Circularity in the Built Environment: How Modular Construction Can Benefit Timelines and Costs
For decades, construction has lagged behind in comparison to other sectors in productivity performance. There is now an opportunity for change by shifting several aspects of building activity away from traditional onsite projects to offsite manufacturing-style production. While modular construction is not a new idea, it is attracting renewed interest and investment because of shifts and changes in both the technological and economic environment.
Modular construction is revolutionizing the way we build. By manufacturing building components off-site and assembling them on-site, this construction technique offers numerous benefits over traditional construction methods, including faster timelines, reduced costs, and improved sustainability — both in the short and long term. In this article, we’ll explore how modular construction can benefit both timelines and costs of building projects, and how it supports circularity in the built environment.
Modular Construction: The Basics
Modular construction involves the use of prefabricated building components that are manufactured off-site in a controlled factory environment. These components are then transported to the building site, where they are assembled to form a complete building. This approach differs from traditional construction, where building components are constructed on-site from raw materials. Examples can include complete housing units for a variety of applications such as office buildings or ablution blocks, or could include smaller, flexible modular components, such as our own blocks.
The key feature of modular building components are that they are typically built to standard dimensions, which allows for easy interchangeability and flexibility in building design. They are also designed to be easily disassembled, which facilitates future re-use and recycling of building components.
Benefits of Modular Construction
One of the main advantages of modular construction is that it can significantly reduce construction timelines. Because building components are manufactured off-site, they can be produced in parallel with on-site preparation work, such as site excavation, foundation laying, and utility connections. This parallelisation of activities can reduce construction timelines by up to 50%, depending on the project complexity.
The uncomplicated nature of modular building can also reduce the occurence of on-site mistakes, avoiding incidents that create the need for additional time and cost investments.
Another benefit of modular construction is that it can reduce construction costs. Because building components are manufactured in a controlled environment, waste is minimized, and material usage is optimized. Additionally, because the manufacturing process is highly repetitive, labor costs can be reduced or even automated. These savings can translate into a reduction in the overall cost of the building project in the long run.
Modular construction supports circularity in the built environment by reducing waste and optimizing material usage. Because building components are manufactured in a controlled factory environment, waste is minimized, and materials can be recycled or reused. Additionally, modular buildings are designed to be easily disassembled, which facilitates future re-use and recycling of building components.
Modular Buildings in Practice
Modular buildings have been used in a wide range of applications, from residential housing to commercial office buildings. One notable example is the NEST unit, a modular housing prototype developed by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. The NEST unit is designed to be disassembled and reassembled multiple times, using a modular construction approach that emphasizes circularity and sustainability.
Modular construction is an innovative technique that offers numerous benefits over traditional construction methods, including faster timelines, reduced costs, and improved sustainability. By supporting circularity in the built environment, modular construction can help to reduce waste and optimize material usage, resulting in more efficient and sustainable buildings. As the construction industry continues to evolve, modular construction is likely to play an increasingly important role in shaping the buildings of the future.