In recent years, the mantra 'let’s downsize’ has become a reality. It’s happening here and now. Space is becoming scarcer and more expensive, while housing budgets are becoming more and more limited. At the same time, the urge to own a home at a young age is also decreasing. Youngsters don’t want the burden of a hefty loan on their daily life, and look for a balance between work, leisure and a place to live. In addition, earlier this year, the Federal Planning Bureau predicted that by 2060 half of Belgian families will be single persons. This opens up a world of possibilities for residential alternatives.
The company Kodasema from Estonia is considering alternative 'light' and eco-friendly forms of accommodation. In late 2016, the company launched a first prototype of the Koda house: a detached house of 26.4 m2, without foundations, with clever architectural details and green technology. With a price tag starting at 95,000 euros, you can call this high-quality product 'affordable luxury', meaningful across generations. Kodasema focuses primarily on the young nomadic generation, but the units can also be used as classrooms, work units or granny flats. We spoke with architect Ülar Mark, who co-founded Kodasema together with a team of engineers and designers. The company now employs around 50 people and currently produces one Koda house a week. The expansion of the company’s site will boost production to three units a week in the year ahead.
"We initially came together as a group to consider two facts. Firstly, the construction of housing accounts for 40% of the energy consumption in Europe. Secondly, the construction industry itself has remained relatively unchanged, with us lagging far behind the car or computer industry, for example, especially in terms of production speed, quality, etc. For us, as newcomers to the market, it was easier to address these issues. We had the luxury of standing in an empty factory building that we could fill with our dreams. While brainstorming, we came across two other key issues. Since we spend 80 to 90% of our time indoors, climate management is essential to the health of residents. Moreover, we believe that architecture is an 'eternal' art that must try to stand the test of time, so we have to get rid of the idea that temporary housing is often synonymous with low quality".
The Kodasema team thinks beyond single units for individuals and works on all kinds of possible combinations of Koda units in residential, hotel, work and even classroom configurations. Ülar Mark explains, "The perception is that sustainable architecture is anchored in one place, but we are seeing the needs of people and communities changing. We want to make use of empty places in the city that are waiting for redevelopment and development. These places can become temporary pop-up villages, with coffee shops, workshops and homes. Residents of such a village should not miss out in terms of quality of life." Kodasema launched the first such village in Tallinn at the end of September 2017. Following consultation with the city, the owners can rent out their units on a daily or monthly basis, or with a long-term contract over several years.
Koda is a free-standing unit and its design and structure allows for frequent assembly and disassembly by the Kodasema team. As the house components are optimised to the millimetre in a controlled factory environment, assembly by the Kodasema team on site takes no longer than seven hours. A Koda house can also be transported in its entirety and installed with a crane. All these optimisations protect buyers from the delays, noise and dust pollution associated with conventional construction work. Thanks to its solid structure, the Koda house can be placed on gravel, asphalt or any other surface without the need to dig for foundations. It only requires a flat surface with sufficient bearing strength and connection points for water, electricity and sewerage.
The Kodasema team spent considerable time optimising the unit components and makes further adjustments on a regular basis. The outer wall is made of thin composite panels with a thickness of only 178 mm. The house has an outer shell made of concrete and fibreglass and a wooden interior finish with vacuum silica insulation panels in between. This combination of materials creates a strong and durable exterior and a warm, pleasant interior. The concrete finishing on the outer wall exudes personality. As a passionate sailor, architect Ülar Mark chose to clad the concrete formwork with tarpaulin, giving the concrete subtle imprints of of seams, folds and stitching.
When it comes to energy efficiency, the Koda house boasts an exceptional performance. The outer walls have a U-value of 0.1 W/m2K and the four-layer front glass wall has a value of 0.3 W/m2K. Furthermore, the house is equipped with high-quality air circulation and ventilation systems, a heat pump and a range of heat and water recovery features. Solar panels on the roof make the house energy-neutral, but a back-up electricity connection is necessary, as there is no room for battery storage in the sophisticated interior of the current Koda house.