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The Anywhere House by James Whitaker

The Anywhere House by Whitaker Studio

Following the publicity whirlwind that engulfed Joshua Tree in the autumn of 2017 we started receiving enquiries about whether the house could be reproduced en masse, or whether we had a design that could be purchased off the shelf. People were making enquiries for holiday resorts in Jordan, or a series of Airbnb retreats across the United States, or sometimes just wanting to buy a unique prefabricated holiday house for Aspen or the Hamptons.

I think a lot of these enquiries came about because the Joshua Tree Residence is created out of shipping containers, so people maybe perceived it as easily transportable. The joy of that
project though is taking something that is highly generic and transportable, and turning that into something very unique and site specific.

Basically, if I was going to design a mass produce-able house the Joshua Tree Residence wouldn’t be it. But that raises the question, what would be my answer to a prefabricated, modular house?

The starting point was that I wanted there to be the potential that no two homes look the same - every client’s home to be unique. And I wanted to create a design that, using standard elements, could create a 5 bed hilltop house or a 1 bed lake edge villa, associated with a hotel.

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So far we've designed 3 different bedroom units, a living room unit, a kitchen unit, a bathroom unit and a study unit, and with time this will be expanded upon. Each unit has two or more openings that can be the point of connection to the next unit, or can be capped with a window or door. So every time you add another unit there are at least 2 orientations for that unit, and with no limit on how many units you can daisy chain together there is an infinite number of possibilities. Each unit has been constrained to dimensions that are transportable by road to allow them to be completely fabricated off-site.

We are currently working towards building the first Anywhere House in spring 2019 on the side of a lake in Alberta, Canada.

The Anywhere House was recently on Dezeen and you can read the article here.

Learn a Living by James Whitaker

Affordable Housing and Qualified People

Four years ago I had an ambitious idea of how to regenerate abandoned corners of our cities. While ambitious though, the idea was pretty simple. It centred around creating a school that would give young people vocational training in construction trades while rebuilding derelict communities. We met some fascinating people as we explored how to develop this into an actionable plan. But ultimately we realised that it would take a considerable amount of time to develop the idea – more than we could muster in our evenings and weekends – and without any resources to help us we parked it. Two years later Assemble won the Turner Prize for a project that had some similarities to ours and we kicked ourselves for not persevering.

Time tumbled along and I considered our moment to have passed. I've now got young children and work is busy, so my free time, that can be devoted to developing the idea, has reduced even further. I had all but forgotten about it. Then a couple of weeks ago I found this business card buried at the bottom of a draw. I was just about to throw it in the bin when I stopped. The idea behind the card is a good one and what we wanted to achieve is definitely worthwhile. So, rather than discarding the idea for good I thought I would share it here. Maybe someone who reads this will want to pick up the idea and take it further, or maybe we'll find some seed funding to help take the idea forward. Certainly, the idea is of little use if it is kept hidden in a draw.

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I can't remember now what sparked the idea – a snippet on the radio, a conversation with a friend or an email from my parents (they live in Liverpool). Wherever it came from, at its root is a scheme launched by Liverpool City Council in the summer of 2013 to address some of the run down, inner-city terraced houses that lay empty and abandoned across the city. The council planned to sell the houses for £1 each on the condition that they couldn't be sold for 5 years. Successful applicants would renovate the properties and with time this would rejuvenate areas that had been left to fall apart. The scheme has been hugely popular, and recently was the subject of a documentary series on Channel 4.

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The £1 house scheme set me off wondering - is it possible to create an apprenticeship school that would teach young people a skill, and thus a means for earning a living, while simultaneously regenerating areas of a city in desperate need of a boost? At the time I was working for Ron Arad and over lunch breaks I began to develop the idea with my colleague Jessica Barker. Essentially we proposed starting up a school, and this school would buy a street of, say, 30 houses for £1 each. Then over the next educational cycle 30 students would serve their apprenticeships rebuilding these houses. The students could have first refusal on the houses and hopefully a good portion of them would take up the offer of owning a house that they had helped build. Our aim was that at the end of the cycle you would have a group of skilled workers, a rebuilt piece of urban fabric, and a community of people who were now invested in the long term success of the area.

We met with some MPs to discuss our idea and among the most enthusiastic and supportive was George Howarth, the Labour MP for Knowsley, Merseyside. George was very generous with his time and our conversations with him helped evolve our thinking. We also met with Mick Hamill, who was the North of England Director at the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). Talking to Mick was pivotal to advancing our idea and also to realising the full extent of what we were proposing. From Mick we learnt the educational parameters of offering an apprenticeship and also the social considerations that we would need to be mindful of. There are numerous large construction companies offering apprenticeships already, and so if you are a keen and reliable 16-24 year old there are apprenticeships available. Problems occur when a potential apprentice isn't reliable, and so in a competitive jobs market they get left behind. Essentially, if we wanted to offer something that others weren't we would have to consider almost a social worker element, that could provide students with the support they need to make a success of their apprenticeship. Mick's assessment of available apprenticeships and who didn't get them maybe only explained part of the problem though. Figures from the Department for Education showed that in 2013 there were significant numbers of 16-24 year olds not in education, employment or training.

