Build It’s Self-build Education House was designed by Graven Hill Designer Opinder Liddar, one director at lapd Architects. This one of a kind project will soon be open to anybody who wants to know more about all aspects of the self build journey. Build It have put in some major work to make this happen, alongside their partners in the project, and it’s a real achievement to see the finished building on site. Opinder, who oversaw the initial design, planning application and technical design of the Build It House, answers a few questions here. He talks about the design process, self build in general and what to expect from the Self-build Education House.

What is the purpose of this educational self build project?

The main purpose of Build It’s Self-build Education House is to provide inspiration and insight for self-builders around the country. Build It wanted to be as transparent as possible with the process, both throughout the build (in their articles and blogs that appeared around each part of the process) and after the build was finished. They wanted to make sure that elements which are normally hidden away see the light of day. The design had to take into account the educational aspect of the house, but also provide inspiration for potential self builders who might want to see how certain products or specifications can be used to great effect.

As a Graven Hill Architect, how did you start the design process?

The Build It team, headed up by Chris and Calum, approached lapd Architects. They had both worked with me for years as a resident expert for Build It. I regularly write articles in the Build It magazine and sit at the expert booth at Build It live events across the country. The team made it clear that this would be different to your usual self-build, wanting to bring as many providers and build methods into the fold as possible. The design would have to satisfy both Graven Hill’s specific requirements as well as the technical requirements of this unique educational project.

How many iterations of the design did you go through with Build It?

The first design that was produced was reacting to the brief that the Build It team gave us as well as the context of the plot. We produced a Sketchup model (more on that further down) alongside drawn up plans to present at the first concept design meeting. The design was received really well from the get go, and to be honest from that point on it was only minor internal tweaks that were needed. Calum and Chris were blown away by the design. We managed to take their brief and provide something they weren’t expecting. As regular Graven Hill designers and self build Architects we always aim to surprise our clients in a nice way. I’m really pleased that we managed to do the same for the Build It team.

How did you guide the design process, and what were some of the key components to get right?

Whilst a lot of what we encountered was familiar to me as a Graven Hill Designer, there were also several unique requirements for this special project that guided some key design decisions. Firstly, the tapered edge of the plot was an interesting challenge. We had to make sure the building stayed within plot passport boundaries, so to do this we slightly angled one of the walls.

This also played into the 3 gables that form the roof. In order to get as much room as possible into the house, and take advantage of the corner plot views of the surrounding woodland, multiple gables were used so that the pitched roof wouldn’t exceed regulation ridge height for the building. The pair of gables on the front façade also provided visual intrigue, and went on to become the logo and visual identity for the whole project. These moments of merging technical practicality and design aesthetics are some of the most satisfying in the whole design process. Later on in the process the Build It team decided to add rooms in the roof, so this early decision also allowed flexibility for this addition.

Another major intersection between the visual and technical sides of this self build project was the use of ICF. From very early in the process the Build It team were keen to utilise this build method, which has its own specific benefits and limitations. As designers we looked to push ICF to its limits. We looked for ways that we could take advantage of this modular style system whilst avoiding a block-by-block modular look.

Architects are often engaged in holistic design decisions, looking to get the most out of materials and build methods to deliver something more than a Design and Build Company might offer. We produce bespoke design solutions around our client’s specific needs. One of the main considerations for the Self-build Education House was how much glazing we could get away with when using ICF. The extensive glazing around the corner of the building especially takes advantage of the picturesque corner plot views.

If you want to find out more about lapd Architect’s design process, putting our clients at the centre of everything we do, then watch our video here.

What were some of the main technical innovations?

The building standards were really high for this self build project. To name just a few of the innovations on display: ICF wall systems, advanced interchangeable electrical wiring, SIP roof,  a unique HPV high spec heating and ventilation system… There are loads more that I’ve probably missed out, but you can read more here.

What was the planning process like at Graven Hill?

With our domestic Graven Hill self build clients the process involves going through something called a ‘plot passport’. This is specific to Graven Hill and allows the planning process to go through slightly quicker than it would do normally. Due to the bespoke nature of this self build project, however, it ended up being outside of plot passport jurisdiction. We had to apply through something that’s called a ‘reserved matters application’. This went through Cherwell district council planning department.

How were the 3D images produced that appear in the magazine?

The 3D images you will see in the Build It magazine and on the Build It website were produced by us in house. It’s one of the many services we provide. We work with a programme called Google Sketchup that allows us to create 3D models that our clients can view on their own devices. This helps them to visualise our designs and ultimately give us feedback as to what they like about the design and what they might like to change.

We can then, after taking this preliminary 3D model, put it through a piece of rendering software called Lumion that will bring it to life in terms of material textures and visual fidelity. The main purpose of this is normally to help our clients imagine what the build will look like on site and to provide a point of encouragement as the build gets ever closer to becoming a reality. In this case we even used Lumion to look at different build options with the Build It team: whether we should use tile or slate on the roof, and what door colours to use for the front door colour competition. The final build looks pretty close to what we envisaged through the Lumion render.

Once the designs were finalised, were you involved with the self build project at all after that point?

Chris was the project manager throughout the build, but lapd were definitely involved after the panning had been approved. We worked to develop the technical drawings and helped Build It to find the right builders for a job of this complexity, choosing Drewett and Hunt as contractors. We were often coordinating other consultants and providers (especially important on a job with so many different players like Build It’s Self-build Education House). We were also there to be a sounding board for Chris, Calum and the whole Build It team.

An Architect is the professional best placed to have a broad understanding of all aspects of the process, especially since they have been there from the beginning. As the build became a reality on site any questions or queries could be brought to us and we could offer useful solutions or alternatives if needed. We often work with our clients throughout their self build project. If they don’t want to be the sole project manager for their build we offer on-site services to make sure the design we worked so hard to create together is realised properly on site.

Are lapd Architects going to be involved with the Education House after its launch?

Yes, we are definitely going to be involved in this exciting project as it continues to grow and come to life. We will have our details in the building as the company that designed the Self-build Education House. We will also have an ongoing presence there, meeting potential Graven Hill clients and visiting current clients who are building their dream homes with us already on site.

If you want to find out more about the Self-Build Education House then follow this link: If you would like to talk to us here at lapd Architects about how we can help you to realise your dream home then get in touch, either by emailing or calling us on 01865407722.

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