Modular Construction – Architects Responsible for Lag in Adoption of Pre-Fabricated Construction Techniques?

Recently I wrote an article promoting the benefits of modular construction.  In that article I discuss the benefits of modular construction methods and pledged to do my part in promoting more use of modular construction.

Today, I want to share another article from sourceable addressing Off-Site-Manufacturing (OSM) (aka modular construction).  This sourceable article was written by Jack Haber.  Mr. Haber is an Architect who is also a Managing Director at TecBuild Systems.  Tecbuild is a fabricator of lightweight floor framing systems from Australia.

Mr. Haber’s article was in response to another article also published on sourceable by Jianing Luo a PHD candidate at Southeast University in China.

Luo’s article discusses how the current architectural education system is antiquated and ill-equipped for OSM construction methods.  Luo writes, The gaps between architects and builders are obvious in today’s modern construction industry, especially in the off-site sector. The education architecture students receive is no doubt one of the reasons for this.”

Luo’s article goes on to discuss a new training method being used at several universities in China.  The new training technique, called Industry-Education-Research Cooperation (IERC) creates a cooperative between seasoned builders and architecture students which results in the construction of an actual building.

Haber seems to take issue with Jianing’s article and posits that a lack of education on Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) for Development Managers is at the crux of why OSM methods lack adoption.  Haber writes, If industry educates development and project managers such that MMC techniques are recognized at the project inception stage for the time and cost savings they offer, then team choices of appropriate skill sets can be made with these goals in mind.”

So who is right?

Is the lack of adoption of modular construction to be blamed on Architects or on Development Managers?

I believe it’s neither.

In the US, “means and methods” of construction lie strictly with the builder.  Neither the Architect nor the Development Manager takes responsibility for how a building is erected.

Now, before you react to that statement, I do believe architects and developers can influence construction methods and I do believe that architectural education can be improved, but I want to reflect on all of the ways that builders could implement modular construction methods regardless of the design or the project management.

Modular Electrical

Some of you may be surprised to hear that electrical work can be done using modular techniques.  Modular electrical wiring involve prefabrication of electrical runs that can be distributed from a central distribution board.  These plug and play systems allow for shop fabrication of cables that feed in to distribution boxes inside each space.  This method of wiring saves time, money, and labor over traditional wiring methods.

Multi-Service Modules

Another modular construction concept is to prefabricate multi-service modules.  These are horizontal racks of pipe runs that carry electrical, gas, and supply lines inside of wire trays and wire ladders.  These modules can be prefabricated in fixed lengths delivered to the site and installed in 60% of the time of traditional methods.

Riser Modules

In high rise and multi-story structures, the use of prefabricated riser modules can be used to save time.  The same way that horizontal racks can be constructed off-site and brought to the job in modules, risers can too.  This saves time by allowing concurrent work to be done off-site and simply installed when they arrive to the jobsite.

Precast concrete panels

Even that guru of construction Bob Vila on his show “Home Again” has featured modular construction methods. In this episode Bob features a construction company using precast concrete panels for its foundation. In the feature we learn that thier panels are made of higher strength concrete then would be possible from field construction methods.

Prefabricated interior partitions

There are a number of companies that make prefabricated interior partitions. Fifteen years ago, these types of panels were patented by a company called Smed International. Smed has since been purchased by Hayworth, but the concept remains very much the same.  Prefabricated panels are brought to the jobsite and simply installed in a fraction of the time of conventional construction.

Closing

With so many options available to implement modular construction techniques there are very few excuses for not utilizing at least one.

Modular Construction is a great way to reduce time, cost, and improve safety.

It is not fair to assign the responsibility for choosing modular construction techniques to any one member of the project team. Architects, Engineer’s, Project Managers, Procurement Professionals, Constructors and Owners are ALL capable of proposing the use of modular and preconstruction methods.

Haber and Luo are both right, but they fail to acknowledge the roles and responsibilities that all team members have for influencing the direction of the project.

So what do you think? Have you worked with modular construction methods? If so, was it successful? Who recommended the use of preconstruction methods? Tell me your stories.

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this content, please feel free to browse my previous articles and please like, share, comment, and subscribe.  This helps promote my content and is greatly appreciated.

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