Modular Construction – The Future of Affordable Housing?


Constructive Building Consultants wonder if modular construction could be the key to affordable housing? This question is being asked frequently within the construction industry, both near and abroad. Overseas in particular, we are seeing a rise in modular construction thanks in large part to advances in technology. Companies such as Katerra, a United States company based in Silicon Valley, are leading the way in off-site construction and delivering 24 unit apartment buildings in just 90 days. Unlike its competitors, however, Katerra doesn’t brand itself as a modular construction company. Instead Katerra, which was founded by a former interim CEO of Tesla, markets as ‘a tech company using tested systems and approaches to bring greater efficiency to building design and construction’. As with many industries, technology will play a large part in the future of the construction industry. Many modular construction companies have developed their own technology and software to assist them in producing prefabricated components (such as bathroom and kitchen fitouts) that can be quickly assembled on site, to large pods that can be stacked together to create an entire apartment building. The pride of Katerra is a technology platform called Apollo, a construction software that will create one continuous data stream allowing decision-making from site selection to operations. It integrates the ideas of architects, engineers and sub-contractors into one information database, and uses real-time data processing and 3D modelling software which can be converted to a format that sends instructions direct to their machines in the factory.

Modular construction, though, is not a new concept. From the Romans who used prefabricated building elements to build their forts quickly and efficiently after conquering Britain in AD 43, to the Eiffel Tower which was prefabricated with the original intention of being a temporary structure for the 1889 World Fair. Despite its long history, stigma surrounding pre-fabricated buildings, such as design limitations, customisation and transport, have long limited it from becoming a dominant choice of construction. However, it will continue to benefit as technology advances. Combined with a growing need for housing affordability, it is likely that modular construction will continue to present itself as a viable and cost-effective alternative to on-site construction.

A great example of modern modular construction is the new Marriot Hotel in New York City. The hotel will stand approximately 110m tall, consist of 168 guest rooms, and is estimated to take 90 days to assemble on site once it has been shipped over from the off-site construction factory in Poland.

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