Modern methods of construction
Modern methods of construction - also known as MMC or ‘smart construction’ - is a fast way of delivering new buildings, by maximising the efficiency of material and human resources.
Along with other industries, construction has seen a number of innovations over recent years, with new methods continually being developed, improved and adapted to meet the needs of the 21st century in terms of sustainability and efficiency.
In this article, we’re taking a closer look to find out more about this way of working and to see how it differs from traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ methods of construction.
What are modern methods of construction?
Modern methods of construction is a process which focuses on off-site construction techniques, such as mass production and factory assembly, as alternatives to traditional building.
The process has been described as a way ‘...to produce more, better quality homes in less time.’ Historically, it was created to meet an urgent demand for residential buildings after the Second World War and the method became popular again during the housing crisis in 2005.
Modern methods of construction can be employed to create whole homes using factory-built modules or may be used to speed up particular techniques, through innovative working processes.
This approach arguably provides benefits by speeding up delivery, reducing labour costs, eliminating unnecessary waste and improving quality.
Modern methods of construction has been seen as a way to help solve the UK’s housing crisis as, according to reports, there is ‘...the potential for a 30% improvement in the speed of construction of new homes through the adoption of innovation, with a potential 25% reduction in costs, as well as the potential for advances in improving quality and energy efficiency.’ *
Modern methods of construction employ innovative practices such as:
- Creating paneled units in factories, which can be quickly assembled onsite to create 3D structures.
- Volumetric construction, which sees 3D, or pre-fabricated, units created under factory conditions.
- Pre-cast concrete foundations and pre-formed wiring looms.
- Pre-fabricated floor and roof cassettes (panels).
- Tunnel form or thin-joint blockwork.
What challenges are faced with modern methods of construction?
Uptake of modern methods of construction within the industry has been viewed as poor, due to regulatory changes, lack of training and inadequate certification. Employers have had difficulty recruiting workers with the necessary skills - a shortage which may be exacerbated by issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit.
There have also been criticisms of the process in the UK as many of the materials and pre-fabricated systems used in modern methods of constructions are imported, and therefore could undermine British manufacturing.
Generally, the desire for pre-fabricated houses in the UK is low, perhaps as ‘pre-fab’ houses are synonymous with low-quality buildings created in the post-war years.
Many pre-fabricated homes use timber. Whilst this sustainable material is often more eco-friendly, the increased fire safety risks of a timber-framed building may also put people off homes created using modern methods of construction.
What modern methods of construction have been successful?
Due to new innovations and increasing awareness around sustainability issues, modern methods of construction processes are, however, becoming more popular. Let’s look at a couple of projects in more detail to discover the benefits:
Goldsmith Street, Norwich UK
An example of an award-winning project using modern methods of construction is Goldsmith Street in Norwich, which won the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2019. As the largest Passivhaus scheme in the UK, it’s an exemplar of social housing design, providing modern, affordable homes.
The development is in a crowded area, just 15 minutes’ walk from Norwich city centre. As the site was surrounded by neighbouring residences, project phasing and logistics had to be carefully planned to minimise any negative impacts of construction during the build.
By employing modern methods of construction and using an offsite construction method, traffic congestion around the site was reduced and the timber frame could be crafted more efficiently and sustainably, with far less waste. **
London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
London’s housing shortage is being experienced particularly in Barking and Dagenham, where affordable housing is in high demand. Modern methods of construction have been employed to create affordable homes, with lower monthly outgoings for occupants.
Modular housing has been developed in the area to create affordable, energy-efficient flats, significantly lowering the cost of household bills and maximising natural daylight to improve residents’ wellbeing. The buildings have also been created using a system that prevents unnecessary heat loss. ***
What is the potential for the future of modern methods of construction?
The UK government is keen to support modern methods of construction. In recent years, they have offered big financial boosts to offsite construction methods, anticipating a rise in the number of projects employing this method, particularly for public infrastructure.
If modern methods of construction are used more widely in the future, it should be possible to build up to four times as many homes with the same onsite labour, meaning onsite construction time could be reduced by more than half. ****
If projects are thoroughly planned, modern methods of construction have the potential to alleviate the UK wide skills shortage in the construction industry, as well as improving the environmental performance of buildings, during and after construction. Due to new, sustainable technology, it is increasingly the case that modern methods of construction enable better quality houses to be created than those built by traditional means.