Lyons O'Neill

Make it modular: prefabricated design solutions

Modular construction has seen a recent resurgence in public interest. Just a few weeks ago Places for People made the largest investment by a housing association in the UK, agreeing a £100m deal to buy 750 homes as the government looks to increase its delivery of housing each year by 50%. Previously consigned to the mass house building projects of the 1950s, this building technique is being hailed as the biggest disruptive force to hit the UK construction sector and the role it plays is set to rapidly grow over the coming years.  

So, what exactly is modular construction and how will it help?

Modular construction is the manufacturing of pre-erected units in factories before they are put into place on site. Of course, no building can be 100% pre-fabricated and craned in its entirety, Dorothy-style, into place, but modular construction means up to 80% of work can be completed off site. Avoiding assembling a building brick by brick on location means projects can reduce programme time by up to 50%, leading to savings of more than a third in terms of total construction cost. These time and cost savings are obviously advantageous for a client but they also have a significant impact in terms of reducing resource and energy use, helping the sector towards its sustainability goals, and the availability of affordable housing. It’s no wonder, then, that modular is the word on everybody’s lips.

Although the UK housing shortage means media attention focuses on modular constructions impact on the residential sector, prefabrication techniques aren’t restricted to house-building. For example, some of our most successful modular projects have involved building schools. We worked on a project with Croydon Council to create a new primary school, Ark Oval Primary Academy, to meet the growing educational needs of the borough. This project saw us collaborate with the modular installer and contractor to develop a special design for the concrete foundations, which would be able to accommodate the series of loads from the two-storey modular structure above. We decided upon strip foundations as the most cost effective solution for the job and also helped produce drainage and pavement designs for the site, as well as flagging structural issues with the existing buildings on site, to be addressed for the modular installation to continue.

Another fantastic modular school project we were delighted to be involved in was the work at Tolworth Infant School. The brief comprised the construction of a new building which would act as a dining facility for the school as well as a new children’s centre. The education sector often requires tight programme times as term start deadlines are non-negotiable and minimising impact to schools’ teaching is paramount so the swift build through modular construction is particularly valuable. The pre-fabricated modules used at Tolworth Infant School meant the unique design could be constructed with the greatest efficiency.

Modular construction is having its moment and with the range of benefits it brings its popularity is only set to grow.