How modern methods of construction will solve the housing crisis

Everyone’s talking about modern methods of construction. But very few organisations in the UK are embracing it.

At the 2019 Homes UK event, there were two frequent discussion topics:

  • The UK’s housing crisis
  • Modular construction

There was one particular graph that was shown in various formats in different presentations throughout the event. New house building completions in England since the second world war.

graph reflecting number of new homes built a year in UK

The UK government announced in 2018 that it was “committed to delivering 300,000 homes a year by the mid 2020s”. Since the announcement, the figures have indeed increased to 240,000 new homes in 2018-19

There are fears, however, that the pressure to increase the quantity of homes will result in rushed jobs and cut corners. In addition, Shelter and other organisations say that it will be impossible to reach the number of new homes without the help of local authorities. The last time 300,000+ new homes were built a year in the UK was in the 1960s. Over a third of those homes were built by local authorities. Local authorities today are prevented from building because of tight planning restrictions, austerity measures and higher land prices than ever. 

This is where modern methods of construction come in… and more specifically, modular construction.

Modular is not a modern method of construction

Ronan point - modern methods of construction are not new

Modular construction is often described as a modern method of construction. But it has been around in various forms for centuries if you include prefabricated building under the term. Prefabricated housing has a poor reputation in the UK because of aesthetically divisive post-war buildings of the 1950s and '60s. 

At Homes UK, John Woods from LHC made the point that we need to learn from both successes and failures of the past. The British public tends to remember where prefabricated buildings failed. But we rarely reflect on the success of housing hundreds of thousands of people whose homes were bombed during the second world war.

The truly modern part about modular construction today is the ability to apply advanced technology to it. But here lies one problem - the construction industry is still one of the lowest ranking industries in terms of technology adoption. By using traditional methods in modular building planning, design and construction, we risk repeating old mistakes. Alternatively, we risk backing out of making progress and maintain a status quo of poor performance.

Volumetric modular construction

volumetric modular construction image

A step ahead of prefabricated walls or floors, volumetric modular construction goes as far as creating complete 3D units offsite. The types of building that are most suited to this kind of construction are those that are repeatable and high volume. For example, schools, university accommodation or large scale social housing. 

The public sector has a lot to gain from modular construction. Many of the buildings needed by the public are both repeatable and high volume. This social necessity forces the adoption of modern methods of construction. Whole life cost is an important factor for the public sector too, so this will speed up the implementation of Building Information Modelling (BIM).

Starting with design

modular design in Kreo screenshot

The benefits of modular construction are manifold. Modular construction costs are much more predictable throughout a project’s lifecycle. It is easier to quality control each module when it is built offsite than a traditional building during the build. It eliminates waste materials and improves site health & safety. With modular construction, it is easier to calculate the whole-life cost of a building.

If we are to see cash-strapped local authorities start building modular homes, change needs to be at the start of project planning. The benefits of efficiency and calculating whole life cost will come with BIM. But BIM, alongside modular construction, is considered expensive. It’s hard work and many are reluctant to start with BIM until planning is well underway.

This is where property and construction technology companies have an important role to play. BIM needs to be made achievable from the start. This means creating user-friendly systems that integrate with other platforms. The technology must be cloud-based, meaning you don’t have to have expensive software to access the single source of project data. 

Simplicity in modular design

modular design with AI in Kreo

Conversations at the Chartered Institute of Housing's Tech @ Housing conference earlier this year convinced Kreo to invest in modular building design. The artificial intelligence (AI) behind the product, Kreo Design, is easy to apply to modular design. 

For organisations just starting out in modular, Kreo has created its own modules to use as a basis for your building planning. As if in a game, you can play with different unit mixes and create your own masterplan in minutes. Kreo’s AI optimises the building footprints, limiting the design to internal parameters which you can fine-tune. 

The real advantage comes with when organisations have their own module designs already. The more detailed the design, the better the project planning outcomes will be. Kreo integrates with other design platforms, such as Revit. It speeds up the process of creating a BIM model using your modules. It's easy to test different versions of buildings in seconds, comparing costs side by side.

Anyone can create a free account in Kreo, meaning companies can choose to share their designs and collaborate more efficiently with all stakeholders. This will speed up planning permission, reduce inefficiency and lower the cost of planning. The more detail manufacturers can give in their modules, the more accurate project predictions can be. Kreo aligns cost with the building design, so reporting is dynamic and is updated automatically with each redesign.

The future is here

With 2020 on the horizon, we will see modern methods of construction adopted more broadly. The cost will be reduced as competition for manufacturers of modular building increases. Local authorities and housing associations in the UK are key to filling the gap in new home creation. Advanced technology will enable them to embrace true modern methods of construction and build high quality new homes at speed.

Set up your free account in Kreo Design today to see the future in action!

 

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