U-Build is a modular building system developed by Studio Bark. It is easy to construct, enjoyable to inhabit and quick to deconstruct at the end of its useful life. It has a number of key benefits over conventional construction:
- Simple and straightforward to construct
- Low skill requirements, high quality finish
- Manageable for a small team with no need for cranes
- Certainty in terms of material cost and quantities
- High environmental performance
- Flexibility / adaptability – bolted fixings allow assembly to be deconstructed and materials re-used
This page answers common questions about our system, written by our in house U-Build experts
The aim of U-Build is to make the process of building more accessible, so that anyone with reasonable DIY skills can design, build, adapt and inhabit a space of their own.
It was conceived as a building system suitable for the circular economy, where all parts are fully demountable, ecological and recyclable.
How does it work?
- The system is made of flat pack wooden panels which are produced using a computer controlled cutting machine (CNC) and are accurate to 0.1 of a millimetre.
- The process is managed using a parametric computational workflow, which allows us to turn your design (or one of our own) into cutting drawings, costs, and visualisations at the click of a button.
- The finalised cutting drawings are sent to Cut and Construct, our local CNC fabricator, and arrive on site as a kit of parts for assembly.
- Using basic tools, the panels are assembled into ‘boxes’ which form the building blocks of the system.
- The boxes are stacked and bolted to form the walls, floor and roof structure.
- The open boxes are filled with natural sheep’s wool, which is cut to size to ensure no messy cutting on site or the resulting air gaps from rough cutting.
- The finished frame is left exposed if the structure is to be used inside, or fitted with a weather-proof membrane and cladding if outside.
- At the end of the building’s useful life, the boxes can be taken apart and moved, recycled or sold to other U-Builders.
Where can it be used?
Making your own furniture
The system can used within existing buildings to make internal partition walls and bookcases, or in their most basic form work really well as rugged storage boxes.
Making your own buildings
The system can be used to make fully weather-tight external buildings or to create internal ‘pods’ within existing buildings. It can make permanent structures like homes or offices, or temporary structures like mobile classrooms or site huts.
Making your own community
For larger scale projects, our self replicating ‘maker pod’ concept allows a community to develop and manage their own build process. The first pod that arrives on site can be fitted with a CNC machine, which can then be used to make, adapt and replace further building boxes.
Designing your own solution
As the U-Build system is made of adaptable and modular blocks, it is not limited to conventional buildings or furniture. There are many other potential applications from stage set design, food pop-ups, market stalls or retail interiors. If you have an idea you’d like to discuss please contact us on the Build Your Own Page.
Who is behind U-Build?
We have worked with a number of other suppliers to help create a modular, ecological system:
Thermafleece – sheep wool insulation that is UK sourced and cut to size, meaning no wastage on site
Butyl Products – custom-sized, recyclable green roof liners
Hambro Roofing – Sarnafil single ply roof system with cut to falls insulation
Who designs my building?
U-Build has in house architects and construction specialists who are are able to help you come up with your ‘design brief’ and finished design. If you already have a design, we can develop this with you to create a kit of parts.
Can I build it myself?
Yes, that is the main idea behind U-Build. We can provide instructions and training to explain the construction process.
Can you help me build it?
Yes, we offer a training option where we come to site and help you assemble the boxes, and assist in building the structure. This is an especially cost effective option where you are working in a large group or community (or can bring in a group of friends!).
Can you build it for me?
We can quote to build your U-Build structure for you, however we would encourage the training option or self build option. It is the most cost effective and provides a more rewarding experience.
What tools will I need?
It can be assembled using very few tools. At a minimum, you need a rubber mallet and a battery powered drill with attachments. (A hand screwdriver would work but would take too long!)
All fixings are standard size bolts and screws, which can either be supplied with the system or sourced yourself.
Is it fireproof?
The exposed plywood finish may be suitable for some applications, however we recommend the installation of a small scale sprinkler system or non toxic fire protection coating. In our experience these approaches are both cheaper than covering the walls in (environmentally toxic) plasterboard and create a less toxic / wasteful finish.
How high can it go?
The system has already been used for projects up to 2.5 storeys in height, and we think it can go higher still. We are happy to discuss any structural queries you may have.
Health and Safety
The system has been designed to reduce the risk of accidents on site by limiting the requirement for power tools and heavy plant / machinery or cranes. The system components are designed such that they can be lifted by 1-2 people, though some larger bespoke designs may require additional lifting effort and support if you do not have the skills, knowledge or experience. Please see here for more information on health and safety as it relates to construction, including rights and responsibilities you may have under the CDM 2015 Act and here for information on CDM for self builders.
Do I need scaffolding?
We recommend fixed scaffolding by an approved scaffolding installer for buildings over a single storey, with a covered roof to protect the panels and workers from rain. For smaller projects where there will be no ‘working from height’ it may be possible to make the system using only a step ladder.
What foundations do I need?
The system requires a level base to be put together correctly, but this can usually be provided in a cost effective way. Our external pods can be supported on lightweight concrete blocks, without the need for concrete slabs and permanent foundations. For internal systems we can put the pods on wooden blocks to allow easy lifting. Dependent on the floor material, castor wheels can also be fitted to allow the pods to be moved around. Larger buildings may require a more extensive foundation
What does it cost?
Costs vary according to size, market, repeatability and location.
Please see our Design your own page for a simple estimate.
Does it need to have a flat roof?
No, the system has also been used to create pitched roofs, though flat roof systems are typically more cost effective. We can also supply green roofs.
What materials can it be made from?
The panels can be cut out of any material that will fit on a CNC machine, but our standard panels are made from WISA spruce plywood, RIGA birch or Smartply OSB, all of which are strong, durable and environmentally friendly.
Testing and certification
The system has passed a full scale load test, where a small section of wall was able to resist a 1 tonne lateral load without destruction.
We are able to create systems which do not require any planning permission, instead they can be built under Permitted Development Rights.
The system exceeds current building regulation requirements.
We have also carried out thermal analysis of the buildings with the University of East London and are happy to share the research on request.
Does it have good air-tightness?
Yes, we have had a full scale building tested, and achieved air-tightness levels 4-5 times better than current building regulations requirements prior to any any air-tightness membrane being used. More information available on request.
What is the self-build register?
The Self Build Register is for local authorities to gather information on people who would like to find suitable building plots in their area of interest. To find out more and register, you can visit here.
I'm still not quite sure how the system goes together. What next?
If you have already looked at the U-Build video at the top of the page, why not look at our instructions section below.
Please see below for some general build principles, showing how easy the system is to put together. More videos can be found on our you-tube channel
1. First Build Your Boxes
2. Once the boxes have been built, you can stack up the walls.
3. U-Build comes with instructions, phone support and we can also provide on-site training, or assistance if you get stuck.