07 Feb The Future Is Modular!
We have adapted surprisingly well to the ever-faster pace of today’s society. Google can search for a product in every shop in the world in a fraction of a second; e-mail can send a letter instantly, almost for free. In fact, almost every industry has progressed. What is the single biggest exception?
After 2000 years, the humble blocks and cement are due for a replacement. The methods we use today in the ancient art of construction were developed back when everyone had more time. We need something quicker, cheaper, more efficient and greener. The traditional construction industry simply cannot keep up with the world’s exponential population growth. Many of these people come from countries where the developing economy means they cannot afford accommodation. However, in richer parts of the world, the situation is little better. The village bricklayer just can’t keep up with the speed with which industry is growing.
So what is the future of construction? Modular buildings. The last decade or so has seen the rapid rise of modular construction, where huge buildings can be erected in a matter of weeks. Already, a 204m high skyscraper in China has been built in nineteen days. In years to come, entire cities of cheap yet robust and attractive housing will spring up. Traditional builders have tried this; it takes too long, is astronomically expensive and, to be frank, the result is an eyesore. Commercial construction has already been swept up by the modular industry: Today’s businesses are enjoying expansion to their premises in half the time and at half the cost.
What’s stopping the future from becoming modular? There are (or were) some major hurdles that need to be overcome before large-scale modular construction becomes possible. Many of these have already started to be tackled.
One problem is that modular buildings, while produced quickly on an assembly line, are in fact bespoke. This means there cannot be standard parts for every module, and this limits the speed of construction. However, modern manufacturers are getting around this by having a method of construction that every module follows. Whether the project is a bathroom or a school hall, every module is built from a steel frame, built using the same procedure, to which timber frame walls and a floor are added , followed by interior fitout and a roof. Like options on a car, bespoke items are brought to the assembly line when that module happens to be passing.
Some worry that in the effort to make assembly lines more efficient, modular buildings will all look the same. However, it is possible to achieve different configurations from the same materials. An example of this is the car industry, where many vehicles across several brands will have the same engine and many other parts. Also, varying the exterior styling of modular buildings will make them unique with little extra effort.
Others feel that modular construction compromises on quality. However, this has already become a myth. The repetitive nature of an assembly line ensures consistency and workers will become very experienced and skilful in their particular job.
In traditional construction, if there is a problem during the construction process, the design can simply be changed. In contrast, when prefabricated methods are used, this is impossible. However, modern Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software can foresee and help rectify any design problems. In addition, the construction process cannot be slowed by people changing their minds!