How can modular construction help our industry at a time of social distancing?

As many countries begin to emerge from COVID-19-related lockdown into what has been called the “new normal”, clients are keen to understand more about modular construction and about how their project could benefit from this at a time when a need for social distancing makes on-site construction more challenging.

Chapman Taylor is a strong advocate of the potential benefits of this exciting sector for designers, clients and end-users alike. We have pioneered development within the industry through the development of a range of off-site construction solutions, ranging from modular bathroom pods to full volumetric modular projects. You can read more about our experience and our thoughts in our Insight paper, “What is modular construction and why has Chapman Taylor embraced it?”

With volumetric modular construction, all the internal finishes within an enclosed room arrive completed, having been constructed off site with a high degree of accuracy and quality control. This greatly reduces the number of people required on site, which is an added benefit for construction sites as they look to incorporate social distancing measures.

Subsequent on-site activities are consequently less labour-intensive, meaning maintaining safe distances between workers becomes easier, while construction can continue safely at a time when traditional methods of construction are needing to be re-evaluated with significant amendments to operations.

Among the many other benefits we have seen from our work within the modular sector are the following:

  • Significant savings in terms of programme, waste and cost.
  • The quality of the end product is consistently higher.
  • The building’s key elements can be constructed at greater speed in controlled conditions – if necessary, the process can continue 24/7 and involve finished products continuously rolling off the factory floor.
  • The speed of the overall construction programme leads to earlier project completion. For some of the schemes we are involved with, this has been up to 50% quicker than a traditional programme.
  • The manufacturing process within these factories encourages higher levels of Quality Assurance than construction sites, which in turn means greater monitoring and controlling of hygiene and health security procedures.
  • The process is less susceptible to some of the external factors present in traditional builds, such as adverse weather, challenging site logistics, the industry’s skills shortage, etc.
  • The factory process will often involve people specialising in one specific area to a very high standard, leading to a better quality of product.
  • Waste can be significantly reduced with an off-site process – as much as 50% of waste on traditional building sites could be prevented by a switch to off-site construction, with all the attendant financial and environmental benefits.
  • While, currently it isn’t necessarily cheaper to build off-site in the first instance, the financial benefits to the client then accrue in a number of ways over the medium-to-long-term.
  • It can help improve environmental credentials – you are more likely to get a well-sealed and airtight system, allowing for a much more efficient energy performance once built and operational.
  • With a hotel, a build-to-rent scheme or student accommodation, where space is effectively rented, the scheme can begin to generate income a lot earlier than usual because of the use of off-site methods.
  • On the building contract side, the shorter construction programme means lower labour costs and reduced overheads. Investors get a return on their investment earlier, and the development team will save money on interest payments due to earlier loan repayments.

With our Holiday Inn Express modular hotel project in Trafford City, Manchester, it took just nine months from the start of the construction process on site to completion, saving six months of construction time compared to the traditional build programme. This resulted in the client avoiding six months’ worth of interest payments on loans and paying the contractors for a shorter period of time on site. It also meant that they were able to start operaring six months earlier, with all the associated revenue generation that brought about.

The client estimates that, taking all of these financial aspects into account, they saved approximately £1 million in construction costs when compared to a traditional form of construction, which is particularly impressive in the context of the overall project cost of £16.2 million.

Chapman Taylor has become a leading player within the off-site sector. Chapman Taylor’s Research and Development team has produced a trademark off-site modular housing model, called Umbrellahaus®, which can be constructed at scale and speed to provide much-needed community housing. We have also written Insight papers, spoken at off-site conferences and given presentations explaining the benefits of modular construction - all reflecting our view that off-site construction encourages greater collaboration and an excellent quality end-product.

We think that, in order to address the industry’s capacity issue, particularly in terms of the housing shortage, but also in sectors such as hospitality, education and healthcare, volumetric modular construction has a key role to play in pushing the industry forward.

Michael Swiszczowski (BA(Hons), MArch, ADPPA, ARB, RIBA)

Director, Manchester

Michael joined Chapman Taylor in 2016 to strengthen the practice’s residential expertise. A key member of the Manchester studio’s management team, Michael has a remit to develop and grow the practice’s residential sector across the UK business.

He has experience working on award-winning residential projects, with a particular focus on Build-to-Rent, student accommodation, hotels, serviced apartments and modular construction.

He is an RIBA-elected member of the Regional Council for RIBA North West.

Areas of expertise:

Residential / Build-to-Rent / Student Accommodation / Hotels

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