Return of the prefabs: inside Richard Rogers’ Y:Cube homes for homeless people

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Return of the prefabs: inside Richard Rogers' Y:Cube homes for homeless people
Garish and child-like? Richard Rogers’s Y:Cube ‘move-on’ housing complex in Merton, London. // © Grant Smith

With riotously bright colours, Rogers’s ‘move-on’ housing scheme is dressed in the child-like garb of a My First House. But design niggles mean nothing to the tenants getting their own homes for the first time

“I still can’t quite believe that the same architects who designed Terminal 5 and the Cheesegrater have designed my house,” says Wendy Omollo. “To have people as grand as that doing low-cost housing projects is really quite amazing.”

Omollo has been homeless since January, but this week she will join 35 others when she moves into the YMCA’s first factory-built “move-on” housing scheme, designed by none other than multi-award winning, international airport designing Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. While Richard Rogers’ practice graces this year’s Stirling prize shortlist for the sixth time, with the controversial Neo Bankside development and its £22m penthouses, it might come as a surprise to learn that a little further south, in the London borough of Merton, his office has just completed this scheme for a cost of around £45,000 per apartment, to be rented at less than the council’s affordable housing allowance.

Developed over the last few years in partnership with the YMCA London South West, manufacturers SIG and project managers Aecom, this 36-unit “Y:Cube” project is the practice’s latest foray into off-site manufactured housing, a dream Richard Rogers has entertained since his “Zip-Up” concept house in the 1960s – an unrealised fantasy of a modular pink prefab pod on stilts. []