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Now that’s some coffee house: “radical” re-use of waste cups in starter home concept earns praise at Grand Designs Live

A starter home concept built out of used coffee cups – well, not quite – was praised for its radical ingenuity by industry experts at Grand Designs Live.

Clear Architects was commended for its ‘coffee house’ starter home concept entered for this year’s “Self Build on a Shoestring” Award, hosted by TV architect Charlie Luxton at the Grand Designs Live event.

“This was a radical design which might form the basis of a home that could utilise other recycled materials, for example by using old car tyres to form the foundations, said Kevin McCloud, Grand Designs presenter and judge.

The design concept was inspired by the sheer waste involved with takeaway coffee cups. Less than 1% are recycled – that’s some 3 million cups out of an annual estimate of 3bn cups -- and the UK has only two specialist recycling plants able to delaminate the cups’ plastic lining before paper pulping.

So the Essex-based architectural practice’s founder, Melanie Clear, decided to offer a concept that would put them to good use.

“As avid coffee drinkers, we were horrified by the numbers of non-recycled coffee cups and that gave us the idea for this competition entry,” said she said “As a practice we work hard to create beautiful and functional architectural designs that are considerate of the environment too.

“In the face of a housing crisis, where so many find it difficult to get a foot on the property ladder, our Coffee Cup House shows that it is more than possible to provide solutions that benefit home buyers, builder/developers and the environment.

“As a team more usually associated with luxury residential developments, we are delighted to have been able to demonstrate that budget is no barrier to architectural innovation and creativity. We are thrilled to have received such glowing feedback and praise from the esteemed judges, and to have been recognised as finalists in this prestigious competition.”

The concept presented a pre-fabricated modular ‘kit home’ that incorporated used shredded coffee cups for insulation between timber frames and stacked coffee cups wrapped in waterproof membrane for rainwater pipes.

The design also proposed a living ‘green roof’, solar heated water system and flame retardant walls and flooring. It would cost around £40,000 to build.

The government has announced plans to build 200,000 starter homes across the UK within the next four years which will all be priced under £250,000 or (£450,000 in London). The “Self Build on a Shoestring” award is an annual competition hosted by the National Custom & Self Build Association (NaCSBA) to highlight that houses can be constructed much more cheaply.

It launched the competition to champion cost-effective, ‘green’ and beautifully designed self-build concepts.

This year, submissions were received from Australia, Mexico, Ireland, Vietnam and from across the UK. They were judged by architectural heavyweights including Kevin McCloud, Charlie Luxton, George Clarke and Wayne Hemingway, with the top 12 finalists’ concepts exhibited at the Grand Designs Live event in Birmingham on 20 October.

 “We loved the ingenuity of this entry which really highlights the potential of recycled waste materials in construction; in this instance, the six million paper coffee cups used each day, 99.75 percent of which end up in landfill,” said Michael Holmes, NaCSBA’s chairman and one of the competition judges.

“The houses of tomorrow can be truly sustainable, making use of recycled paper as cellulose insulation, recycled waste or low grade timber for structural sheet material for walls, floors and roofs; or as structural beams, recycled glass for kitchen worktops and much more.”

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