A Transcript of the Interview with David Simm
This is an Interview with David Simm an architect who worked on one of the houses at the Energy World site.

So having been to Germany and seen all these systems including the polystyrene walling system, I said to Jack yeah okay I'll do it you see and this is this is the house. This is the one that stands at the top of Rutherford Gate you see; you look straight up at it. Now it doesn't look a big house but that is actually the biggest house on the development because it's got a full basement all the way underneath it, and of course it's got the bedrooms upstairs here in the roof. It's typically German house and virtually everything you see there apart from the timber, err even the windows but just this basic timber that's not from Germany, but virtually everything else is. The bricks came from Germany, and all the flooring tiles and so on, the windows came form Germany the whole system and this house is basically made of polystyrene, all right?

Q. Can you tell us about the house that's made of polystyrene.

Yep, the polystyrene construction is all of the walls the structural walls that's the outside walls and actually in the plan of the house the main cross walls the structural load bearing walls are all polystyrene blocks.

Now essentially what they are is a serious of big bits of Lego that's what they really are. This is a slightly different system I'm showing you, because we did this one as well, but it's a similar thing. That's the block which is a metre long and 250 millimetres high and in this particular case 250 millimetres wide and it's basically, slightly different system but you see that it's polystyrene and you fill it with concrete. So the concrete is the structure, the polystyrene is there as what we call shuttering form work to begin with, but then the polystyrene stays as your insulation afterwards. Right, so that's the walling system and that's used for the basement and all the other walls that are structural.

And then you've got a flooring system, which doesn't show terribly well on this drawing but might just show on this one, which is again another house, and the flooring system is another German product. And it's basically these sort of coat hanger type beams which have got glass carbon fibre reinforced concrete at the bottom for fire protection and then all this wiggly stuff is the code for insulation of polystyrene. So these beams are jostled into position and you put the polystyrene formers in, which then you pour concrete over the top so again the polystyrene stays as insulation afterwards.

And whilst the polystyrene is there you probably won't believe it, but you can jump up and down on that before the concrete is poured and nothing will happen. And then you pour the concrete, and then whatever you want in the top. So you've got a solid floor so it's an extremely quiet house as well as being thermally efficient.

And then up for the roofing system. On this particular house of Energy World well I can't really go into the detail of that but it is a Urethane foam system and it was designed just to simplify the whole process of roofing, so you've got insulation everywhere. And of course the polystyrene you can finish with whatever you like this one was finished with brick, which was imported from Germany. We did another house in a slightly different system up in Humberside which is just rendered with a polymer base render, or you can face with stone or timber or tile hanging whatever you want.

And when the exhibition was on here it was wonderful because it was supposed to be an energy exhibition, but all the other developers furnished their houses so they were like show houses. Jack didn't put a stick of furniture in his house at all. And upstairs the back rooms he had all these products on display and the back room was just literally the polystyrene walls and under the roof and so on, so you could see the rough house as it was. And people use to say how do you hang kitchen units on the walls and things like that if it's polystyrene? You see, I'd say well it's dead easy because the Germans have thought all this out.

I'd say well just use your bare fingers but wrap a handkerchief round because they're pretty sharp. Just turn that into the polystyrene as far as you can, and you find that, with your fingers you won't be able to turn it in very far, probably only half way or two thirds of the way of a two inch 50 ml long screw. Right, so they do that and I say okay well, wrap something round your hands and then just pull as hard as you can.

No it will rip the polystyrene!

I say, it won't, and they yank at it and nothing happens.

And they say, gosh it's amazing!

And I said all you do then, is obviously with a screwdriver you screw that in properly and then into the middle of that there's another screw a proper screw goes. And that's how you hang your wardrobes your kitchen fitments and all the rest of it and it is so simple!

Q. Cheaper than conventional housing for building? Or is it obviously more expensive using these products to build.

Yes, the material cost is as I understand, it's still nowadays more expensive than your normal brick and block or timber frame house. But you win on labour costs, because it goes up very quickly. The house we did in Shrewsbury for instance a two-storey house, the guy came over from Germany, the real expert on it. They lifted up to the first floor and they poured that, they put the first floor beams on which were the beams that I've been describing to you and did the first floor. Raised the second floor poured that and then did the gable ends and it was all over in 48 hours, so the whole shell of the house was there in 48 hours. No scaffolding so you didn't have to pay for scaffolding you just build it.

