Modular, dfma (design for manufacture and assembly), off-site, pre-fabrication... none of these techniques are new or radical, but all have failed to be adopted as a mainstream approach to delivering buildings.
As an industry we still look at buildings as prototypes - designed from the ground up to be bespoke and unique. And whilst this approach creates the stunning masterpieces that fill the Stirling Prize list every year, equal numbers miss the mark and end up in the running for the Carbuncle Cup.
The article linked below from TechCrunch on modular building take a slightly different tack to most and will help those making the case for taking modular or dfma approach.
We all recognise the benefits of constructing off-site; the time savings, improvements in efficiency and the inevitable cost savings that come with repeatability, right first time quality and constructing in a manufacturing environment But, it also points out the fundamental point that the components that make up a building simply aren't compatible or comparable when considering their design life.
The graph in the graphic below shows this very well - we design a structure that can stand for 100+ years, but then bury within it services and FF&E which need to be replaced much sooner, often through messy and disruptive refurbishment, upgrade or renovation works. Generally we are still failing to design and construct with refurbishment in mind.
Organisations like Constructing Excellence and Build Off-Site have long championed the benefits of dfma (design for manufactuer and assembly), and my previous posts on dfma (read one by clicking here: "One of the best signs dfma is here to stay") have highlighted growing trend in the housing market for the approach, but I hope, as more organisations consider property as a long term investment we see a more sustainable approach to the design and assembly of our building stock.
A more sustainable approach to construction could be designed around the useful life of different building components. Buildings should be regarded as complex modular objects rather than permanent sculptures: Building components should be assembled, not glued together, to allow future renovations, upgrades and disassembly instead of demolition; Components with a shorter useful life should be clearly and easily separated from components with a longer useful life; All building components should be reusable in other buildings and could be resold on other markets; Smart home and IoT infrastructure should be modular and easily upgradeable due to quicker cycles of consumer electronics and software evolution.