Is the Y:Cube a solution to London's housing crisis?


February 27, 2014

Y:Cube is the result of a partnership between YMCA London South West and architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (Photo: YMCA LSW)

Y:Cube is the result of a partnership between YMCA London South West and architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (Photo: YMCA LSW)

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Rising house prices and changes to the UK's housing benefits system have resulted in rent becoming too expensive for many London residents, leading to an increasing number of people living on the streets or in shared hostels. YMCA London South West and architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners have joined forces to provide a potential solution to the burgeoning housing crisis. Dubbed the Y:Cube, the tiny home is built using mostly renewable materials, and offers residents independence and privacy that exceeds what can be offered in a shared hostel.

The interior floor space of Y:Cube measures 26 sq m (280 sq ft) and is likened to a studio apartment space, suitable for a single occupant. Each dwelling is prefabricated in a factory using renewable timber as the primary building material, and comes with the necessary plumbing, heating, and electricity facilities already built-in.

This modular system allows the Y:Cube units to be easily set alongside or atop each other, in clusters of between 24 to 40 units on selected low-cost brownfield sites. The interior contains bedroom, en-suite bathroom, and a combined kitchen and living room area. There's also a degree of flexibility, as the interior layout allows partition walls to be re-arranged, and more windows can be added if required.

"As the largest provider of supported accommodation for young people in the country, YMCA is increasingly seeing young people struggling to afford the costs of private rent," explains Andy Redfearn, Director of Housing and Development at YMCA LSW. "Even for a young person in employment, a combination of low wages and high rents can quickly see them priced out of the market. We constantly see young people thrive and gain independence within our hostel accommodation, only to be left with no options when it comes to the time for them to move on."

The Y:Cube homes cost £30,000 (US$49,900) to construct, which will be paid for by a housing charity, registered housing provider, or local authority. They are rated as having a 60-year lifespan and rent will work out at around £125 to £175 ($205 - $290) per week. Crucially, the rent pricing will meet the local housing allowance requirements, enabling eligible occupants to apply for benefits that help toward the rent cost.

Thanks to its excellent insulation, a three-week trial conducted by YMCA has shown that each home can be lit and heated to 20° C (68° F) throughout the day and night for just £7 ($11) per week. The Y:Cube is also designed to meet the maximum Level 6 Code for Sustainable Homes, a government-led scheme that measures sustainability.

The eventual plan is for the first Y:Cube Housing scheme to open in the London Borough of Merton by the end of 2014, providing 36 homes for local people in need of accommodation.

Sources: YMCA LSW, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

Daily Mail just had an article on something similar - but costing $5,000, a tenth the price.

Je Remy

290 a week rent for 280 sq feet? That's in the neighborhood of $1,200 a month, thought this would be under $300 a month. Oh well back under the bridge it is mate!


I know it is difficult (sometimes impossible) to apply what one knows, based on their own experience and environment, to the live and experiences of the broader population of ones own country let alone the wider world but this is, to me, truly astounding.

I simply can't wrap my mind around the fact that approximately $1200US per month for 280 square feet of living space is a viable alternative to being homeless.

If this rent is being paid by the individual I just don't know what to say simply because I have no frame of reerence to judge such economic circumstances against.

If, however, this rent is being heavily or completely subsidised by the government it seems that the money could be better spent. But then again my opinion is skewed since I don't know the intricacies of the British governmental and social support systems.


Way too dear for what it is - Daily Mail had a DIY fancied-up garden shed / backyard 'den' kit recently would do the same job for much less! It looked virtually the same size and shape too. Put an 'ablutions' block every so often in the complex to solve the toilet problem (ensuite mentioned, but could then be smaller for more interior room) and you're on the go!

The Skud

The rental prices are ridiculous - You can rent a good 3 bedroomed house in some parts of the country for less, even in the south. The question is why does everyone have to pile into London with its high prices - if you can't afford London prices get out of there - and there is life and jobs outside London.

Correction - There is a better life to be had outside London!

Brian M

So the depreciation/capital repayment on the build is crica $100 a week, so that means it's still costing $200 a week for the cost of being on a tiny piece of brownfield land - so rental of $10k per annum just for the privilege of parking your box in London! Perhaps that should just stick the boxes somewhere land is cheaper!


I agree with it being placed where land is expensive and the rent would be lower.

I think it is along the lines of the tiny house movement. Some are really small and the price varies. A good e-mag is Tiny House Magazine.

Living small could be the next big thing. :)


This is no solution, it is simply designed to make more money off the young. Let's do the math. Costs $50,000 to build Lasts 60 years or 3,120 weeks rent per week (we'll go with the low end of $205 per week) $205 per week times 3,120 weeks (designed lifespan) = $639,600

Look at that return on investment! pay $50,000 now, receive $639,600 over the next 60 years.


No surprise they're expensive per square meter/foot because they require much the same plumbing as an ordinary 1 BR apartment and, apparently, have to be strong enough to support the weight of 2 other units. As for why London rather than elsewhere where land is cheaper, that's obvious all the way from the American West Coast. It's where the jobs are. The middle class & the wealthy in service heavy economies are affluent because there's many other people paid low wages. The term brownfield is usually used in the USA to describe sites where inhabited buildings can't be placed.


Lots of empty shipping containers can be had for the ready made and stack-able frames. Then you just hab out the insides and side the outsides.

Mark Keller

not bad but definitely not the best, I think more details could of been supplied so that a better judgement could be made. storage, as usual looks to be a problem, but an interesting concept and something to be considered.


A $50k loan is $67 per week. Someone is ripping off homeless people like it's not funny!

And talk about fluff! "made of wood" becomes "renewable timber as the primary building material". $50k buys a lot of wood - I wonder where all that money goes?


£30,000 to build. Are they joking? What was that for; £20,000 in architects’ fees?

I am typing this in my 38m2 static home that cost me £1200 including a 75 mile delivery. Double bedroom, single bedroom (my office), W/C, shower room, open plan 20.5m2 kitchen/lounge with wood burner. Refit cost roughly £2000. Connected to mains water/electricity and a £1700 foul waste treatment plant that (legally) discharges into a water course.

Worst case delta T has been 30 degrees centigrade which the wood burner handled easily (wood burners are classed as using renewable fuel and if I could have been bothered would have heated the water for free)

For £10,000 I could repeat this for a family of three, only it would have PV and wind for lighting (LED’s)and electronics so be effectively “off grid” If space were an issue an external staircase would lead to a strengthened roof giving 38m2 of amenity space.

A total lack of imagination and blinkered planning laws are responsible for the “housing crisis”

Pat Pending

A good idea but at 7 pounds sterling a week to light up and heat up that's 28 a month or 336 a year ! not bad all told but per meter there are many other houses with 5 times the space spending the same 336 for the whole year!

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