It's very simple, you have one scaffold tower inside which you move around and that's it that's all you need so that you save on time and you save therefore on labour costs.

And if you use all the bits and pieces that are designed for this sort of product for instance single coat of plaster not two coats. And if you use a polymer based render externally instead of brick or stone, or something like that, which is labour intensive then it starts pulling it together. Then you get the advantage that because it is so highly insulated I mean on this other system now the really wide blocks, your almost talking about zero energy housing so you don't really have any heating bills at all!

Now even on this house which is 3,600 square feet of house it's got a tiny boiler absolutely tiny and Jack always used to say you can actually heat the thing with a candle, I mean it's almost that good!

Q. And do you find that the houses get hot in the summer.

No it's exactly the opposite actually, the house stays cool in the summer because you've got solid concrete floors and you've got basically solid concrete walls with the insulation on the outside as well as on the inside so it keeps the sun away from the house. And what I love about it because I was actually born and brought up in the West Indies where houses are designed to be cool all the time, this house is cool all the time in the summer, because the heat never really gets in. The windows are triple glazed so that helps, and then you've got the solid mass of the wall plus of course the brick work which helps to keep the heat out so that in the summer it's absolutely wonderful, and I don't like a hot house in the summer. I would never personally you see, live in a timber frame house because all the heat gets in, and once it's in it's like living in an attic you know, it just doesn't go out again while the heats in the air. And conversely in the winter it's brilliant because it's draught free because you've got top quality continental joinery I mean its wonderful house this.

Q. Tell me how - how did you feel about this house, being entirely different compared to the other buildings that was going on in the area, the other 48 houses.

Well of course it was the others who had the laugh to start with, because they had never seen this stuff before. And we dug out this huge hole in the ground for the basement and then all this polystyrene arrived you know, great big square blocks of icing sugar basically is what it looked like. And though when they saw it going up they all said ooh, aha it's going to blow away in the wind isn't it? You see because it's all very light until you've got the concrete in. But of course it doesn't blow away because it's all like Lego it all studs and sockets together. And then they saw it going up and a lot of them by the end of the time - when they saw the shell go up so quickly they said ah, you've got the last laugh haven't you because it was all done and dusted, brilliant absolutely super system. But we're very conservative with a small 'c' over in this country and it's taking a long time to get this going and it needs someone to market it as Robin has done with his system to get it approved you know by the general public. People are asking now for it, I've got 2 projects on now where people have come to me and said, we've heard about this polystyrene walling system we want to use it so it's coming but it's ever so slow.

Q. What are your feelings in relation to the fact that your house was part of the Energy Exhibition and is now part of local history.

Well I got involved with the sought of energy side of things in 1982 at Homeworld 1982 and we did a house there, that was quite a small exhibition I think about 20 houses, can't quite remember. Then this one came up in 85/86, MKDC organised it and it was absolutely stunning by comparison because (a) it was a lot bigger, (b) it was much better publicised and (c) it was much better organised by MKDC. And it was just a very exciting place to be really, because you had 48 houses or thereabouts going up all at the same time all, well not all, but a lot of them different one from the other. Different techniques, different sought of forms of production, different builders on site and it was just a huge buzz I mean it really was a brilliant buzz, with everything happening lorries falling over each other it was terrific, really exciting. And I always look back on this exhibition, and there's been Future World '94 since, which was a bit of a damp squib I mean it never really worked and never got off the ground, and this one I think is just terrific and it looks good now, I think.

Q. Can you tell me please who actually built the house that you designed.

Well this one was built by a local firm of builders called Calverton Construction Ltd. And they'd never built one of these things before. Tudor who was the Director came with me to Germany once, just to see the system over there so he had at least some idea when he started. And of course the great thing about this is that you have a very quick learning curve you know, as soon as you've laid the first course of blocks you basically know what you are doing and off you go. You don't need any skill beyond that, we've always said the only thing, the only skill you need is the ability to read a spirit level really, to keep something level that's all you need to do, and if it goes slightly out of level on the joints of the blocks all you do is put a little fag paper in or something like that just to keep it level.

The taped interview concludes here.