Six fears about modular construction — and how to overcome them

November 2016

Words by Tony Whitehead

Illustration with geometrical shapes with Challenge Modular text


Modular buildings have a boxy, shipping-container aesthetic

  • Use a flexible module system which can produce different shapes and sizes
  • Use large engineered panels or elements, rather than boxes
  • Use asymmetric modules and orientate them differently
  • Use joints between modules as part of the aesthetic strategy


You end up transporting fresh air along the motorway

  • Use engineered panels rather than boxes
  • Use a local manufacturer
  • Exploit movable manufacturing technology to create “pop up” factories close to site


It costs too much (unless produced in huge volumes)

  • Increase demand by diversifying your client base — for example, from purely residential to student or hotel accommodation
  • Sell to volume housebuilders struggling with labour costs and availability
  • Don’t worry — costs of hardware and software to automate manufacturing processes are falling


Even then, off-site manufacturers charge high prices

  • Pay the extra — you get speed, quality and reliability in return
  • Contractors and developers can acquire in-house capabilities or develop long-term partnerships with manufacturers

From The Possible, issue 01

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You can’t build tall enough with modular systems

  • Use a hot-rolled steel system
  • Build adjustment into the system to compensate for settling
  • Combine extensive off-site fabrication with a traditional core or frame
  • Exploit BIM and automated manufacture to create ever finer tolerances


It’s too difficult to bring forward every aspect of the design

  • Use 3D computer visualization techniques to help the client to settle on the design early
  • Share information across a common design platform or building information model
  • Communicate requirements clearly to the client and specialist designers at an early stage


This article appeared in The Possible issue 01, as part of a longer feature on modular construction

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