Architectural 1,519 views Oct 25, 2018
Better quality and faster delivery from architects

Building quicker and with better quality is the much-needed panacea for the UK housing crisis.  For these two reasons alone, it’s why volumetric modular construction has attracted so much interest from policy makers to businesses as a way to modernise the industry and create great places where people choose to live. By no means a new concept, offsite construction offers architects more control over detailed design and an opportunity to reclaim build quality.

Changing delivery and construction methods has sadly meant the decision-making process has been steered from architects towards contractors. Volumetric modular construction allows an architect to gain a stronger voice on construction projects as they are involved from design to completion. It tends to avoid the architect being pushed around by contractors looking to value-engineer and do things more cheaply.  The architect is not caught on the back foot, because the solution is already there, and if changes do have to be made, then at least the architect gets paid for them. This avoids the common scenario where developers chop and change architects, which in turn loses that thread of knowledge throughout the build process.   

Offsite technology not only addresses quality issues in design and build contracts, it is an increasingly important way to meet tough performance targets and counter climate change.  The thermal and acoustic performance of a building can be improved as modules are assembled off-site, where they can be easily checked and tested in factory conditions.  Fast and efficient builds can be achieved as difficult coordination issues on-site including production substitution can be avoided.  Furthermore, there are fewer defects, the snagging process is minimised and the process helps overcome skills shortages.

The HTA-designed Apex House in Wembley represents the benefits of modular construction.  The 29-storey student accommodation was built using 679 off-site fabricated modules and is the tallest modular building in Europe. Resembling shipping containers and complete with kitchen, bathroom, services and a bed base, 11 modules can be installed per day. This results in a 12-month construction programme and built in half the time it would take to construct a concrete or steel-framed equivalent.  From concept to completion in 30 months, the project is an exemplar of what modular construction can bring to UK construction. 

The true potential of modular construction as a solution to the housing crisis will

surely be the HTA-designed paired towers at 101 George Street in Croydon.  This 38 and 44-storey build-to-rent scheme is currently under construction, and when complete will offer 546 new homes in what will be the tallest modular building in the world.  It will be delivered in just 24 months from construction starting to residents moving in.

The housebuilding industry has lacked innovation for some time, but volumetric modular construction has potential to revolutionise the way we build homes. We just need to be able to convince the sceptics amongst us.  Perhaps we should use the analogy of building a car.  What would the quality of a car be that is built on the side of a road in a field? I’m not convinced the build quality would be anywhere close to that of one built in factory-controlled conditions.