Wednesday, 30 January 2008

White House

This the house Mrs SS7 and I built in 1998.

It was a candidate for the first Grand Design Channel 4 TV series, but they chose a water tower conversion to feature instead. I'd like to point out that, unlike the water tower, ours came in under budget and on schedule so probably wouldn't have made great TV....

However both schemes planned to use a form of building technology known as ‘permanent polystyrene formwork’. This is more commonly known by the name of the most well established manufacturer; Beco, and resembles giant hollow white Lego blocks.

Once in place – and the ground floor walls of a modest home might only take a morning to construct – concrete is poured into the hollow centre of the wall. When it has set, you end up with an insulated concrete structural wall.

Builders are notoriously conservative when it comes to new ideas and materials, so using Beco did narrow the field somewhat. We eventually found a contractor more used to putting up agricultural buildings; where apparently Beco is used for pig-sheds all the time. He did ok, although his people skills were a bit, well, agricultural....

In use, the house was very warm and quiet (important as it was built under Heathrow's flight path), which wasn’t surprising as each wall is a single piece of steel re-inforced concrete.

Practical considerations include the placement of windows, which ideally need to match the Beco dimensions (anyone who has ever used Lego will understand), and we had also to be a bit careful mounting heavy items like kitchen units on the walls as some wall sections were pure polystyrene. The exterior was finished in self-colouring epoxy render whilst the interior was dry lined and plaster skimmed. I built the deck and a 35m2 double garage myself.

We sold the house when the arrival of SS7 Jnr #2 esulted in a serious shortage of bedrooms (as well as 6 months without sleep, the little sod) . We had over 30 viewings the first weekend it was on the market and it sold for the full asking price.

We then moved to one of the few mid-20th century modernist private houses in the UK, but that's another story...
BTW, Here’s a plug for the lovely Tim, our architect. A more decent bloke and skilled practitioner it would be hard to find. You can reach him at


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