Sustainability is the watchword for this Manchester architects’ practice, which also prides itself on working closely with clients to understand their vision.
Architecture Unknown can handle the complete concept, design and construction process, and while residential projects take up a large proportion of its work, their client base includes community groups such as scouts, cadets and charities. Here, the architects adopt a community-led design approach, engaging closely with clients, and bringing them into the architectural design process to ensure their goals are clear and their vision is realised.
The three-strong team includes a qualified Passive House designer who focuses on designing highly energy-efficient buildings, along with retrofitting schemes for existing buildings. The firm is experienced in designing and building with communities using the WikiHouse system, a modular building system designed to enable non-building professionals to design, manufacture, and assemble low-cost, zero-carbon buildings. This is a modern method of manufacture, using interlocked plywood to make extremely strong, lightweight wall blocks that are highly insulated and carbon-negative. It allows communities to build without traditional skills; the flat pack, jigsaw-like pieces can be fitted together with a hammer and screws.
Architectural design outlook
Founder and director Charlie Butterwick said:
We mould our work to suit our client’s values, aiming to align ourselves with the question that needs to be answered for the client. Our key aim is to empower communities through architecture to build together to improve neighbourhoods.
By bringing people together to describe what they want from their space, we can open a dialogue between neighbours to create buildings for the future. At the briefing and concept design stage, we invite the client to tell us about their aims and aesthetic vision, to ensure that we understand their unique perspective from the start. We are very engaged with the construction process as well, taking care with budgeting and keeping clients aware of costs.
Formed in 2016, Architecture Unknown is based in the Ancoats area of Manchester and works across the north west, Greater Manchester, and the Lake District. Clients include the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Incredible Education CIC, and Ulverston Victoria High School.
Here are two of this Manchester architect firm’s stunning projects.
This scheme, to build the 2nd Whalley Range Scout Hut, involved a community-led design and construction process using the WikiHouse system at a large scale.
Charlie Butterwick commented:
The client’s home followed the classic 19th-century plan with two ground-floor reception rooms and a kitchen in the rear outrigger. This arrangement makes family living a real challenge. With a relatively modest budget of about £100k, we didn’t have a huge amount to rework the ground floor to enable the client to achieve their aims of playing, cooking, and dining together with their young family.
The scheme prioritises making only necessary additions and the clever use of storage space to enable a really sleek finish. Moving the kitchen into the extension but keeping a portion of the outrigger separate as a ground floor WC, larder and utility room meant that this broad cruciform plan allows for easy flow of life between the garden/deck and the inside playroom with the kitchen dining room on the counter axis which creates the easy conditions for natural oversight and connection. The exciting form creates ample opportunity for some fantastic skylights that are set against the darker tones of the client’s interior palette. The little tricks of the secret door to the utility room and the ceiling-mounted industrial lighting add interest and detail.
What we think
We love this Manchester architects firm’s imaginative design skills and its enthusiasm for modular building systems, which are a fantastic way of rapidly completing community projects that are both sustainable and efficient. Modern methods of construction (MMC), where components are made offsite in factories, offer exciting opportunities to build highly insulated buildings with extremely flexible uses very quickly.
The advantages of modular housing include faster construction, fewer build defects and reduced energy use and waste. This style of pre-fabricated housing has been used in the UK in times of housing demand, such as after the two World Wars. It consists of ready-made wall, floor and roof panels that can be rapidly assembled.
While MMC could well solve some of the current barriers to getting houses built quickly, it’s being directed more at social housing than owner-occupied house building, where it has less appeal. However, it could well supplement traditional construction, helping solve issues such as labour shortages and cost while reducing its environmental impact. MMC offers all-round possibilities for the future of construction.