To help develop this article, click 'Edit this article' above.
Modular buildings (sometimes referred to as prefabricated buildings, although strictly speaking, a prefabricated building need not be modular) are buildings made up of components manufactured on assembly lines in factories then assembled on site in a variety of arrangements.
Modular building became popular after the second world when there was a need for the rapid construction of buildings (in particular dwellings) to replace bomb-damaged buildings and to accommodate returning troops. They were initially well-received, but as they often remained in use well beyond their design life (for example 'temporary' classrooms, some of which are still in use), and were sometimes aesthetically less attractive that traditional buildings, they fell out of favour.
More recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in modular buildings, with a recognition not only that they can be aesthetically pleasing, but also they can achieve a very high build quality and can be both long lasting and sustainable. A new fleet of modular buildings has emerged that includes a wide variety of sizes and configurations, with sector specific building types and styles and options for variable plans and multi-storey configurations.
The gap between modular structures and traditional buildings has narrowed, and there has been an improvement in performance driven in part by regulatory standards but also by the availability of new materials. Recent, dramatic examples of the evolution of modular buildings include the 30-storey Tower Hotel in Yueyang and B2, a 32-storey residential tower in Brooklyn, 60% of which was construction off site.
Other examples of modular buildings include:
- Educational buildings and nurseries.
- Temporary buildings (such as site accommodation, live event accommodation, accommodation for temporary re-location during construction works and so on).
- Showrooms and marketing suites.
- Healthcare buildings (such as consulting rooms, and operating theatres).
- Catering buildings.
- Ministry of Defence buildings.
- Manufacturing facilities such as clean rooms.
- Buildings for remote or hostile locations where conventional construction techniques may be impractical.
- Mobile buildings.
- Equipment housing.
- Emergency buildings for urgent accommodation requirements.
- Cruise ship accommodation.
The advantages of modular buildings over more traditional forms of construction include:
- Speed of supply and installation.
- Reduced cost (through supply chain management, economies of scale, reduction of waste and working in a controlled environment).
- Improved quality control (achieved through repetition, inspection and operating in a factory-controlled environment). NB Build quality is increasingly important in achieving environmental standards such as BREEAM. Buildings very often fail to achieve their designed performance because of poor quality control on site.
- Reduced time on site.
- Reduce disruption, noise and waste.
- Reduced need for on-site storage, plant and other equipment.
- Reduced labour costs.
- Greater control over the full supply chain.
- Continuous improvement through an effective feedback loop.
- The potential to de-construct for re-location, re-use or re-sale.
Disadvantages of modular buildings over more traditional forms of construction include:
- Restricted flexibility. Module sizes and shapes can be limiting.
- Poorer overall design / aesthetic quality.
- Design that is not fully context or user specific.
- Perception problems resulting from historic performance. This can result in lower valuations.
- Difficulty transporting and handling modules.
- The significant investment required to develop designs and manufacturing processes for modular buildings.
The supply of modular buildings may simply include manufacture, delivery and installation , or it can be a full 'turnkey' package including site preparation, planning, commissioning, maintenance and even buy-back for re-sale.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Block planning.
- British post-war mass housing.
- Crosswall construction.
- Custom build home.
- Design for deconstruction.
- Design for deconstruction, BRE modular show house.
- Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA).
- Kit house.
- Live event production.
- Modern methods of construction.
- Off-site prefabrication of buildings: A guide to connection choices.
- Open source architectural plans for modular buildings.
- Self build home.
- Structure relocation.
- Y:Cube development in Mitcham.
 External references
- Cabinet office: Modular building systems.
- Guardian: Modular building could lead the way in China's commercial construction. 26 July 2012.
- Dezeen: World's tallest modular building breaks ground in New York. 18 December 2012.
- Benefits of modular construction
Featured articles and news
With a new government consultation underway, ICE look at creating a smarter, more flexible energy system.
International Ethics Standards Coalition publishes first set of ethics principles for built environment professionals.
British Antarctic Survey announces research station is to relocate 23km due to growing crack in the ice shelf.
A great example of mimetic architecture with the Fish Building of India.
Could e-bikes be a solution to congested and polluted urban centres?
Government publishes details of £500bn investment pipeline in infrastructure, described as the 'most comprehensive ever'.
Top of new skyscraper trimmed down by 30m to avoid interfering with City Airport flights.
A new concept unveiled to tackle the lack of sports facilities in inner cities.
'Open hand' designs revealed for a new entertainment complex in China.
Modernist architecture and its many international variations explained.
Work set to begin on 'one of America's greatest parks', which will be 10 times bigger than Central Park.
One of our most popular articles - RSHP's Mike Davies writes about the concept design process.