Last edited 02 Mar 2021

Modular buildings

Modular buildings (sometimes referred to as volumetric construction, or 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.

Buildings can be constructed using modular 'parts' such as walls, frames, doors, ceilings, and windows, or a number of 'complete' prefabricated modular building units.

Modular building became popular after the Second World War 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:

The advantages of modular buildings over more traditional forms of construction include:

Disadvantages of modular buildings over more traditional forms of construction include:

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.

NB The BIM Overlay to the RIBA Outline Plan of Work, published by the RIBA in 2012 suggested that volumetric construction: ‘..uses large-scale modular units to construct a building. A building might be formed from one module or from many. Often, units such as bathrooms, plant rooms, lift shafts or services risers are installed within buildings, but do not, of themselves, form the building structure or fabric.’

It defines modular units as: 'Large modules used in volumetric construction. Units such as hotel rooms can be wholly constructed in the factory, as large modules that form the structure of the building as well as enclosing useable space. Units are fully finished internally in the factory, including many aspects of finishes, furnishings and equipment. Increasingly, external cladding, particularly glazing systems, are also installed in the factory, although in some instances finishes such as brickwork are applied on site.'


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