat rather than slow its transfer. The 1.2 metre wide panels are manufactured on a fully- automated linear production line from a glass ‘porridge mix’, which is sandwiched between layers of GRP before being kiln-fired. The


resulting sheets are then cut to specification within as little as three hours, delivered, and assembled on-site. “From point of order to watertight building, it’s effectively two weeks,” says Morgan. Unlike volumetric concepts, Atelio arrives on site flat-packed, avoiding the cost of ‘shipping air’ from A to B. Construction can be undertaken by just three people, the highest-skilled being a spider crane operator. Two “kickers” place the panels by hand, allowing for a construction time of as little as 48 hours for a three bedroom home.


Grimshaw added considerable value to the project by applying the practice’s BIM expertise, as Paolo Vimercati, Grimshaw associate principal explains: “We are developing BIM elements to enable a clear design-to-production process. This is a parallel work stream we are investigating as research and development in collaboration with Tufeco and the rest of the team.”

The architects have also identified a number of typological needs for potential clients and developed housing models as base design templates. In masterplanning test sites, it has placed strong focus on social and environmental considerations. Vimercati explains: “The Atelio vision empowers a new way of community living, and our methodology reflects a fresh approach to earth-friendly living. We have developed a landscape-driven planning concept that encourages a community spirit through engagement with the environment.”

Melanie Schubert, partner at SAM Architects, who have designed smaller residential buildings within the project, outlines its design concept: “The houses and apartments focus on natural daylight

he Carbon-Free Group (CFG) was founded in 2007 as a critical response to inefficiencies in current processes of innovation in the design of housing. Anthony Morgan, the

The Atelio vision empowers a new way of community living, and our design methodology reflects a fresh approach to earth-friendly living

Paolo Vimercati, associate principal, Grimshaw



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