Category Archives: Sustainable Design

Heterarchy in new book – Container Architecture

By | Architecture, Sustainable Design | No Comments

We’re delighted to have been featured in a new book, Container Architecture, published by the NRW Forum in Dusseldorf. Our inclusion is based upon the Contain Yourself project, a competition entry that took a standard shipping container and turned it into a compact, innovative contemporary home.

Special commendation must go to Liliya Kovachka, who was the lead designer on the project. As this years intern from Nottingham Trent University, following some initial creative discussions with the design team Liliya went on to develop a great piece of work.

As well as featuring our project, the book is packed full of amazing examples of container architecture from around the world, both realised and as concepts. The book can be purchased (German text only) from the NRW Forum for 33,oo EUR.

Purchase the Container Architecture book from the NRW Forum >

View the Contain Yourself project >


Contain Yourself

By | Architecture, Residential Developments, Small Buildings, Sustainable Design | No Comments

In every town and city, whether large or small, you’ll always find small, awkward shaped plots of land that sit between larger development sites. These ‘infill’ plots have generally been considered unusable. The aim of Contain Yourself was to tackle this unavoidable issue with a cost effective, design led approach, whilst also trying to create an ideal home for people just stepping onto the property ladder.

The size and structure of the house is based on that of a single shipping container, which is literally turned on its head to create a compact five storey property, needing just 2.6m squared of land to be placed.  Designed by the Heterarchy Studio, this innovative house design will be exhibited at the NRW in Dusseldorf, Germany from June until September this year.  The house is one of 24 designs chosen to be exhibited out of over 200 entrants to this open International design competition set by the NRW late last year. Entrants were called to submit a maximum of two 30x30cm boards and a ‘Tweet’ (140 characters) explaining the design. Each of the 24 submissions will be showcased with a 1:5 scale model.

The 2.6m x 12.2m container is sunk into an insulated concrete pit in the ground, creating two floors below ground, leaving 8m above ground level for a further 3 levels.  To create usable interior spaces, the skin of the container is punctured to allow for angled, cubic projections to cantilever from the structure. Within the interior the house is a central staircase that leads to a room on each floor, with a bedroom and bathroom below ground level and entrance space, kitchen and living room on the floors above.

An external cladding of solar responsive glass panels over a super insulated multi foil layer is used, making the building thermally efficient and therefore cost effective.

In a time when getting onto the property ladder is harder than ever, these compact homes provide a solution for first time buyers.  They tackle the issue of wasted land and the growing demand for affordable housing whilst staying design conscious, cost effective and energy efficient.

Flexibility and adaptability – the birth of the modern UK business park

By | Architectural / Interior Design, Architecture, Sustainable Design | No Comments

flexible interior design

We’ve always been interested in interiors and buildings that are flexible and adaptable – changing their use without any substantial or expensive alterations being required. It’s all part of understanding the ‘life-cycle’ of a building. It’s naive to think that when a building or interior is designed and constructed, it will be used exactly as intended for its entire life. Needs change over time, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. Understanding how these changes may affect a building can help a designer to make allowances for them, so that the owner can evolve their business without having to worry too much about the effect it will have on their premises (and their bank balance).

A really great example of simple, flexible building design are units on business parks. These are simple buildings with large volumes which can be adapted to a wide variety of uses. One of the first, and most successful, modern business parks in the UK is Milton Park in Oxford. Property entrepreneurs Ian Laing and Nick Cross purchased the site during the mid 1980’s, which was originally a British military ordnance depot.  Seeing the potential of these huge, simple buildings, and understanding how they could be adapted to almost limitless uses, they transformed the site into a huge mixed use business and science park. It’s amazing to think of some of the ground-breaking innovations that are taking place in what are, basically, huge sheds.

We see these types of building all over the UK now, however it’s nice to think they originated from a way of re-using what were previously considered to be worthless and redundant buildings. There’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple and inexpensive – as we can see, entire industries have been built on such foundations.

Heterarchy provide interior architecture and design services throughout the UK – for more information get in touch>

Image source – StubbsRich ‘less is beautiful‘>

Off-site manufacturing set to prosper in drive to cut construction waste

By | Architecture, Residential Developments, Sustainable Design | No Comments
Off-site manufacture of bathroom 'pods'. Image credit -

Off-site manufacture of bathroom 'pods'. Image credit -

The  industry of manufacturing building elements off site is expected to rise in popularity, due in particular to the governments drive to cut waste. Something we at the heterarchy design studio have been continuosly interested and involved in, we would welcome this upturn in popularity. Many of our clients will bear witness to the fact that we are the first to proclaim all of the positive benfits such methods can bring to any development, regardless of size or budget.

Obvious benefits include easier quality control (leading to better building standards), reduction of on-site programme times,  saving costs through minimising on-site waste, damage and theft, plus the ability to synchronise manufacture and supply with on-site demand (just-in-time). Less obvious benefits include the ability to ensure responsible sourcing through the entire supply chain, designing buildings through their entire life cycle (including dis-assembly and re-use of modules) and improved working conditions.