Number of 16-24 year olds not in education employment or training in Q2 2013

Number of 16-24 year olds not in education employment or training in Q2 2013

Number of Empty Houses per Region in 2012

Number of Empty Houses per Region in 2012

The second area of our idea that developed through our conversation with Mick was what the apprenticeships would need to be. To complete an apprenticeship the apprentice needs to gain experience in a variety of areas. For example it's no good a roofing apprentice spending 3 years working solely on identical, tiled roofs along a street of terraced houses, they need to work on flat roofs, slate roofs, tiled roofs etc.. We would have to make the school operate across multiple sites to ensure everyone got the breadth of experience they need, or partner with other construction sites where our apprentices could gain additional experience as required.

So, we got this far and realised that we were never going to get it all off the ground working on our own, in our spare time. The development of a business plan with accurate cost projections, a syllabus that co-ordinated classroom learning with site activity, and an infrastructure that facilitated the execution of it all was going to take the full-time dedication of a team of people. The additional layer of thinking that Jessica and I could bring to the table is our architectural minds. We wanted to help masterplan the renovation work so that the regeneration takes root and becomes a functioning element of a modern city.

Nearly 5 years later, I look back at this and it still feels like a project worth pushing forward. We still have crumbling portions of our cities in need of life bringing back to them, we still have a shortage of affordable housing, and we still have unemployment. This seemed like an idea worth sharing.

Joshua Tree Residence by James Whitaker

There have been lots of articles written about my design for a house in Joshua Tree, and thousands of comments about it online. However, I realised that I haven't actually written anything about the design myself. So here's a little bit about it, direct from the horse's mouth.

Earlier this year two girls were over in LA visiting friends and while there they called in to see the producer of the last film they worked on, my client. Having some time to spare, they all went on a road trip together out to Joshua Tree to visit my client's site - about a 3 hour drive from west LA. While there one of the girls said, "you know what would look amazing here" before opening up her laptop and showing everyone one of my images of Hechingen Studio.

Back in 2010 a friend was looking to start an advertising agency in southern Germany and commissioned me to design them an office for their new startup. Sadly their startup stopped before it started and the office was never built, but since then I've been looking for the right client and site to take the concept forward. My client and their site in Joshua Tree are perfect.

The plan of the house has been designed to nestle into the rocks and topography of the site, with the containers orientated to frame views or to gain privacy from the land. For example, the kitchen is orientated to view an east-facing hillside bathed in morning sunlight, framed by a glancing view of a small hill in the foreground and a larger hill in the mid-distance. The ensuite bathrooms are generally orientated to have a rock-strewn hillside right outside, providing privacy to the occupants.

Joshua Tree Residence Site Plan with View Lines

In 3D the location of the containers that reach towards the sky vary between primarily being concerned with drawing light deeper into the plan, and sometimes being concerned with lowering the wall between one space and another. An example of this is using a sky-bound container to lower the wall between the kitchen and the living room, so that while they're separate spaces there's a sense of them being part of the same room.

The plan was carefully composed, so that when you first arrive at the house and all the doors are open, you can stand in the middle of the building and look down all of the spokes of the building. When the bedrooms are occupied large pivoted doors swing across to line through with the walls of the living room making a clean space.

In terms of the climate of the site, the temperature range isn't as great as you might expect. However, one little frustration for residents in Joshua Tree is that the wind can constantly fill your home with dust. The decked area is situated between the northernly containers to reduce this problem and gain some protection from the building and landscape, creating a comfortable, usable space.

You can see more of the project here.

Folding House by James Whitaker

I recently photographed this rather nice extension by Thomas & Spiers Architects in south west London. I believe the budget for the construction was relatively modest, yet they've crafted a really lovely space with a calm quality of light in it. I would happily move in!

For more information about the architects visit their website here.

Penthouse by James Whitaker

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The High Life

A new series of images of a Tokyo penthouse.

The model has been built in 3DS Max with the towers in the foreground being created using Itoo Software’s railclone and forest pack. You can see a tutorial for populating the floors of the towers here.

Furniture and props have come from a variety of sources. The books are nearly all from model+model and distributed using their excellent Bookmanager plugin. The rug in the living space is Paul Smith Carnival created with Vray Hair.

The Tokyo skyline is from photographs taken from CGTextures and applied as a VRay Light material with the sky masked out. The scene is then illuminated with Peter Guthrie’s 0707 sky.

Evening at Home by James Whitaker

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This visualisation is of a new development in Elephant and Castle by A Zero Architects. There will be a nursery at ground floor with three town houses above. Construction work is due to start in Autumn 2015.

Dice House by Sybarite by James Whitaker

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In 2014 I produced this series of images for Sybarite Architects of their project The Dice House. Each house has utility or retail space at its base followed by floors of living space which are capped with a roof garden covered with solar panels.

For the technically curious amongst you, these images were produced with Rhino and Maxwell, rather than 3DS Max and VRay. The hay field was produced using Maxwell’s grass extension and there is only a modest amount of post-production on any of the images.