Last edited 08 Mar 2021

Why are schools investing in modular classrooms?


[edit] Great aesthetics

The resurgence in belief in modular construction came when Heads realised it didn't mean pre-fab huts. There was a period of instant classrooms that were too hot, too small and overall a little rickety. They also made a school site look dreadful as if its community were fractured.

Thankfully, this is not a modular design. Today construction methods are dictated by the latest educational research about what makes sound learning environments. Spaces are adaptive and flexible, full of light and air, with all the facilities neded to assist teachers and other staff to deliver top-quality education.

Kerb appeal is not something head teachers like to openly admit is vital to school numbers. However, the drive-by of future parents and the feedback about the school's exterior from the local community are one of those essentials to a school reputation. When you choose modular construction, you are extending the site, so it appears the same as the rest. With traditional cladding and roofing, the modular extension can easily merge with the whole site.

[edit] Cost-saving

The increase in popularity of modular classrooms is mostly down to cost. Budgets in schools are tight and as numbers rise traditional construction poses a real challenge to the school's business manager. The investment in modular construction offers an impressively quick return.

The cost/ benefit analysis needs to be sound. The initial upfront cost is lower, but so is the running cost. The air-tight construction allows for efficient use of energy – keeping the bills down.

The flexibility of a modular classroom also guards against potential future changes. If in a few years, a school may need to grow again, the modular class can move to become part of a new configuration.

[edit] Quick and disruption-free

A building site and a school site are not the best bedfellows. The noise, dust and health and safety concerns of a construction site in a place where learning requires listening and speaking can create problems. Modular classrooms can give additional space in a matter of months. Start in the summer term and have the extra space by the Autumn term.

[edit] The best learning environment

The most important reason that modular design has become more popular is that the learning space created is outstanding. No longer in the world of the pre-fab, classroom spaces are cutting edge and adaptable to the latest teaching and learning techniques.

It is also the best construction method for the environment. As well as being energy efficient, the techniques used are part of a sustainable project with a minimal carbon footprint. The amount of construction traffic, and so air pollution to the site, is massively reduced.

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 buildquality 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 buildingsinclude 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. (See also, Modular buildings in the educational sector.)


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 wasteand 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.

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki

Designing Buildings Anywhere

Get the Firefox add-on to access 20,000 definitions direct from any website

Find out more Accept cookies and
don't show me this again