Architects Simon Beames and Simon Dickens are worried. They are worried about the impact that construction makes on the environment, though they are equally concerned about being thought of as patchouli-scented Deadheads. "It does sound a bit hippie-ish, doesn’t it?" says Beames, as he runs through how their design came to be dubbed "7.83 Hz" after the pair’s idea to create a home that matches the natural frequency of our planet. He clasps his hand over his distinctly unhippie-like shaven head in an "I knew it" motion.
Beames and Dawkins’s fledgling London-based practice, Youmeheshe, was set up to develop an innovative and potentially revolutionary design, which would make a carbon-neutral, eco-friendly prefab house available to the mass market. Yet the two Simons are still unsure how exactly to pitch the idea to a nation that has accepted organic vegetables but has yet to fully embrace the Prius. In ten years’ time the idea will doubtless sell itself, but today the two innovators are way ahead of the curve. Designed to be delivered on just two trucks, Youmeheshe’s prefab is assembled from precut, biodynamically grown wooden panels, which are doweled together onsite rather than glued. This decreases the impact on the environment as well as on the inhabitants, while the delivery schedule is aimed at minimizing transport-related pollutants and noise.
"You don’t have glues giving off gasses you would otherwise get," says Beames. "They usually give off formaldehyde, which is what you preserve dead people in. People are unaware of the shortcuts and necessities of traditional fast-track building, or at least overlook them. You have this generation of people being careful about the environment, but they forget about themselves. They eat organic food, but then what are they sitting in?"
Coming in at a budget of about $170,000 before the cost of land, the 7.83 Hz house is constructed around a central core, through which service areas run and heat rises. The layout and orientation of the three-story home (there are also two-story variations available) is thus adaptable to circumstance, both internally and externally. The idea is for the houses to be arranged terrace-style, to mimic the most community-minded United Kingdom street layout, yet they can also be offset in small groups. The interior can be altered as families grow or shrink, with floors added to create new bedrooms and removed to create double-height living rooms or even a roof garden.
This grouping and adaptability should allow for a mixed readymade community, as well as allowing for power and heat to be supplied to each unit via small community-owned biomass fuel burners. Beames and Dawkins believe that some larger schemes could see waste dealt with in an environmentally friendly way too, with the use of a reed bed and willow sewage system.
Youmeheshe is just two years old, but it already has two schemes for the 7.83 Hz house in the planning stage, with three set for South London and 26 for the city of Stavanger, in Norway, where the idea of a wooden house is not so alien as it is in Britain. "Some UK developers have not got their heads around it at the moment," says Dickens. "They ask what color the wood is going to be and you say, ‘Wood colored,’ and they ask if it will stay that color, but of course it changes and weathers." Planning officials are also having to grapple with the ideas behind the house, as the design’s carbon-neutral status means that Youmeheshe can talk its way around some restrictions designed to cut down on carbon emissions via heat leakage through windows. For example, where the more standard competition has to stick to 25 percent window-to-floor space ratios to meet emission targets, they can make natural light–filled rooms with much more glazing.
Such advantages are an obvious bonus for Youmeheshe as it tries to win public acceptance of the 7.83 Hz house. The outstanding design and the environmentally conscious standpoint will always win over the buyer who already has an interest in those areas, but in order to have an effective impact the house must have wide appeal, which is why the company is focusing on low-cost prefabs and not one-off designs. "We want it available for the mass market," says Dickens. "Though not in simply the cheapest way possible, otherwise you would not have the materials we are happy to use."
If Youmeheshe can deliver on this aim, then the Simons can cease to worry about being seen as hippies and instead start thinking about finding larger premises to grow into. "I wonder if we can get away with a Simon-only recruitment policy," says Beames, musing upon expansion. "There’s us two and we already have another Simon as well, Simon Catton."
The policy seems to be working fantastically well for now, though there is the chance that female Simons may be hard to come by, which could prove a legal stumbling block. But all Simons or not, the future of Youmeheshe is worth watching.