Offsite construction and standardised process in building can drive the sustainability targets, even though there is still resistance in the sector. In fact, offsite construction can lead to faster, cheaper, safer and greener deliveries, and also to higher creativity and versatility in the processes.
Construction is awash with sustainability targets, and the climate emergency means both regulatory pressures and market expectations are rising like sea levels.
The problems are not new, though. Back in 2013, the UK government published its industrial strategy Construction 2025, which set out clear targets for lower costs (down 33%) and emissions (50%), plus faster delivery (up 50%).
With a focus on productivity and labour issues, the Farmer Review followed in 2016, provocatively entitled Modernise or Die. Among 10 headline recommendations, the report challenged the industry to invest in R&D and innovation to support manufactured technologies, rather than traditional building methods, particularly in the housing sector.
These offsite systems and methods – including modular and volumetric solutions, structural insulated panels, plus design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA) – offer the prospect of building and engineering in factory conditions with greater efficiency and less waste, more quality control and less snagging.
This can make delivery faster, cheaper, safer and greener. So, what’s not to like?
Well, anything that threatens the hegemony of business-as-usual will encounter resistance from the industry old guard. When the palette of design options appeared limited in the early days of MMC, offsite solutions were tagged as ‘boxy’.
Pigeonholed as only fit for budget applications and projects with multiple unit repetitions, MMC became associated with no-frills hotels, student accommodation and prisons. While it might be perfect for schemes seeking economies of scale; it is also much more than that.
Myth-busting is still required. For instance, there is a perception that a standardised approach to building could stunt the creativity of architects when the opposite is true, argues Russell Haworth, CEO of global technology platform NBS:
“Take the example of Lego; its success lies in its simplicity. Yet, within that structured framework, it opens the door for almost infinite creative options – building everything from Hedwig, Harry Potter’s owl, through to the Millennium Falcon, the iconic Star Wars craft.”
Advances in robotics, automation and mass-customisation nowadays mean components can offer almost infinite design choices, with shorter production runs. Versatility is booming, regardless of whether the primary building material is concrete, timber or steel.
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