In recent years, prefabrication has come back into fashion after several decades of being very much out of style. It was originally used back in the 1950s to help combat a lack of housing after the war when the baby boom era meant families were after more space, and high-rise flats were built to accommodate them.
Prefabrication was the quickest way of meeting demand, with parts being created in a factory and then assembled on location. This demand disappeared in the early 1970s and with the lack of need, the production slowed down. Now referred to under many different names, including ‘offsite construction’ and ‘modular construction’, it is making a strong comeback.
The increasing re-emergence of prefabrication was underlined when Google recently announced that its state of the art new European headquarters in London will use GBE Services London, an offsite MEP company, to assist in the design of the complex project.
There are several key areas where prefabrication and offsite construction are booming, and here we take a look at some projects using this manner of construction.
As with many publicly funded areas, saving money is always a priority, and building or expanding schools is no exception. One recently commissioned project involved a joint venture to provide modular school blocks and extensions. The first stage of the project includes sixteen primary schools and is part of the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s plan to change the way education buildings are specified, procured and delivered.
It is expected that the solutions discovered on this particular project will be used on other frameworks for both primary and secondary schools. With a heavy promotion on the use of BIM, design for manufacturing and assembly, and the use of lean manufacturing techniques to keep waste to a minimum, these solutions are undoubtedly innovative. This should then enable entire schools to be manufactured offsite, and then with only a small amount of work needed onsite to install, connect and commission the buildings.
2. Airport Runways
Heathrow airport in London plans to use prefabrication to speed up the expansion of its airport as well as limit the disruption to those living around it. The idea is to create four hubs, in various parts of the UK, which will each pre-assemble certain components. Prefabrication was previously used in the construction of Terminal Two at the same airport, including the carpark which was created with 40,000 square meters of flooring slabs made in Scotland and transported to Heathrow.
It was recently reported that up to 121 bids were received from councils and private companies to host these construction hubs for the additional third runway. Heathrow is planning to be the first major project to encourage the use of logistic hubs, with as much of the project as possible being built off-site. The chosen hubs will then pre-assemble the components before moving them in consolidated loads to Heathrow when they are required during the build process.
It has been found that bathrooms are another area of construction where prefabricated design is really taking off. Look on any search engine for prefabricated bathrooms and you will see a lengthy list of companies offering such a service. Partly down to the increase in build-to-rent market and residential schemes, as well as the care home sector. Another area where prefabricated bathrooms are popular is student accommodation, where it is often found that all flats and apartments are identical in style. Pre-fabricating such pods means it is much easier to have projects finished on time, due to less time needed on-site, with them arriving almost ready to go.
4. Police Cells and Custody Suites
Police forces are using prefabricated cells. One such force in Humberside, England, recently became the first to use off-the-shelf custody suites from Willmott Dixon. When faced with the need for expansion, they looked into renovating the existing facilities but decided that the pre-designed option gave a much better solution. Willmott Dixon offers three pre-designed custodial facilities alongside NORR Architects, each offering something different depending on the budget and requirements of individual forces.
Another company, Wernick, offers PCFlex Custody Suites, takes half the time to build and costs 60% less to purchase than the traditional building method. Using best practices at off-site construction units, and then having the site be completely prepared at the same time, results in these valuable savings, both in time and money.
5. Natural Disaster Zones
Another key area for the need of prefabricated homes is zones where hurricanes have recently hit, including the Florida Keys and the Virgin Islands. With early estimates of 15,500 homes being destroyed recently in Texas, and counting not even begun elsewhere, the actual number of people needing to rebuild will be much, much higher. The main decision on how to proceed will be one based on cost, but the need for energy efficiency and resilience are obviously high on the list of needs. A company in North Carolina, Deltec Homes, is one of a number of builders who are focusing on prefabricated and energy efficient homes. Previously only really aimed at a wealthier audience, the need has shifted to those who are disproportionately affected by harsh weather. The challenge is now on to create net-zero homes for those who have the need for them.
The Rising Popularity of Prefabrication
With the possibility of saving large sums of money, and keeping a build on track, it is no wonder that prefabricated designs are fast becoming more and more popular for construction and design companies. Especially for the majority of areas listed above where uniformity of design isn’t frowned upon, and cost-saving measures are important.