Öppen synthesises the best of:

Open source components

All components, materials and systems used to construct Öppen are ‘open source’ ie available in the UK from multiple suppliers. It is the idea that is unique, not the source of the components.

Heuristics: shop floor learning

Real understanding of how to build lies with people experienced in actually building, so Öppen engages this insight at the concept stage.

The outcome is improved quality, safer working processes and material efficiency with reduced construction time and waste, thus freeing more of the budget for the things that really make a difference to you.

Is anyone doing this already in construction? IKEA are masters at supply chain collaboration, applying it both to the design of their products and to the design of their stores. Öppen’s founders and architects, Stubbs Rich, understand supply chain collaboration through designing over £500 million of IKEA stores in this way.

Lean thinking

Originally developed by Toyota, Lean Thinking proved to be such a game-changer that it was adopted by car manufacturers and other industries worldwide. At its core, the aim is to remove waste, or muda: ie any activity or material that adds no value to the end user.

To do this successfully, lean thinking needs to be applied from the very outset of the project, and applied throughout the design process. Then, when it comes to site, construction will be super-efficient.

The outcome? More thinking and planning up front. Less time spent on site. More of the budget being available for the things that really make a difference to you.

Is anyone doing this already in construction? Not really. Lean thinking is sometimes applied to the construction phase but little has been done at the design stage to facilitate really lean construction. ‘Lean Thinking’ (Womack & Jones, 2003) lamented, ‘Who will rationalise the construction industry’s value stream and when?

Mass customisation

We seldom take delight in mass produced buildings: high rise towers, pre-fabs or Portakabins are all dispiriting. Rather, our strong preference is for a bespoke buildings, but in almost all other aspects of life, a ‘bespoke’ product such as shoes, suits or television, are beyond our means.

Joseph B. Pine II, in 1995, coined the notion of ‘mass customisation’, combining the benefits of mass production while allowing people to customise the product to suit their aspirations.

In most industries, this has really taken off and, again, car manufacturers are at the forefront. A VW Golf is a good example of mass customisation: the body shell is mass produced by the million and then customised to suit the exact wishes of every customer: sporty GTI or super fuel efficient; basic trim or top end; any combination of accessories. What is really clever is that the same body shell takes any fitting and finish, with no need for adaptation.

Öppen’s ‘body shell’ is the basic envelope: the structure, floors, external walls and roof. These components are designed to receive any external finish and any fit-out. Because the design of the basic envelope is the same each time, it has been worth investing in making it really efficient to build and really easy to customise. Just like car manufacturers do.

The outcome? For clients, the value of a customised building, without the cost of a custom-made product, while for constructors, the value of large numbers makes the cost of developing really good components worthwhile.

Is anyone doing this already in construction? The volumetric modular construction companies do – they have standard shells which are fitted out to suit. Unfortunately, their need for a factory results in higher prices.

Open (adaptable) architecture

Buildings last far longer than their first envisaged use. With easily a 60-year life for a good building, the use might change every few years – requiring the building to be adapted, receive a new fit-out or be extended. Since we simply cannot know what the future holds, how should we design buildings in response to this challenge?

‘Open’ architecture was a response developed by Dutch architect Professor John Habraken. He realised that, while some aspects of a building, such as the furniture, will often be moved, others, such as the load-bearing walls, will seldom be. Habraken termed this theory ‘levels of intervention’, thinking of buildings in terms ‘infills’ – which are easy to move, and ‘supports’ – which seldom move. A simple idea, but it needs rigorous application to keep the two separate.

The outcome? A building that is easy to adapt will have a long life – which is good for the environment. Also, an adaptable building will not quickly become redundant, preserving its value.

Is anyone doing this already in construction? The Victorians did! Their wide-open factory buildings are much prized for their adaptability. Öppen is a rare UK example of ‘Open Architecture’. Some conventional buildings can be compromised to suit new uses, but Öppen is optimised to welcome new uses throughout its long life.

Supply chain collaboration

Procurement tends to favour the external market (being the procurement of products and services via overt, arms-length tendering.) The internal market (being the supply of products and services through long-term collaborative arrangements) though with distinct advantages, is less common.

At the design and construction level, Öppen blends the best of both worlds.

Internal market advantage

Supplying products and services through long-term, collaborative arrangements has these advantages:

• Volume enables mass production which delivers cost and speed reductions and bankable investment
• Repetition further reduces costs, time, accidents and defects
• Shop floor feedback leads to training gains and continuous product improvement
• Certainty of delivery leads to confidence in setting timetables
• Volume and repetition lead to reduced transactional and tendering costs
• Accurate forecasting and predictability facilitates demand to capacity balancing

Mass produced and customised products have these advantages and yet may be procured competitively.

Competitive tendering

Procuring products and services via overt, arms-length tendering has these advantages:

• Tendering will incentivise bidders and avoid complacency
• Tender gateways provide visibility, accountability, proof of value and the option to abort
• Short-term commitments accommodate demand elasticity. (NB although buyers’ demands may flex, suppliers have inertia, which will still manifest in price pressure)

Buildings do not benefit from mass production and so the design and performance are not pre-determined nor streamlined, which means that competitively tendering the design and construction carries far greater risks

Long term benefits of cost savings and adaptability

• Adaptable gains are lifetime gains with high-value, ongoing ‘bottom-line’ advantages,
• Construction overspend (despite cost metrics appearing insignificant at project inception because savings occur only once on a fraction of the total project cost) prevents other projects from happening, leading to lost opportunity with similar significant and long-term impacts.

Öppen delivers both adaptability and savings below competition so that there is no need to trade off these advantages.


Unresolved risks always convert to extra cost for someone – usually the client. Reduce the risk and uncertainty, and costs will come down.

Commissioning, designing and building are all risky in terms of certainty and finance. ‘Design one, build one’ conventional construction is always high risk since every building is effectively a prototype.

By comparison, manufacturing is a ‘design one, build many’ process. Mock-ups and made, prototypes tested and refined until they work. Performance in use is monitored, the design being adapted to overcome any weaknesses that become apparent.