Modular construction has been taking the AEC world by storm — but what is it, and how is it impacting the way we build?
According to an article from our friends at Redshift,
“Modular” isn’t a construction product; it’s a construction process. This is according to Tom Hardiman, executive director of the Modular Building Institute (MBI), whose members include more than 350 companies involved in the manufacturing and distribution of modular buildings, including multifamily homes.
“Modular building is building in boxes,” Hardiman says. “You put materials together at an off-site location to create volumetric boxes, then you transport those boxes to the job site, where you assemble them.”
With the potential to fundamentally transform the industry, modular construction is something all builders should become well-acquainted with. Here, we dive into the origin, benefits, and applications of this groundbreaking method.
How did modular construction arise?
Modular construction is a type of prefabrication — a method that, though rapidly rising in popularity, has actually been around for hundreds of years. From shipping housing across the Atlantic to early American colonists to assembling the Eiffel Tower, the building technique has a storied past.
Since the early 2000s, there’s been a renewed interest in modular construction due to breakthroughs like BIM, 3D-printing, and automation. While modular construction itself isn’t a new concept, a recent report from McKinsey & Company acknowledges that we’re now at a point where technology is making it a more viable solution.
What are the advantages of modular construction?
- It’s greener.
While waste from a site-built dwelling may typically fill several large dumpsters, construction of a modular dwelling generates much less waste. According to the UK group WRAP, up to a 90% reduction in materials can be achieved through the use of modular construction.
- It’s faster.
Modular construction allows for building and site work to be completed simultaneously. This can reduce the overall completion schedule by as much as 50%, along with labor, financing, and supervision costs. To save even more time and money, nearly all design and engineering disciplines are part of the manufacturing process.
- It’s safer.
When the majority of the construction process is moved off-site, as it is with modular building, unique safety components can be implemented that can’t be done on a traditional construction site.
In general, firms using modular construction feel that the three main safety benefits of the modular building process were:
- the ability to do a complex assembly at ground level
- the need to have fewer workers on-site, for less time
- a fewer number of tasks completed at great heights
3 examples of modular construction in action
1. AC Hotel New York NoMad
The world’s tallest modular hotel is on track to be stacked in New York City with prefabricated and pre-furnished guestrooms later this year. Once erected over a 90-day period, the 360-foot-tall tower will represent a milestone for Marriott’s ongoing initiative to encourage hotel developers in North America to embrace modular for new construction projects. It’s expected to open in late 2020.
In late 2018, EIR Healthcare unveiled its modular hospital product: MedModular. It’s the world’s first application of modular construction to hospital rooms, ensuring faster delivery, build times, and minimized budgets. MedModular rooms are delivered 90% complete and wired with smart technology for easy integration into hospital infrastructure.
Recently backed by Autodesk, Factory_OS is a startup taking on the affordable housing crisis by disrupting the way multifamily housing is produced. They bring the construction job site to the manufacturing shop floor, delivering housing units that are constructed 40% faster, are 20% less expensive, and create 70% less waste than traditional units from on-site construction.
Major corporations are betting big on modular construction, investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the method. If modular construction lives up to its potential to build safer, faster, and more affordably than traditional methods, it may become mainstream in the U.S. sooner rather than later.