For more detailed information visit to read an in-depth article on the subject>

If you would like more information about how we could help your project – whether a  residential development, single house or the refurbishment and re-design of an existing building – contact our architecture and interior design studio.

Heterarchy run live student workshop for sustainable timber structures

By | Architecture, Garden Rooms, Small Buildings, Sustainable Design | No Comments

Wood Workshop 2010 Winners

Jointly instigated by DeMontfort University Department of Interior Architecture and Design, and the Heterarchy studio, with sponsorship from Travis Perkins for the construction of the winning design. The two week project, for second year students of the BA (Hons) Interior Architecture and Design course based at the DMU Leicester Campus, has been declared an outstanding success by all who were invloved.

The brief was to design a free-standing, outdoor structure for use as a ‘chill out’ or meditation space, using sustainable timber and timber derived products as its primary construction material.  The project was run over a two week period, with myself and Rosemarie regularly working with the students, alongside DMU head of Interior Design, Graham Stretton. The creative response from the students was phenomenal, demonstrating strong conceptual thinking with the ability to understand technical and constructional issues.

We were pleased to secure sponsorship for the build by Travis Perkins, showing a real commitment from them to support education and innovation within the sustainable construction sector.  James Hollis, of Travis Perkins, said: ‘I’m amazed by the quality of the work and the amount they’ve done within a very short time.  Every single design has something of merit, choosing just one to build is almost impossible.’

Wood Workshop 2010 - judging 1

The general consensus was the quality of the work was so high, we simply woudn’t be able to choose one winner.  Looking at the criteria of concept, process (the students ability to engage with professional input during the design process), buildability and presentation, we managed to get it down to a final shortlist of six (it could have been 12), with one being declared the outright winner.  All six will attend a two week placement within the Heterarchy studio, when we hope to build two of the chosen designs.

A seventh design was chosen by John Coster, of community media agancy, to be developed, with the Heterachy studio, into a mobile outdoor community media hub.

All of the work will be published on the Heterarchy website.  We are aiming to build two of the chosen designs during April 2010.

Wood Workshop 2010 - work 1

Is it really possible to have beautiful low energy lighting?

By | Architectural / Interior Design, Sustainable Design | No Comments


With the demise of the traditional incandescent light ‘bulb’, due to the government having signed up to an EU directive to encourage us to switch to energy saving fittings, what are the real alternatives to a product that has been around for 120 years?  Public opinion is typically that  low energy fittings give off  a rather poor alternative light source. However the problem is that what is available to the general public is not indicative of what is actually available to buy from specialist sources. What needs to happen is that good quality ‘energy efficient’ lamps need to be made available to the mainstream.  They are currently more expensive than your average light ‘bulb’ however as with anything once enough people start buting them the cost will reduce significantly…just look at plasma TV’s, personal computers and mobile phones…in fact anything electrical.

Working in the design industry we have more knowledge and access to a better quality of energy efficient lamp. The good news is they are getting better (and improving rapidly), however this all takes time to spill onto the high street. The electronics industry is working flat out and spending considerable sums to improve the light output of compact fluorescents and other sorts of low energy lamps. There is also a lot of work going on trying to improve the efficiency of the old incandescent bulb so it may not be totally a thing of the past. It is now very rare for us to specify a lighting scheme that uses old style incandescent fittings, although some light fittings such as chandeliers don’t tend to come with many other options.

In the past we have tended to use a lot of halogen lamps as these give off a very strong, warm light which are especially good as task lights…I would not be comfortable replacing my kitchen halogens with my utility compact fluorescents…I am sure I would lose a finger or two! At the moment there is no viable alternative to the halogen and there are no moves to discontinue these until the technology is in place for it’s replacement. In the mean time I will continue to watch the electric meter dial whizz around whilst these lights are on. We do however make good use of fluorescent tubes, contrary to popular belief the new better quality fluorescent tubes do not flicker and come in a range of ‘colour temperatures’ which means you can buy them to replicate daylight.

As mentioned above low energy fittings are getting much better in the quality and quantity of light they produce. It was only last year that we conducted an experiment (not particularly scientific) to observe a room using firstly halogens and then replacing these with compact fluorescents and then LED’s (Light Emitting Diodes).  They all gave off very different qualities of light and in fact replacing the fittings with LED lamps gave not a bad alternative. Once again the LED’s we used did not come from the local supermarket but it is planned, for 2009, for these types of lamps to become more mainstream. In a scheme we produced recently we used flood LED’s to great effect and they were certainly a vast improvement on the LED lamps we were using only the year before, the greatest downfall was that they were very expensive.

Once again it is to hope that all these top quality products become more mainstream which will significantly reduce their cost. The other problem being how will people know which lamp or ‘bulb’ to use in which situation? It has taken us years to understand how to create great lighting schemes and this knowledge needs to be available to the general public to give them an informed choice.

The next big thing in lighting is the OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode), already this technology is having millions spent on it by the electronics industry, most specifically relating to TV technology. In brief the manufacturing process for this is significantly different for that of the LED, meaning it can be produced in superfine sheets. The future could see a sheet of this material covering a whole wall and when it is switched on the whole wall will light up….let’s just hope that it is dimmable!