Proposed Paris Building Renovation is Really Out There

French architect Stéphane Malka has a very interesting proposal for how to renovate an old apartment building in Paris. Plug-in City 75, as the project is named, calls for attaching a series of wooden boxes to the building’s façade, which will have the dual function of increasing the interior space of the apartments, as well as make the structure more energy efficient.

Malka came up with this idea because the local building codes do not allow for extending buildings upward, but extending them outward is allowed. He has already designed the wooden boxes to be used for this purpose. They vary in size and are all prefabricated off-site. The building that is to get this interesting facelift is located in Paris’ 16th arrondissement, and was build in the 1970s.

The prefab boxes to be used will be lightweight, and built using sustainably-sourced wood. Plans call for them to be mounted onto the building’s facade. The occupants of the building will be able to decide what they want to use the added space for, such as a lounge, balcony or a loggia. The renovated building will also have a green façade, thanks to the greenery planted along the boxes.

According to Malka’s calculations, these new additions to the façade will reduce the building’s energy expenditure from the current 190 kWh per sq m (10.8 sq ft) per year to 45 kWh per m2 (10.8 sq ft) per year. That’s quite a reduction, and it will be interesting to see if these numbers are achieved in practice. The Plug-in City 75 project will be completed mid-2018.

Overall, this is a great example of an old building renovation done right. This project will boost energy efficiency and create larger living spaces in one go, which should be the goal of urban renovation projects worldwide, if we are to successfully reduce our carbon and energy footprint.

Tiny House Made of CNC-cut Panels

The tiny house movement has come a long way these last couple of years, which has led to many innovative approaches to constructing these sustainable dwellings. The tiny house firm Extraordinary Structures of Santa Fe, NM is one of those companies that has been pushing the envelope in finding new and innovative ways of building these structures. Their latest offering, the so-called SaltBox was constructed with the help of digital fabrication.

The SaltBox rests atop a 24-foot-long trailer and measures 200 sq ft (18.6 sq m). It was constructed using a rapid-assembly system, which the firm has developed. This method of construction utilizes CNC-cut materials and a panelized system of SIPs which greatly shorten the time it takes to build this tiny home. An envelope made of permeable house wrap and a thermal wrap of mineral wool board makes up the first layer of the home. Next is the metal exoskeleton made out of 22-gauge steel, which serves the purpose of acting as a rain shield. The roofline of the SaltBox is asymmetrical, and this shape was inspired by the traditional New England saltbox-type roof. It was also chosen because it makes it easier to install solar panels.

The interior was kept quite open and minimalist. They left the panels and joints exposed, which gives it a very modern aesthetic. To save space they’ve also installed built-in storage cabinets, and a Murphy bed that can be folded up and thus moved out of the way during the day. When lowered, a couple of ottomans provide support for it.

The kitchen and bathroom share a wall, so that they could reduce the number of plumbing lines that needed to be installed. The kitchen is fitted with a large sink, a two-burner induction cooktop, a fume hood and a small smart drawer refrigerator. The bathroom features a Japanese-style ofuro tub, which was handmade out of cedar. The home also features a composting toilet. Over the bathroom is a small loft, which can either be used as a reading nook, or a guest bedroom. The home is heated using a high-efficiency gasifier woodstove, which takes up very little room.

The fully fitted version of this home sold for $82,500, while the company also offers a stripped down, basic version for $50,000.

Luxury Prefab Off-The-Grid Cabin

The recently unveiled Gapahuk cabin was designed by the Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta and the leisure home builder Rindalshytter. It can be equipped to operate completely independently of the grid, and comes in a prefabricated package, meaning it can be built virtually anywhere.

The Gapahuk is a single story structure and has 968 sq ft (90 sq m) of interior floorspace. The interior is well-laid out, with most of the space taken up by a large open plan living/dining area and kitchen. The home also features three bedrooms, a spacious bathroom with a shower and toilet, and another separate toilet. The home also features a large covered outdoor deck, and plenty of storage areas, both inside and out.

Judging from the renders, the finished home will feature ample glazing, while most of the interior and exterior surfaces will be clad in wood. While the basic version is intended to be hooked up to the grid, it would also be easy to install the necessary tech to take if off-grid. according to the firm, the cabin’s sloping roof is ideal for installing solar panels, while it also protects from both the sun and from high winds. The home is heated by a wood burning stove, while it would probably be relatively simple to install a composting toilet, and a couple of water tanks and a water filtration system. Since the home was designed in Norway, it is probably safe to assume it offers comfortable living conditions even in the harshest climates.

The Gapahuk is probably the closest thing you can get to a professionally designed, high-end prefab home at the moment, and as such also carries a hefty price tag. It costs roughly $156,600 (1350,000 NOK) which does not include construction, or any of the off-grid features.

Prefab Apartments for the Homeless


The Y:Cube, a prefab modular block of apartments has just been completed in London. It will provide comfortable and affordable units for the city’s homeless. Being modular and prefabricated offsite, the constructions costs can be kept low, so the rent will be about 65 percent of the market rate for similar apartments. It was designed by architecture firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and built for the international YMCA youth charity, who will also be in charge of renting it out to the homeless.


The apartment complex is located in the Mitcham area, which is in southwest London. It consists of 36 one-bed studios, each measuring 280 sq ft (26 sq m). The entire complex is constructed using high quality and eco-efficient materials, like, for example, renewable timber. The buildings are also well-insulated, so very little or no heating will be needed in the winter.



To keep the costs low and rents affordable, the necessary parts were all prefabricated in a factory and already had all the plumbing, electrical and heating infrastructure already built in upon transporting them to the building site. The prefab units can be stacked side-by-side or on top of each other to create the apartment buildings. Once this is done, all the utilities are connected.



This building method is very efficient and speedy, making the Y:Cube process well adapted for quickly developing unused sites in urban areas. The buildings can also be easily dismantled and transported elsewhere should the area where they are located become unavailable.


The units will be made available to the homeless referred to it by the London Borough of Merton, or those who were previous residents of the YMCA London South West. The YMCA is also planning on building more Y:Cube apartment blocks in London, and elsewhere in the UK in the near future.

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New Masonry Building Method Cuts Carbon Emissions


The Russian design studio Zaarchitects have come up with a concept they call “smart masonry” techniques, which would involve using parametric tools and robot arms in the construction of concrete buildings. This method would require the use of less concrete for the construction of more lightweight, precise, efficient and less bulky buildings. If this method catches on, it could offset a good portion of the carbon emissions created by the building industry each year.


The Smart Masonry process concept has at its core the creation of so-called “minimal surfaces” which would be precision built by having their structural loading requirements optimized by a computer. This would result in a mesh of complex, patterned geometries that would correspond to the loading pattern and which would reduce the mass of the walls. Furthermore, this process would reduce or even eliminate the need for beams and columns.


In this process, the walls and other spatial elements would be made up of “cells” created out of pre-shaped, digitally-cut, rubber-based foam components. These would be dipped in cement and cured in a so-called “positive casting” process. All this would be prefabricated off-site and then these “readymade masonry units” would be transported to the building site, where the structure would be assembled one floor at a time by robotic arms. The use of the latter will also reduce the labor costs and time needed to construct a building as compared to traditional building methods, or even the now emerging 3D printing methods.




On paper this sounds like a pretty promising building method, which could have a great positive impact on the environment. It’s still in the concept stage though, so it will be interesting to see the first prototype building constructed using this method, which will hopefully be the case soon.

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